Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Blow Hard 2012 - Wind Storm Disaster Q & A with OFG

We learned a new word this past week: derecho. Its basically a land hurricane and wow did it pack a punch! We had straight line winds with speeds up to 80 mph – it was like nothing we've ever seen before. It came out of nowhere. This storm blew down from the north – out of its projected trajectory – and by the time it was over it had traveled 1000 miles in just 16 hours.

We were just some of the poor saps left in the dark with no power. Fortunately we were only out of power for a little more than 24 hours. As of last nite well over 100,000 people are still without power and may not get it back until later today.

How did we handle it here in The Good Land? Lets do a quick Q and A.

What happened?:
Thank heaven my pal, V, told me to turn on my weather radar last Friday afternoon. She typically gets weather before we do and the storm was barreling down on her. We figured we had about an hour before it hit us so we sprung to action. First, we got everyone in the barnyard who was vulnerable or valuable shoved in their houses. This was tough because it was so hot and because it was so early. However as the event horizon got closer and it got darker and darker there was better cooperation and we got critical mass of the poultry safely inside with some stragglers. We locked all the doors, especially the big sliding barn door.

Next we grabbed all the buckets we could find. We have been buying them at walmart and also the local donut shop. These food grade buckets usually come with lids and are just $1 or $2 each. They seal really well and have a ton of uses. The Big Man filled all the buckets from the hose knowing we'd need water for the barnyard. Meanwhile I grabbed all my half gallon jars and filled them from the sink for drinking and cooking. As part of our normal preparedness we have at least 5 gallons of water stored in the basement. But with the heat we wanted to make sure we could get everyone watered.

I made one last trip outside to get the last of the hens in and to lock the goats in their house. Just as I put the latch on the goat door the storm hit – poultry went flying, everything in the barnyard whooshed, the gate was nearly ripped off the hinges, and branches started coming down. Dog#1 and I ran for our lives. Literally running for our lives. I last saw the runner ducks...well... running away.  I wished them luck.

Then The Big Man and I stood on the front porch (sheltered) and watched the trees bend and whip around. For a couple tense moments we watched the maple tree in the front come dangerously close to breaking and crushing one of the trucks. Luckily it didnt. Then the lightening started and we ran in the basement.

In the house we had the cats secured in smaller rooms – in the safest bedroom and in the bathrooms. We did this so we could keep track of them, to best protect them if the house blew apart, and to make sure we could quickly snatch them up if we needed to make a hasty evacuation. I learned the hard way that cats can be uncooperative during times of crisis. I once chased Nicholas around the house with a net while a tornadic storm was almost upon us. It didn't go well. So having them “easily snatchable” is the best policy.

The dogs came downstairs in the basement with us. Then the lights went out. At that point I deeply regretted not taking a shower. Or washing the dishes in the sink. Dang.

Then what?
We sat there and looked at each other.

After the worst of it was over I went to check the barnyard. And wow those runner ducks came running right for me. Ha! Next time they will listen to me and not run away. The door to the hen house had blown open, but the gate was still attached, and I had totally forgotten about the pigs. But I knew where my butcher knives were just in case we had some pressed ham. We checked on the pigz and they were fine. Everyone was fine. We did not have any livestock losses. We had one tree down but none of our property damage was too bad. It was still early in the evening so we let everyone back out so they could cool off and peck around.

Then we opened the house to get as much cool air in as possible. There is an art and a science to this passive cooling – the strategy of closing and opening the house to keep it cool. I'm not very good at it but it works.

We did chores, when it was almost dark, but we were able to round everyone up. I think Debbie the goat was pretty freaked out. When I opened her door she was all covered in debris but not from the storm. I'm guessing it was from thrashing around. I'm glad I had her locked up so she didn't bolt. A good reminder to keep everyone locked up.

What about food? What did you do about food!
For the animals? We were at the feed store the day before and on a whim I bought an extra couple of bags of feed – good thing too because our little town was still out of power and the feedstore just opened today.

