Monday, April 15, 2013

Icestorm renders us powerless

Nature can pack a pretty wild punch in her weather delivery systems. Friday’s icestorm here was a case in point. The soft fizz of freezing rain falling and collecting on the damp vegetation was relentless all day. It was an eerily beautiful, somewhat surreal, sight. The forecasted rise in temperature that was meant to melt the ice accretion did not materialize, and the ice steadily thickened on trees, branches, twigs, and grasses. Many of each collapsed under the weight and pressure, sometimes like the firing of a gun as a huge limb snapped off and the ice cascaded to the ground. Budding branches at the apex were most exposed as treetops took a radical haircut. 

The dull grey of the day contrasted with the sharpness and clarity of the ice. With electric power cut off, contact with the outside world was over the airwaves of the car radio, so we took to the road, gasping at the widespread devastation. By no means universal, certain trees were particularly badly affected – wispy poplars, willows and silver birch which snapped into unruly pieces; and soft pine and cedar which often lay prone or uprooted. Power lines were coated in ice an inch or more thick. Icicles dangled from them in a sagging ribbon. Stunned residents scratched their heads at the sight of shattered old maples and spread-eagled shrubbery. Chainsaws cleared roads and paths, and the loud whine of generators filled the still air. Hydro reported that power would be out for a day or more. The outage for us lasted in fact three days, with power restored over candlelit dinner entertaining friends. In the meantime, no flushing of toilets, no showering, no refrigeration, no music or news. However, we could crank up telephone land line, woodstove heat, buckets of water from our full dug well, cooking on the gas-stove, boiling of water for tea and coffee, lots of strategically-placed beeswax candles, flashlights….
By the third day, we recognize our fragility and dependency on the power grid and wish for self-sufficiency from the type of residential-scale wind and solar-generated power that dinner guests Kevin and Jack enjoy. Extreme weather events such as this are a stark reminder that we are all live just a few days away from extreme discomfort and deprivation. Ah well, back to our smug complacency with restored power as today brings sunshine and temperatures in the mid-teens Celsius (mid-twenties in the balmy hoophouses where green shoots take on a growth spurt, oblivious to the commotion outside). My tractor has shed its icy mantle and will soon be called in to action. Spring is surely on its way now.