SH Sean Harding/blog
42 is the answer
Sunday, December 17th, 2006

Yes, 42. 42 degrees, that is. 42 was the temperature inside of our house at 4:30 PM today. But I’m getting ahead of myself — that was just the end of an adventure that started last Thursday.

I left work a little early Thursday, because there was a Seahawks game and we were kicked out of the parking garage at 3 PM. I decided to take advantage of the time to finish off my Christmas shopping. I noticed it was raining when I pulled out of the parking garage, but I didn’t appreciate quite how bad it was until I got out of the car at my first stop. It was really coming down. After I was done shopping, I headed to Seattle Center for improv class. By that time, the weather was nothing short of a torrential downpour. After the walk from my car to the Center House, my jeans were soaked all the way through and it felt like gallons of water were pouring from my coat. It was bad, but I had no idea what was in store.

When class was over, just as I was getting ready to call Becky and tell her I was on my way home, she called me. She said that the power had been on and off all night, and our recording of The Office was interrupted many times. I was annoyed to say the least. Still, I thought that would be the end of it.

My drive home was a little rough, but not the worst I’d had. I could feel the car being pushed around on by the wind, and an impressive amount of water was crashing over the edge of the bridge on I-90. Things really started getting interesting when I approached our neighborhood. The power was completely out, so none of the street lights or traffic lights were working. I could see that the fence at a construction site up the street from us had already been blown over completely. I was glad the storm seemed to be ending. What a fool I was.

The house was dark, but still pretty warm when I got home around 10:30. Destruction was already plenty evident outside. There were a lot of branches in the street, and a couple of our neighbors’ houses had been hit by trees. Two neighborhood dogs were camping out in the safety of our garage, while their owners sought refuge elsewhere. I pulled out the old crank-powered radio and listened to some of the news before going to sleep. The fridge was full, and I was a concerned about losing our food, but I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I was sure that by morning, the power would be back on, and life would go on as normal.

I didn’t sleep very much that night. I was laughably wrong when I’d thought the storm was ending. The wind kept blowing for most of the night, and I constantly heard trees and other heavy objects falling all around our house. I was beginning to worry that we’d have a giant evergreen coming through our roof before it was all over. As I lay in bed listening to the chaos, I had my first realization that this storm was going to be a big deal.

Morning didn’t bring electricity, but it did bring relief. I think I’d slept for about thirty minutes total when I decided to get up and see what was left of our house. We were both incredibly thankful that no major damage had happened to our place. There was a real mess in the yard, some of our Christmas lights were moved out of place and one small tree had fallen in the back. Really, we’d suffered no significant harm.

A lot of other folks around the area were not nearly as fortunate as we were. A few people died, and many more had major damage to their homes. This was a major storm, and we’re very happy that we were so lucky. Still, we weren’t out of the woods yet.

I stayed home from work Friday, hoping to clean up, recover and avoid the commute with the 520 bridge closed. I was completely expecting the power to come back some time during the day. However, as Friday wore on, it began feeling less and less likely that we’d be getting our electricity back soon. Our power company, Puget Sound Energy, was doing an abysmal job of communicating status with their customers and the media, so it was impossible to get a real feeling for how long we’d be in the dark. Seemingly every hour, the radio would have updates from Seattle City Light, Tacoma, Snohomish County and others, but silence from PSE. I’m extremely thankful to the lineworkers who have been slaving away 24/7 to bring back our service, and I’m sympathetic to the folks taking calls in the PSE call centers over the last few days. But I’m not pleased with PSE’s management and PR people. They have a responsibility to communicate a lot better than they did after such an extreme event.

By the end of the day on Friday, it was getting pretty cold in our house. Our cell phone batteries were basically dead. We were sitting around with just the crank radio and a few candles, wearing four layers, huddled under blankets on the couch. Our cat Harvey was not amused, and neither were we.

Then, some good news came. Becky’s parents’ power had been restored, so we went over there to spend the night. It was a huge relief to have a warm place to sleep. We hoped that power would be restored some time overnight. But when we woke up Saturday morning, we still had no power. In fact, it looked like very little progress had been made — not only our neighborhood, but huge parts of the Seattle metro area (most of them serviced by PSE) were still without power. We spent the day shopping, seeing a movie and basically mooching off others’ heat while hoping our own would be back soon. But Saturday evening came, and our house was still dark. We spent another night at Becky’s folks’.

By the time Sunday rolled around, we were pretty exhausted. We’d been without electricity for 60 hours, and we still had no way to know when relief would come. Our weekend plans had been scuttled, and the rest of the week was looking seriously questionable. We resigned ourselves to spend another day shopping and moviewatching. The mall is absolutely the last place I usually want to go at this time of year, but this weekend it offered welcome refuge.

Late Sunday afternoon, we’d had about all the mall time we could take, and our power was still out. It was getting dark and cold, and it looked like we’d have to spend another night away from home. Monday is garbage day, so we started emptying out the spoiled food from the refrigerator and freezer, with the plan of heading over to Becky’s parents’ house for a third night. Then it happened.

It took a few seconds for us to realize what was going on. Suddenly, the lights were on and the heater was whirring away. It was 4:30 PM on Sunday, and our power was back. The final tally was 66 hours without electricity — certainly the longest I’ve ever gone involuntarily. Some people have said it’s like camping, but I beg to differ for three reasons: 1) We choose when we go camping and when we go home, 2) when we’re camping, we have a campfire, and 3) WE ONLY GO CAMPING IN THE SUMMER!

We of course lost a lot of food. We just went to Costco last weekend and stocked up the freezer. Most of it wasn’t even open yet. All of that is garbage now. The two bags you see me holding are only about half of the food we had to trash. Our next trip to the grocery store won’t be a cheap one.

In the end, we’re thankful that we had no serious damage to our home, and that none of us were hurt. But we really don’t want to repeat this experience any time soon. This has been a doozy of a finale for a string of unusually horrible weather in this area — and it had better be the finale, rather than simply a half time show. I don’t know how much more we can take!

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