For us – easy. We normally have a bunch of easy to fix meals for these situations. And I had put out two days of meat to thaw in the fridge earlier that day. So I pulled that all out and we grilled it and just had a big, grill-up-meat-feed for dinner.

A couple notes:
  • Almost anything you can cook on your stove you can cook on your gas grill. I put a cast iron fry pan on the grill top and voila! You don't need no stinkin' burner – just don't grab the handle bare handed.
  • It goes without saying that you should always have some extra propane for your gas grill. Two full tanks is a good number. You can cook on your gas grill in summer or winter. But don't ever cook on it in the house or in the garage. I once cooked bacon and eggs outside on the grill in a snow storm – complete with mittens, snow pants, and a big jacket.
  • Our fridges are pretty efficient. Our stuff will stay cold in the upstairs fridge for at least 12 hours and the downstairs fridge is good for 24 hours. We keep this downstairs fridge especially cold – for beer and for butchering – so it lasts longer.
  • Don't stand there with the fridge door open! We have a standing “no open door” policy for power outages. At most we open the door maybe twice or 3 times a day. Once its out whatever we take out doens't go back in. So strategically take stuff out. For instance, I remembered that I didn't have very much teriyaki sauce.... so that's what we used as seasoning for one of the packages of meat. I didn't feel bad wasting what we didn't use.
  • Use everything that is most perishable first. We drank the cold milk from the fridge first....and I used up the fresh goat cheese (I made the day before) immediately. We had fabulous goat cheesy bruchetta on the grill.
  • The freezer drawer for the upstairs fridge is shockingly inefficient and makes me mad every time I think about it. So everything in that drawer is used first. Of course, we always take one for the team and dig into the ice cream first.

Fortunately I also made a blueberry crisp just as the storm was approaching. The power went off before it was done cooking but I just let it set in the hot oven. It finished up just fine and we had a tasty snack and also something for breakfast.

When did you know you were in trouble?
When I started calling around to grocery stores the next morning to see if anything was open. Altho we have a power inverter for the trucks, we really needed some ice to make sure the fridges and freezers would stay cold. If we were in for a long haul then the ice would buy us a couple of days before we'd need to run the trucks (and use the gas) to keep everything cold.

The best tip I learned thru all of this is that you should immediately stop what you are doing and figure out where the nearest hospital is... then find out if there is a grocery store nearby. The local Krogers were open because both happened to be on the same power grid as the hospital they were each located next to (in different towns)... good thinking on someone's part. So we knew we could get some supplies.

The morning after we lost power we each set out in different directions. Early. VERY early. Don't be a fool and sleep in during a crisis. People were already in line at 7am for the local TSC to see if they could buy a generator.

I figured it was going to be grim when I went to Kroger and there was a line at the in-store Starbucks 25 people deep and folks loading up their carts with water. I found the manager and asked him for the news... he just told me “good luck.” That's when I found out that folks would be without power for over a week.

I talked to some folks who said the night of the storm was chaotic in town. Most of the power was out, almost all the stoplights were out, and many of the fast food places were dark. This caused chaos in the streets – literally. Apparently people panicked at not being able to get their value meals and the few places that were open had lines down the street and hundred of people waiting. I reflected on the fabulous grill-up we had safely at home and kinda shrugged thinking they were fools.

They also told me that traffic was terrible. I wondered why they didn't just stay home but I guess they all needed that combo meal instead of staying at home eating what was about to go bad in their fridge. At that point I figured these folks were the zombies that preppers were always talking about.

On the lighter side, I happened upon a baker of bread who's shop was dark but who had a bunch of bread they couldn't sell and didn't want to go to waste. They were happy to pass it out to folks nearby and I was glad for the 3 loaves I was offered. Some other people took armloads.

By the time I passed by Kroger again on the way home the coffee line was down to nothing and all of the ice and water had been cleared off of the shelves. TBM and I had been coordinating via cell phone so I got a few things that he could not find. As I trolleyed around in the store I watched people go to the BBQ aisle and load their carts with all the charcoal they could carry. I was glad that we didn't need it. I got paper towels and paper plates thinking it would be easier to throw them away then to try and wash dishes. And I got Oreos. I figured if this was the end of civilization as we knew it then Oreos should be on the menu.

