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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Preparing For: ICE - Part One

Those of us who live here in Tennessee know all too well the power that ice and freezing rain have to bring our cities and our lives to a stand-still. We seen it first-hand, we've experienced it - we should learn from it and be better prepared for the Next Time it comes our way.

Following is a story we've been given permission to re-print - a first-hand experience from a prepper that lived the severe ice storm that hit Kentucky just a few short weeks ago. Read it. Digest it. Learn from it. And know why it pays to prepare for Mother Nature's realities. Are you really ready for Mother Nature's next move?

This is a long read, but well worth the time. I'm going to break it into small parts over the coming days for ease of viewing.

Part I


This is part 1 of my recollection of the last week and a half of going through what has turned out to be the largest single disaster to ever strike the state of Kentucky.

At this writing, there are still entire counties in the dark and tens of thousands without power, water or heat. Shelters are at capacity, with the cold temps tonight and tomorrow, those toughing it out without the conveniences of hitting a thermostat are in jeopardy and hardship.

When I began this essay, I was simply listing my recollections of how we got through the disaster and it's aftermath and it began to take more of a story flow. So I thought it better to do it as a story narrative rather than just note key points of prep advice, neighborliness and how stupid government is.

I will state that the most important thing to know is that you have to trust God and yourself. Do not rely on others and ESPECIALLY do not wait for or rely on government for ANYTHING.

You and your community are on your own after a disaster, and given what I have seen and heard - you are much better off, IF you are prepared.

Like the Titanic, it is amazing what a little water and ice can do to bring down your entire world.

Survival Mode: Ground Zero When It All Goes Away


Modern life has a way of getting very routine. Many and much of the conveniences of our technological and internet world are taken for granted because much of it 'runs in the background'. Few of us consider how it works, how interconnected it is, and how it not only maintains our comforts and entertainments, but how much of it keeps us alive. We simply always expect it to be there, making life simple and convenient as it has for most of our lives. People live without a thought of how our modern system of power, light, heat, air conditioning, food, gasoline, and every other aspect of life in America exists. Only that it is always there.

But our modern system is not a constant.

That point was made clear to me and just about everyone that lives in America's Heartland over the last week. For some, it will continue for many weeks, and perhaps months ahead. A true catastrophe borne by something as seemingly harmless and benign as a steady gentle rain for three days. Three days during which time the air temperature hovered at or below freezing. It would result in the most devastating ice storm in modern memory. Millions without power, heat, food or fuel. Many trapped by a forest of falling limbs, and many lives lost to either freezing to death, or asphyxiation as they attempted to stay warm.

I am a bit perplexed that in a largely rural area such as West Kentucky, where tobacco farmers and cattle ranchers still dot the hilly landscape, that so many folks are not as self-sufficient as I assumed hearty rural folks would be. Only five months after the remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through our area with four hours of 60-110 MPH winds and knocked out power for three days and damaged many trees and homes, our area was struck by the force of nature again. This time however, the devastation was far worse and far deadlier than we could have ever imagined.

The Storm Approaches.

Few had any real alarm before the storm arrived. In our area, most of the time snow or sleet is forecast - the forecasts come up short and many locals have gotten into a 'cry wolf' weariness over the years. Generally speaking, our area does not get much snow in the Wintertime. In the 11 years we have lived here, we have seen only four big snow events that melted within a day or two of falling. Ice seems to be about the only sure Winter precip we can expect. So if sleet and ice are forecast - the locals invade the local Walmart and Krogers and empty the shelves of staples and perishables to hunker down for a day off of work and school.

The forecast the week and days before January 26th was suggestive of some possible 'Wintery precipitation'. As a Severe Storm Spotter for the area, I have a custom to check the NOAA forecast discussions when any Hazardous Weather Outlooks are issued for our region. The forecast for the week of January 25th fluctuated between sleet and snow to an all-rain event in our area possibly beginning Monday the 26th. The models and the predictions were uncertain as to where the sleet/snow/rain line would be and there was differing consensus among the local forecasters whether or not there would be anything but light accumulations of sleet or ice for our area by Saturday the 24th morning forecast. Some Winter sleet or ice was coming, but how much and where was not certain. Snow was probable north of the Ohio river while sleet and some ice was possible in our area with rain along the TN/KY border being discussed.

