September 18, 2003

The Perfect Storm

Isabel is was here.

The Federal government made an early decision to close last night after the Metro said they’d be stopping all subway and bus service today at 11 am. Subway cars can sustain an 80 mph (128 kph) wind gust but officials were afraid people could be blown into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

The talk around the office water cooler yesterday was about what seems to be our annual Fall Emergency Festival. Two years ago it was 9/11 and anthrax. Last year it was the sniper and now wind and rain from the heavens. This, of course, is nature and not an act of deranged men. Moses where are you?

We live at the edge of a forest and over 70 trees surround our house. We are more worried about the expected high winds than the 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) of rain. During less severe storms we’ve seen branches break and fall to the ground as powerful javelins; forcefully imbedding themselves into the front yard 12 inches deep. Most of our trees are tulip poplars, with deep root systems. We think they should be able to hold tight but one can never be sure. Our neighbors across the street are leaving. They have a white oak that could fall.

It’s 2 pm and the winds are starting to pick up. Everyone around here is wondering what to do with their cars. For the first time ever we are using our garage as a garage, safely protecting mine while we sacrifice my wife’s as an offering to the hurricane should we need to get away fast.

We are also preparing for a loss of electricity. Even though we live in a populated area our connection to the grid is often tenuous. It’s hard to see your next-door neighbor and the good folks across the street with lights while you sit in the dark/cold/heat (depending on whether it’s a blizzard or a tropical storm). But that has been our history. Pepco, our electric utility company is under fire for a multiday blackout that occurred a few weeks ago after a violent rain storm. They claim they are prepared. We are not confident.

Luckily, our terrorist preparedness tactics are serving us well. We have gallons of bottled water and lots of flashlights with an ample supply of batteries. Why, we even have rolls of duct tape in case we need to shore up broken window.

The brunt of the storm is expected to hit the DC area in the early (and dark) hours of the morning. Some of our neighbors are setting up homesteads in their basements. We are about to fill our inflatable Aero bed soon (requires electricity) and have the girls sleep with us tonight.

If my Net connection remains in the “on” state, I will provide updates. Life was never this complicated when I lived in Los Angeles.


Branches start to fall
7:00 pm EDT: The winds are picking up and it’s been raining since about 2 pm. The trees are swaying quite a bit and branches are falling. This one hit a power line providing the neighbors with a brief pyrotechnic display. But while the lights have flickered every so often, we still have power.

The girls squeal every time the lights dim and are carrying their flashlights wherever they roam throughout the house. My mother-in-law just called to say they have no power. We haven’t decided whether we’re sleeping in the basement yet.

The ground is becoming saturated.9:30 pm EDT: Branches are hitting our roof. The wind is blowing and the water is starting to pool. Luckily, our land slopes away from the house. The basement remains dry. But the worse is yet to come. We moved the Aero mattress into our room. The kids are laughing in bed and refuse to go to sleep. This may turn out to be a very long night. Luckily, we all get the day off tomorrow as the government and schools are closed again.

Saturday, September 20, 11:30 am: We still have no power. I’m using a neighbor’s laptop, connected to his work Net connection. I spent yesterday clearing the debris field. Lot’s of limbs and branches. Luckily, all our trees held.

The storm seems to have stirred the bees and yellow jackets. I was standing, politely comparing notes with a neighbor when I felt this seering pain in my palm. The last time I was stung was about 20 years ago when I stepped on a dead bee. I remember, at the time, calling my doctor to see what I should do should I stop breathing. “If you stop breathing,” he replied, “get to the hospital.” Yesterday I waited to see what would happen. Luckily, nothing but an itchy patch on my hand.

I’m grateful to my neighbor for the internet connection. I was looking for a WiFi at a local Starbucks, but, of course, they had no power either (found one open this morning but with a long line of people waiting for their caffeine outside). Pepco says this is the worst storm they have seen, not so much for the strength of it but how widespread its effect are. Over a million people are without power and it seems that DC was particularly hit hard because of all the huge trees that line our streets. Trees that came down along with power lines. They are saying it could be a week before power is restored. It’s maddening, of course, when you see people a few blocks away with their lights on. And yet, it’s amazingly peaceful (and dark) at night in our neighborhood.

Thanks for the well-wishes. We are holding our own but the girls (and their parents) are starting to go stircrazy. Our 7 year old has just learned the limits of her Gameboy’s rechargeable battery.

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