I also noted that the banks had already started putting up “no cash” signs on their ATM's. Some folks were surprised that their bank cards didn't work at the cashier. I had a big roll of cash in my pocket so I didn't worry. No where, to or from town, could I find an open gas station. Luckily my big truck was mostly full so I didn't worry about that either.

By the time I got home TBM had put a big bag of ice in each of the fridges and freezers. Good thing we got it when we did as it became worth its weight in gold. On Tuesday I happened to be at walmart at about 11 am and they had already sold out of ice. The cashier said they had sold out twice the day before.

How did you manage the barnyard?
Well, as I said above, we had food for them... and since we free range everyone it wouldn't have been the end of the world if we ran out. Water was really the only big problem. But we had filled every single bucket, tub, and kiddie pool we could find before the storm hit. We figured that everyone would have to make do and we consolidated water buckets where appropriate (for the waterfowl who drink out of puddles anyway), carefully filled the pigz water (they still had a huge wallow full of water if things got bad), and really the only ones who got any of the precious fresh water were the goats. In a pinch we could have hauled water from the pond for the stock.

The poultry houses were hot, even as it got late, so we stayed outside until just about dark making sure the predators weren't snooping around. We closed the doors at the last possible minute.

In the morning we got the barnyard up early. Like, crack of dawn early so they could get all their chickenin' around done in the cool of the day. There was a heavy dew which helped, and we still had plenty of water. When I dumped buckets too dirty for the barnyard to drink from I did it in the grass so it would attract worms and bugs for the hens.

Were you worried?
Only about Zander. We keep forgettingThe Bubby is still a baby. He still can't handle the heat like the rest of them. So we took the dogs downstairs in the basement with us where it was coolest. We'd take breaks outside in the shade and sat in the breeze. And we encouraged Zander to put his paws in the water to keep cool. There was no playing or running around. If he, or any of the other dogs, would have gotten over heated it would have been difficult to cool them off. But he did just fine.

What did you do for entertainment?
We read books. Can you believe it? Actual books. We also were able to hook up the TV to the power inverter and catch the local news. We were really surprised at how widespread the damage was.

Just as they were giving the status of when power would be restored to different areas...and we were sure we'd be the last ones to get our power back... the lights came on! We ran.. I mean to tell you...we RAN to get as much water as we could. We refilled the buckets, the tubs and everything else. Then we quickly took showers. Then I reviewed our food options just in case we were left in the dark again.

As it was the power came and went for several days. Its still going on and off as they are bringing more people online. The worst thing that happened was that I used the buckets of extra water for the garden one morning and just as I was done... we lost power. And no way to get water. And I had just dumped out all our water on the green beans! Oh NO! Fortunately after about an hour it came back on and I got them refilled. Quickly. Yikes!

What did you learn?
  1. That all this preparedness worked. Get a plan in place before you need it. Then work that plan.
  2. Being organized and level headed worked. Know where your tools and provisions are. Focus on the tasks and not on 'what if”. Do what needs to be done instead of trying to figure it out as you go.
  3. Find your best attitude and keep it. Caterwauling on and on about how bad things are only stresses everyone out. And its unproductive.
  4. That we don't want to go full Amish because its kinda boring and I missed my online friends!

We have been without power before for several days. So we felt we were in a much better position than other folks. But for heaven sakes we saw some foolishness – the folks who were genuinely surprised that the BurgerMore wasn't opened and what were they gonna do now?!?! The folks who showed up late and couldn't figure out why there wasn't anymore ice. The lady who said she didn't have any money to replace what she lost in her fridge but then said they were eating at the fast food place for every meal. How does that work?

And the other woman who stood there with her fridge door open complaining that she lost everything in her fridge too. I'm just gonna guess that it wasn't the first time that door was open. We didn't loose anything. Not even close. I think after maybe a week things would get dicey but by that time we would have closed down the fridges, concentrated on keeping the freezers cold, and been eating like kings out of our home-canned stuff.

