Saturday, December 28, 2013

Guest Post: The 2013 Christmas Ice Storm

The Shute Home, Midcoast Maine
Greg Shute shares his recent experience with the ice storm and subsequent power outage in Maine over Christmas.  

My wife, our three-year-old son and I had survived the ice storm of 1998.  We spent twelve days without power, so when the local weather forecasters started to hype an approaching winter storm with freezing rain just before Christmas, I wasn't too worried.

A snowstorm earlier in December left our region of mid-coast Maine with up to 20 inches of dry powdery snow.   The cross-country skiing was fantastic and I was selfishly concerned that the predicted ice storm was going to ruin the perfect conditions on the local ski trails.

December 22
Sunday the freezing rain began as predicted.

Walking Koda

December 23
The ice built up Sunday night into Monday.  There was a bit of a lull in the freezing precipitation on Monday morning and we were feeling confident that it wasn’t going to be too bad.  Just the same we planned  for a period without electricity.  In rural Maine power outages are a regular occurrence.  We filled buckets with water and pulled out kerosene lamps, candles, battery powered lantern and headlamps.  Monday evening as we were eating dinner the lights went out.  There was a bit more freezing rain predicted over night and then the forecast called for warmer temperatures on Tuesday.  We went to bed on Monday hoping for the best.

December 24
Tuesday dawned with a freezing mist and then several bouts of heavy freezing rain; as ice accumulated our birch trees bowed down and formed an archway over our walkway.

Jack on Crusty Snow

Iced Sugar Maple Leaf

By Tuesday night limbs were snapping and trees were coming down, it was starting to feel and sound like the Ice Storm of 1998!

We spent Christmas Eve at the kitchen table playing Banana-Grams by the light of headlamps.  We listened to what sounded like rifle shots outside as limbs on pine trees near the house snapped under the weight of the ice, and fell to the ground in an avalanche that sounded like breaking glass.

December 25
A brilliant but distant sun rose on Wednesday morning, Christmas Day, however the temperature didn’t get above 20 so no melting took place.  Our birch trees remained arched over with their tops now touching the ground.   Neighbors down the hill were in Florida for the holidays so we made regular trips to stoke their wood stove to prevent their pipes from freezing.  We went to the town sand shed and loaded our truck and sanded the drive and walkway of our elderly next-door neighbors.

December 26
Jack After the Snow

Thursday was cold and a quick moving storm dropped 4 inches of light powdery snow.   At 5:00PM the lights came on and we all let out a sigh of relief.  With the iced trees now loaded with snow I didn't want to take any chances.  The furnace was turned on to heat up the basement and I refilled all of our water containers.  In less than an hour we were again back in darkness.

December 27
Friday dawned sunny but still powerless. We decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at the Alna Store whose power was restored on Thursday.  As we sat down at the counter we were soon surrounded by several of our Head Tide Hill neighbors.  It seems we all had the same idea.  Over plates of eggs, pancakes and endless cups of coffee we speculated about when we would get our power back.  We also shared stories of past power outages, tips about the best generators and how to keep freezers, filled with the fruits of productive summer gardens, from thawing.   Just as we were leaving the store six utility trucks from western Massachusetts pulled up.  After stopping for a quick cup of coffee they were headed to Head Tide Hill.  After 5-days with out electricity on Friday afternoon our power was restored, thanks to these line workers from southern New England.

We really had it pretty easy during our week without power. We live in a snug passive solar, Cape style house that is easily heated with 2-3 cords of wood per year.  Our cooking range is fueled by propane so we had no problem cooking tasty meals.  Our only limiting factor is the amount of drinking and flushing water that we are able to stockpile.   When we run out of water we can melt snow, of which there was plenty for drinking water or snowshoe across the field and then down through a twisting trail through the hemlocks to the Sheepscot River where we can fill our buckets with icy river water.

We made occasional trips to my wife’s work place in the nearby village of Sheepscot for showers and to charge our electronics.  We stayed in touch with family and friends with our smart phones.  I learned to lengthen the battery of my smart phone by plugging a USB cable into my fully charged laptop.  Although a bit inconvenienced we survived our week long Christmas “Unplugged” quite comfortably and our dogs and cat took it all in stride.  I appreciate the challenge of needing to live with less that the ice storm provided.  In times like this I am also reminded about what is truly important, time with family, our wonderful community in the town of Alna, and during this week the unselfishness of a utility crew from western Massachusetts who postponed Christmas with their own families to assist those of us in Maine who needed a helping hand.

About the Author
Greg is Chewonki’s Director of Outdoor Programs. He received his B.S. in Outdoor Recreation from the University of Maine at Presque Isle in 1982 and started work at Chewonki in 1984.   A Registered Master Maine Guide he serves on the board of the Forest Society of Maine. Greg is chairperson of the State of Maine Department of  Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Camp Trip Leader Program.  He is a founding member and former co-president of the Maine Wilderness Guides Organization and a member of  the Allagash  Wilderness Waterway Advisory Committee.