That began to change on Sunday morning as the forecast began to solidify that our area could expect a 'significant Winter storm', and put us under a Winter Storm Watch. The forecasters began to see that we would have Winter precipitation beginning Monday night and running into Tuesday night. This was enough to ignite the usual crushing hordes to invade the grocery stores to 'prep' for the storm by buying all the bread, milk, pork rinds and snow sleds on the shelves.

Having originally heralded from the Chicagoland area where Winters and road construction are the only two seasons of the year, I can say that while I have mastered the art of driving in ice and snow in Chicago, ice and snow in Kentucky is not in the same universe. Hills and gravity make a considerable, and sometimes deadly difference as I nearly found out our first Winter down here. When ice or snow is forecast, I am content to sit tight and stay home, just like the wise locals that learned that lesson when they were toddlers.

Having a Prepper mindset and living in both Tornado Alley and Earthquake territory, I am prepared for disaster at nearly all times. I am set to weather at least two weeks of apocalyptic calamity and have enough chow stored to last us three months. Therefore, when I read the forecast on Sunday morning, I was almost indifferent. However, since temps were going to go down to the low teens, and most folks out here are on electric heat or electric-run forced air gas furnaces, I decided to check my kerosene levels. Just to be safe and before the hordes of 'preppers' hit the stores, I topped off three of the 5 gallon kerosene jugs I have and picked up an extra gallon of milk to observe for my own amusement, the ritual insanity that happens every single time they call for a snowflake in the area.

I was set as well as I could be for a few days with no power or internet, or so I thought.

By Monday morning the forecast became more dire, and they put our area under a Winter Storm Warning, with an Ice Storm Warning for the counties just to our South. The storm was now going to contain two rounds of Winter precip. Round one was going to start Monday night and run until Tuesday afternoon. The next round was scheduled to start Tuesday evening into Wednesday late morning with more sleet and snow as a cold front pushed through the area dropping our temps into the teens. The mesoscale discussions were talking about the possibility of a half-to-one inch ice and sleet accumulations.

Now I had been in a bad ice storm in 1979 in Texas when I was a teen, and I saw what a half inch of ice did. Now they were talking about an INCH of ice?
By Monday night, I was checking the discussion and hourly forecasts and I began to wonder to myself if they were simply wrong. After all, there was STILL disagreement as to where the snow/sleet/ice and rain line was going to be, and it was right cold outside for most of Monday.

The local news and weather began to talk out loud about 'significant power outages' with the amount of ice and sleet forecast. This sent those that thought an extra loaf of bread and gallon of milk was sufficient to go into a panic, and fly back to Walmart and Home Depot and grab any flashlights, batteries and non-electric heaters they could find. The news showed the crushing crowds at the stores as the usual 'prep before the storm' coverage followed it's usual boring and tired script. Schools were closing in anticipation of the storm and my youngest was giddy and asked if one of her friends could stay the night so they would not be 'bored'.

I made mention in the Officers Quarters that our forecast was looking bad and we may end up in the dark, but I had no idea at the time how long that would end up becoming.

During the late afternoon on Monday the shallow pool of cold air from a weekend cold front was being overridden by warmer air above it. I was watching the radar returns out of Oklahoma and Arkansas during the day, and they had some light icing spreading East and North during the afternoon hours of Monday. Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico began to stream up into our area, above the cold pool of air at the surface. The temps were slowly warming from the mid-20's to the low 30's.

By Monday night around 8 local time, the storm arrived. It started to rain.

A good steady rain, that intensified and subsided in regular intervals until around midnight, when it simply became a steady cadence.

My last look out the door before I turned in, was a light glaze covering everything. The rain was steady, and I could see my breath hit the cold and damp air as rivulets of raindrops cascaded down from my gutterless roof and the tree limbs. The temperature gauge read 31 degrees. My last thought as I closed the door was that this was another overblown forecast, and that rain was again our lot with some icing on the trees and mailboxes. I did one last check of the forecast discussion. Now it was becoming certain that the Tuesday night into Wednesday segment of the storm would bring us a bigger chance of sleet and snow.

I tucked myself under the quilts, the sound of the drips hitting the bushes outside my window sending me into deep sleep.

I would awaken to a different world.