I kinda wanted to shake them all and tell them go to the store, get a loaf of bread and peanut butter & jelly, make sandwiches, and quit acting like its the end of the world. I also got a good laugh about everyone complaining about the heat and how unfair it was that their power wasn't on. While the work crews were out there broiling in the sun. In heavy gear. Working in dangerous conditions with heavy equipment. All those complainers should have been out there shaking them guys hands and thanking them for their hard work. But you know how I am.

But wasn't it HORRIBLE?
Um. No. For us it was inconvenient. Neither of us are elderly or have health problems and were more focused on taking care of our animals. And I think it helped that we are from the last generation who learned that life was not fair and that you had to play the hand you were dealt. And the fact that our Amish neighbors live without power ever day helped keep things in perspective. By noon it was too hot for me yesterday to be outside but I passed a guy plowing with this horses on my way to town. Truthfully it made me feel ashamed for quitting so early in the day.

While we were still in the dark we had an offer to go and stay with some folks who got their power on early. There is no way we would go. We would not leave our dogs and cats alone in the house so we could go watch cable TV... we also wouldn't leave our barnyard to deal with the heat - even if we didn't have to.  So we just did what we had to. 

In these situations we tend to keep busy managing the situation. We make jokes and try to lighten the mood. And we were grateful for what we had. We cheered each other on and were always mindful that no matter how hot we were.... at least our boots weren't on the ground in Afghanistan where it is 100* in their evening in Kandahar. And we weren't on the front lines of the fires out in West. And we weren't watching our house burn down as we drove away fast to stay ahead of an uncontained fire. 

All in all we feel like we dodged a huge bullet and feel extremely fortunate that we got off as easy as we did. 

So that's what happened. I've spent the last week hauling branches, doing clean up, and trying to keep everyone watered as the power came and went. Looks like most of the electric will be back and we'll get some relief from the heat by early next week. Keep cool everyone!

Anybody else have any adventures? 


Tombstone Livestock said...

Great post, glad you are from a generation that can take care of itself when needed. Good you had enough warning to fill all water buckets ahead of time. Fast Food restaurants will usually give you free buckets if you ask. I used to get 5 gal pickle buckets for taking to fairs when kids were in
4H. Take care, remember things in life are what happens when you made other plans

Robin said...

Nope, no adventures here...just hot hot hot!!!

I am always amazed at how unprepared people are in case of an emergency. I did a Powerless People post last year when we had the October snow storm. It just amazes me.

Another good tip is to make a few blocks of ice in plastic containers with lids and keep them in the bottom of your big freezer. I did this before the hurricane and keep them in there. They really do help if you loose your power for a long time.

Coco said...

Wow, what an adventure! Good on you guys for being prepared and keeping a good attitude.

David said...

Outstanding post! and yep we sure did have adventures - but it was after you on July 1. straight line winds over 90mph. Lost our beautiful magnolia and our big shade giving black locust. Power was out 35 hours, but we do have a generator so thankfully I was able to power the fridge. I take it you're ona well hence no power no water. I guess city water does have it's advantages. We slept inthe basement and of course without all the critters and furry family members did not have challanges you did but, boy howdy I sure don't want to got through that again. Glad you're all ok!

Chai Chai said...

The Commander wants a hand pump with its own well more than anything and has been hounding me for a couple years about what a safety feature it would be - seems he may be correct.

Damummis said...

Ha! Welcome to my life. Hurricanes are a frequent summer visitor when you live on an island in New England. The only difference is the amount of time to prepare. Glad you made it thru. Done good OFG, give yourself a pat on the back.

JeffJustJeff said...

This power outage was definitely an eye-opener. Water was the place that hit us as well. I didn't have the warning, so I didn't stock up. The chickens and pigs don't mind the pond water, but the goats would have to be on the verge of swooning before they'd consider drinking pondwater.

We have a generator hard-wired to the house that runs on natural gas. We thought it wasn't working for the first day, but it was just too big a load. We had the AC off at the thermostat but had to turn it off at the breaker. Our well pump isn't attached to the generator. We were able to use the gas stove if needed for cooking, but we did little of that.