This photo of the author is from our archives.   The other photographs were provided by the author.


Greenfield said...

Many thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable guest post. You have the kind of practical resilience our New England ancestors were famous for, and I envy those who have you for a neighbor!

The "grid going down" is also a great argument for a smaller, easy-to-heat, commonsense house that promotes sustainable living.

How much longer before someone gets the idea to start burying electrical lines?

binker said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Beautiful pictures as well. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Vermont, “severe” winter storms meant only one possible privation, I might miss Masterpiece Theater if the power went out on a Sunday. I was prepared for all the rest with plenty of wood, food and water, candles, my trusty Coleman lanterns and lots of unfinished reading material.

What I most enjoyed, however, was layering up and heading outside, as rare, natural beauty awaited, like the chickadee perched on the frozen branch.

My birding mother, father and grandparents would have simply loved this photo, as do I.


P.S. To my knowledge, the bison is the only animal that turns to face the brunt of a biting storm, an event I have witnessed first hand.

Anonymous said...

Great photos.

Not being too put out by a power outage is definitely a preppy trait!

JDS said...

Great pictures and story. I often wonder (as do my friends) about my dream of moving to mid coast Maine. I would think a good generator would be a worthy investment.

mary anne said...

Love the pictures, whole post. Muffy, you have talented "helpers" for your blog. What a treat for us readers.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating read - yankee character at its best. Thank you for sharing so those of us in southern california (like me) can expand our "world" view. Best wishes to the author and his neighbors! :)

Anonymous said...

Great guest post - thank you so much for sharing. Those of us in the South don't often experience that level of winter weather, and the reaction is not nearly as calm when anything even remotely similar occurs! Loved the picture of the chickadee!

M.D. Johns/New Communications said...

Two great guest posts today! What riches!

Living in town I cannot imagine what we would do with a power outage. We'd have candlelight, and we could keep our food cold, but we'd have to snuggle to keep warm. Not that that is a bad thing in a good marriage.

As for Masterpiece, thank goodness for streaming video!

Bitsy said...

This post is quite a contrast to the last, but no less interesting. I agree with MGC that the photo of the chickadee on the frozen branch is lovely. And now my curiosity is piqued and I must learn more about bison!

AcadianYankee said...

Yankee resourcefulness (and neighborliness) always comes to the fore when our New England weather shows its serious side. In our small town, we still clear our own driveway and then walk over to the neighbor's house and clear theirs, too. Its these small good deeds that foster community and strengthen relationships between neighbors. As in Frost's poem, mending the wall is about building relationships through shared work and experience. That is what those folks "from away" do not understand.

LPC said...

Lovely post. You can hear the voice of New England so clearly.

Flo said...

The chickadee picture is gorgeous! I'm glad to hear that you have electric again, been there done that. I still haven't gotten used to not having to fill up buckets for drinking/flushing since we moved to town and no longer rely on well water.

Greenfield--in regards to buried electrical lines, it is extremely cost prohibitive and can be dangerous in many situations. Especially when dealing with anything like high tension wires and so forth. The bigger problem is so many electric companies just use their profits to pad the salaries of the high ups instead of using that money to replace/repair infrastructure and maintain clear areas (ie. tree trimming) to prevent this from happening.

Angela Byrum said...

I just love the photographs. I live in a small (albeit charming) southern town and have not seen snow and ice like this in a very long time - if ever. The post and the pictures provide wonderful views of a different life than in Edenton, NC.

Rachel said...

The best winter I ever spent was in the 1970's snowed in and without electricity, I learned to appreciate my ancestors and their struggles that's for sure. I think if my GGG Grandmother could survive the Civil War being burned out of her home during the middle of Winter I can surely survive without TV.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad our Western Mass. Electric (probably not the national grid folks) could be of service. I hope, the next time a power outage lays of flat and dark in Western Mass., they can provide us with power in under two weeks. :) Great feature. Thank you.

Sarah Faragher said...

Great post, thank you. I love that chickadee. I've been seeing them here, and cardinals too. Ice was finally melting and falling here today and I went out and gave our small fruit trees a gentle shake to help the process along. We were lucky and didn't lose power for very long. The weather may prevent my husband from returning to work tomorrow, however, because the Penobscot Narrows bridge is currently closed due to falling ice (we live on one side of the bay and he works on the other).

JDS, we are considering a generator, but really a good woodstove is very effective and a lot more fun to tend! Don't be afraid. Midcoast Maine is terrific.

Happy holidays, Muffy and family!

Alexandra said...

Thank you for this post which serves as a reminder to be prepared, to keep perspective and to be a good neighbor.
The photographs are lovely.

Anonymous said...

My in-laws live in the Pittston area and had lots of ice, and no power. It didn't phase them at all, they just went about their day, had the generator, candles, and lots of flashlights on hand. The ice is beautiful, but destructive. --Holly in PA