Last winter was a record-setter for the northeastern United States – winter snowfall records were broken just about everywhere – so when the forecast indicated we’d be getting six to ten inches of snow on Saturday evening, even though it was unusually early – two months before the big Boxing Day storm that kicked off snow season in 2010 – we figured we’d pretty much be all right. We knew what snow meant.
Saturday morning, we were scheduled to help a friend move out of her apartment. The snow was due about 7pm, with a couple of hours of rain beforehand, so we went ahead with it. About one-thirty, as we were unloading furniture into her storage unit, a first few flakes started to fall. We shrugged, and hurried it up. It seemed likely we could get one more load shifted.
Twenty minutes later, visibility was down to less than a hundred metres and the roads – unable to be pre-treated because of the forecast rain – were treacherous. We made it home, slowly and carefully, and settled in for a long snowy evening. I woke up briefly about three am; the power was out. They’d said there might be some power cuts, so I went back to sleep. It’d probably be back on in the morning.
This is what the world looked like in the morning.
The snow melted from the trees quickly enough, but we were out of power, internet, cellphone service, and (soon enough) hot water. Even the local radio stations were down – we had literally no way to know how bad it was around us. We could see we’d had at least a foot, maybe closer to two feet of snow. When the radio and cellphone coverage came back Sunday afternoon, it revealed a much worse picture; over half of the Connecticut River Valley was powerless, the worst outages ever recorded, and it was going to be at least a week to restore everyone. Maybe longer.
Sunday was long, and very, very boring. We had heat – unlike everyone else on the property – but it turned out our emergency kit was optimised for survival rather than comfort, and we quickly devised a list of a few things we needed to stock up on. (A better method of cooking; lamps, instead of just torches; something not requiring electricity to do that wasn’t reading or playing cards.) We saw linesmen, but the power stayed off.
The university was closed Monday, though Mike made it in to work, but when I got in this morning I saw some of the damage. Trees had huge branches hanging off; my PhD supervisor told me that some out near his house were literally split in half from the weight of snow, like a bomb had gone off. When we drove down a nearby road, we saw leaning power poles every twenty to fifty metres, and tree branches down on lines more frequently than that.
It’s midday Tuesday, and the nice Army man who came by to do a “wellness check” on Monday afternoon told us power would be “less than a week”. I practically hugged my computer in our lab when it powered up and showed an internet connection. Then the kettle, when it boiled and I could make a proper cup of tea. (We can boil water on the gas heater, it just takes about two hours and you have to heat up the whole house to do it.) It’s not even the lack of electricity and internet that’s the real problem; it’s the grinding tedium, the late sunrise and early sunset restricting what we can do to torch-carrying-friendly activities, the inability to do even the simplest chores around the house, to shower, to cook, to stop a fridge and freezer full of food slowly going off. (We did make a delicious roast on the little charcoal barbeque, but it took four hours.) It’s the way your life grinds to a halt and you don’t know when it will start again, and then you go into work and everything’s normal, except everyone is a little more tired and a little less clean and going quietly mad.
Almost everyone is in the same boat, with well over half the region out. It’s going to be a long, long week.
(I think it says something about this year that “natural disasters” is very nearly the most-used tag on this blog. SERIOUSLY, NATURE, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?)