Day 1 - Tuesday 1-27

I awoke to the sound of a whump followed by my wife shouting "You have to be kidding me!"

An eerily dim and gray light enveloped my bedroom. I sat up and glanced back to check the time. The alarm clock was dark, the power had gone out.

The sound outside was the same as it was when I went to bed.


I could hear the wife complaining about her luck. She had mixed batter for waffles and had just poured some onto the electric waffle iron when the power went out.

So much for breakfast.

I looked out the window and blinked a few times. Ice had covered everything and the lighter branches of the elm tree up top were leaning over. I could see icicles hanging off the power lines out front and the grass was a combination of standing puddles surrounded by sticks of ice.

I got dressed and stumbled into the kitchen. I looked up at the battery operated kitchen clock and it was shortly after 9 AM.

My first concern of utmost importance, above and beyond anything else that could occupy my mind with the exception of prayer, was COFFEE. As I began to contemplate how to caffeinate my brain sans the Mr. Coffee machine, a sound I do not hear often grabbed my attention. My battery backup for my computer systems that are the tools I use to provide an income, was beeping to let me know I had about ten minutes to back-up and shut my systems down. Once I did so, I unplugged everything from the wall sockets, and went upstairs to unplug the TVs and surround sound system.

Once I had gotten those pressing tasks completed, my mind once again was consumed with getting coffee into my system. I had not set any of our preps out the night before, so I had to undertake the odyssey of digging out the never-before used camp stove and propane from the downstairs closet, which had been buried under board games used throughout the year. I made a mental note to clean out the closet later on so the emergency supplies were as easily accessible as other 'tools' in the house are.

I soon realized I had a major problem because I could not find the camp stove coffee percolator that I knew I had somewhere. The dark dawn struck me that it was probably packed with all the tents and non-essential camping gear, up in the carport attic. With the cold and rain, I decided that I would be inventive and practical rather than trudge out in the elements and scurry about a dark, cold attic hunting for a coffee percolator.

So I did what any thinking coffee addict would do; I filled up a pot of water, set the campstove on the electric stove, hooked up the propane canister and fired up the water for coffee. I took the glass carafe from the coffee maker, unhooked the plastic basket, set a filter in it and dug out a can of pre-ground Columbian coffee and set the grounds in the filter. Once the water was boiling on the camp stove, I poured it into a pitcher with a spout so I could become a human Mr. Coffee maker and slow pour the water into the basket which was now sitting precariously over the carafe. You'd think this would be simple, and I'd have a piping hot cup of aromatic caffeinated goodness, right?


You see, there is a reason there are percolators and drip coffee makers. Humans make lousy drip coffee makers. For when pouring the water into the plastic basket, I expected it would filter through the grounds and drip down the little hole at the bottom of the basket like I had observed so many times before when doing the watchpot thing - or the drip pot thing; when I would curse the little machine for not brewing fast enough on rough mornings. I assumed I could emulate the action. My bad. The water filled up the basket and took the grounds with it as they floated up to the top of the water and proceeded to spill out and run down the outside of the filter and the basket in what looked like a sandy-muddy mess. So unless I wanted to chew my coffee, it was back to square one.

I ingeniously decided to put ANOTHER filter on TOP of the grounds and then slowly trickle water onto the filters and through the basket into the carafe. Took a half hour of pouring and picking up the filter as it seemed to clog up when I poured too much water in at a time. The wife tells me that the coffee maker 'sprays' hot water onto the grounds to 'seep' through the grounds and drip out. What I was doing was what one does to purify water through a sock and sand. Oh well. A half hour of cramping arm and warm coffee was good enough for me.

With my lukewarm cup of joe, I went down into my now cold office to fire up the battery operated radio to see if I could get the latest news, forecast and talk radio buzz. Since I was only able to feed one addiction today, Talk Radio would have to substitute for TOL. A sad one at that, but desperate times call for settling for what one was able to get.

The forecast was more dismal than it was the night before. It had said that round one of the freezing rain would taper down in the early afternoon, but pick up again with greater intensity near sunset. They said another half inch of ice was possible before the precip would switch to sleet and then snow sometime near midnight with accumulations of up to four inches. Of course the kids loved to hear this news, but as I looked outside - the prospect of another half inch of ice on top of what I estimated to be about a half to three-quarters inch of ice already began to concern me.