I want to do a few things to better prepare should there be another time. I will be purchasing a well hand pump. I'm going to be canning like a fiend this summer and fall. I've started with jelly and jam but I want to have it all. After long enough, you'll only have what's growing or in your cupboards. I also want to revamp our spring house so it can be used for its intended purpose should the need arise. If nothing else, it will be great for chilling beer or melons.

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually considering buying a buck goat....shudder. If so, he will be at the farthest point from the house and the goat girls. If something like this turned into long term, we'd need to be able to raise more livestock and keep the girls milking. That being said, the neighbors down the road have some bucks, so maybe I don't need to go that far ;-)

I think if we do these few things, we'd be in a pretty good place if something like this should happen again. I'm hoping some of the masses with learn from this. If we're lucky, the food on the store shelves will be enough to last about 3 days. What will they do then? Don't think about coming to the country trying to take my food....


freemotion said...

Sounds a lot like our experience here last October with the freak storm that hit MA and CT and left many trees down and many without power. We were warm and well fed, too! I learned to make pizza (from scratch, of course) inside my woodstove in a cast iron skillet....YUM!

Great story telling, I was on the edge of my seat!

Tami said...

Outstanding post OFG!!!! You never know how you'll truly respond in a crisis until you're neck deep in it but your best advice is a keeper...It's all about attitude and perspective! And yours is PRIMO!!!!!

Tonya @ My Cozy Little Farmhouse said...

Good job OFG and TBM. Our power was off about 22 hrs. We managed to secure 7 bags of ice. What was packed in ice survived. I have learned the hard way the seals on my old fridges-freezers are bad...oops

We had plenty of water (I have 5000+ gallons in my pool to bathe and water the garden with) but we actually didn't lose water service--just water pressure. We also had a dozen jugs of water on the shelf and several packages of the small water bottles. (The one tome I am glad I wasn't so eco-concious)

We have plenty of wood for the fire pit to cook on if the propane ran out. I have a quite a collection of cast iron cookware so making meals was no problem.

We did have cash on hand--although small quantities.

We have a power inverter for the car to run a lamp and charge cell phones. We have since ordered a 7000w propane generator. And the chest freezer will hopefully be next month.

It was as you stated an inconvenience but not dire for us. And we definitely learned some lessons as well.

Thanks for telling a great story and glad you and all your livestock and pets came through it ok!

Provender Place said...

Thanks for the hospital tip. That's a good one to know.

Unknown said...

The part about people queuing for fast food cracked me up. We had floods a couple of years ago, people in rural areas were fine for weeks, people in the city needed food drops after 24 hours. My father in law helped with some rural helicopter food drops after several weeks of being cut off, he was shocked to find that they dropped disposable nappies and bread, instead of flour and milk powder! And therefore the number of extra flight to get to everyone. We have the same problem with losing the water pump when the power goes out, the next house is going to have a header tank for the kitchen, so at least we will have a limited supply. After the floods we bought a generator, so that next time we will be able to keep freezers and the egg incubator (!) going, but there hasn't been a "next time" yet, however the generator has been very useful on the farm anyway.

Lori Adams said...

I got lucky and dodged a bullet. We lost power Friday night and got it back Sunday night. We don't have a generator but were able to borrow one from a friend whose power came back on Saturday night. We lost almost everything in the household fridge because it got so hot in the house. The garage freezer and fridge were pretty much okay because the temp in there was lower.

Here's a tip for those of you that have freezers. As you empty the freezer fill it up with water jugs. The jugs will freeze and fill the empty space and in the event of a power outage a full freezer will stay colder longer than one that is partially full. The other thing is that if you have some frozen jugs (milk jugs or even smaller water bottles-I freeze mine for the rabbits in hot weather) then as soon as the power goes out you can grab a couple and shove them in your fridge and that will keep the temp down in there too. Once they melt, you have drinking water or water to flush toilets or brush your teeth or give your animals. Also fill the bathtubs if severe weather is in the forecast. We have a garden tub that we seldom use but it has been worth it's weight in gold during power outages.

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