The tree tops began to bend downward and the power lines were sagging with the ice already weighing them down. The rain had begun to taper off a tad around noon but still fell without abatement, at a level that would have been perfect for a drip coffeemaker. The temp outside was reading 28.

At around ten minutes after one PM, right when Limbaugh was beginning his second hour, the power popped back on. The lights down in my office grew bright, then dimmed, them became steady....for about thirty seconds.

A loud WHAM! followed by a WHUMP! shook the house. My AM radio was suddenly static and the power went out. This time, for good. I assumed a transformer blew around me somewhere, and I could not get the AM station to come back in. The FM stations were also static, except for the Country station and the Hip-hop station. The talk and news station was nothing but static. The kids battery boom box also went out from whatever blew outside.

So we were in the dark, with rain still lightly falling and an air temp of 29. No power, and no phones (our phone lines are through our cable internet company), but the miracle of technology allowed the kids to keep texting with their cell phones. I had mentioned our elderly neighbors next door, and wondered aloud about them, and asked the wife and kids if they knew whether or not they had gas heat. They were unsure, but figured they probably had back up sources like we did.

While we still had daylight, I broke out the lanterns, flashlights and candles. At this point I began to think we may be without power for a day or two like we were back in September when Ike blew through. My thoughts began to formulate a list of things we needed to do if we were going to be without power for awhile. Unlike the situation in September, we did not run the risk of losing what we had in our fridge. I emptied all the perishable contents into a cooler and set it outside. I made sure that the freezers were not opened. Back in September, we only lost the things in our small freezer above the fridge, the large deep freezer lasted for three days with no power, we assumed the same results for this outage.

I had a chicken that was sitting in the refrigerator for a greek lemon soup recipe we intended to make on Wednesday, and decided that today was as good a day as any to make soup. So I set a big pot of water on the campstove, and began to boil the chicken for soup.

Around 4 it began to get dark inside even though we were more than an hour from sunset, so we fired up one kerosene and one oil lamp. Right after we got them lit, my dogs barked outside, so I went to see what the commotion was and it was then I noticed that the rain had picked up in intensity. The poochies wanted inside, and I normally let them in only when the temps get below 20, but with the soaking rain - my long haired mutt had icicles hanging off his underside. As I looked out the back deck, the treeline of the woods out back was changing. Many limbs and treetops were bent over, some arching downward, some simply drooping from the ice that I could now see was becoming more noticeable. Earlier in the day, trees at a distance simply looked wet. Now they began to shimmer as the ice coating began to build and whiten the landscape.

Sometime around 6, as the wife was deboning the chicken while I was cutting up veggies for the soup, we heard a loud crack and bang. We were not sure what the sound was at first, and wondered whether or not our big tree next to the house lost a limb or not. Stepping out on the carport to check it out, it was noticeably colder and the rain was coming down heavier than it was earlier. A steady drenching-type of rain. It was eerily dark but the growing ice was leaving a weird refraction of illumination on the ground while the sky was dark. A flashlight revealed that the big tree next to my office and above the power lines from the main road to our house was encased in ice. I could hear it crack in the branches as a breeze blew the sagging limbs into a sway. Already my driveway was littered with small branches and twigs that had broken and fallen from the tree. The big limbs up top were sagging over the power lines to the house and I calculated that if they broke off, both the lines the limbs would end up on top of or through the carport and office roof.

I called the wife to look, and lamented that we did not try to find some way to trim the tree earlier in the year. Surveying the branches already on the ground she agreed that the tree looked to fall on the lines and then the house. Almost as if to put an exclamation point on her deduction, a loud CRACK! and booming shatter pierced the sound of rain and gently cracking ice. The sound was loud enough to startle us both. Using the flashlight to peer through the gloom in the direction of the sound, a large limb from the neighbor's tree next door had come down. Ice shards were still falling as the light from the flashlight revealed the tree. The size of the limb was massive, and not too much larger than the limb hanging over our power lines and house.

It was time for prayer. So we prayed to the Lord, that if time, circumstance and gravity must take down the limbs or the tree itself, we prayed that it would somehow defy the angle it was leaning, and fall in the opposite direction, or that He would bear-up the power lines and the roof so that they would withstand the fall.

Another crack and crash, this time across the dark and desolate street that normally has intermittent traffic. The maple tree across the road had lost a limb. The wife and I looked at one another with unease and shrugged our shoulders. This was not looking or feeling like the kind of ice storms we had been in before. In the few minutes we had been outside, we were soaking wet and the wife's hands were icy from holding the flashlight. We decided some hot soup was just the tonic to take the chill out of our bones, so we headed back in to finish making the perfect answer to an otherwise miserable, raw day.

After a great hot meal, we fired up the kerosene heater and lit the rest of the lanterns and candles. The house had a dim but warm orange glow to it. Around 8 PM, everyone began to notice the increasing frequency of the sound of cracks and booms. The wife and my two younger daughters and their friend were astonished by the amount of ice on the deck, the grill and the trees and began taking pictures with their cell phones of the ice. The rain continued steady, and the sound of cracks and booms and shattering limbs and ice were occurring every few minutes.

My thoughts turned again to my elderly neighbors, Glen and Carol. They were like an extended family to us, and my girls always referred to them as Nanna and Grandad. I had seen Glen leave in his red pickup earlier in the day and upon peeking my head out to look in his drive, there was no truck and saw no glow of any candle or lantern light in any of their windows. I assumed perhaps they went to stay at one of their kids' after the power went out.

Around 9, my wife called me back out to the carport and driveway. As I stepped out, the sound of collapsing limbs from the woods out back was almost every minute or so. The air smelled of pine. A large crack to my left and a shower of ice shards as one of the large row of pine trees that separated Glen's property from his neighbor's was coming down. The tree over our lines and house was now so laden with ice, that we were certain it was coming down sometime soon. My wife was showing me with the flashlight, what both the neighbor to our West and the neighbor across the street's trees were doing. The biggest limbs were cracking and falling now, leaving shunted stubs pointing skyward. The fruit trees across the road were losing their tops. We decided to move one of our cars away from under the power pole and lines, and while moving it, we noticed that our crepe myrtle trees were so heavy with ice, that they were kissing the ground.

I was moved again about Glen and Carol, and suggested that even though they did not look to be home, that we knock anyway to check on them. With the sound of limbs and trees cracking and crashing every minute or so, navigating around to their front door became a challenge. I made sure to steer clear of the trees, as I remember stories of people getting killed by falling limbs. Since the road was dark and deserted, we decided to take that route and go up their drive to avoid the big trees across the front of our yards. Walking up their drive however, put us next to the row of pines that towered sixty some feet into the air. Dodging puddles on an icy gravel drive, the sound of one of the tops of a pine tree coming down through icy needles quickened my wife and I to dash for their front porch.

After knocking, I had assumed Glen and Carol must have left with their house so dark, and was startled to see the door open and Carol standing in the dark wrapped in a quilt.

"We did not know if you were home. Are you guys okay?" I asked.

"Yes", she replied. "We went to bed".

"Do you have heat?" I asked

"No" she said flatly. "We're just bundled up. We are fine."

I invited them both to stay with us, but she insisted that they were fine and that they were already in bed all covered up. I told them to come over and see us if they needed anything. She thanked us and shut the door, leaving my wife and I to wonder aloud whether their trailer would stay warm enough for them..

"You can't force them to leave" my wife said. "We will just need to check on them in the morning".

We once again had to race back across the gravel drive dodging the sound of falling limbs and our own imaginations as to where the next branch would come down. Making it back to our own porch, after sighing in relief, my wife grabbed my arm and said "Just listen to that!" Every minute or so, the sound of crashing limbs and ice would echo through the wetness. Noticing that both of us were shivering and wet, I said that we need to get in and get settled.

Around ten, I once again tried the multi-band battery radio I have to see if I could get any news. Most of the stations we would regularly get, were only static. I was getting stations on the East coast but nothing closer than Ohio. I flipped the switch to FM TV, and remembered that the local NBC station also simulcast on an FM station. We were blessed that they indeed were on the air even though they were broadcasting on generator power. The signal was very weak and would come and go. But from what I could ascertain at the time, most of the entire area was without power. The focus was on the weather of course - and the forecast was for yet more ice accumulation with a changeover to two to four inches of sleet and snow after midnight from North to South. The only bright spot in the countenance of the broadcasters, was that it was estimated that by noon on Wednesday, most of the precipitation would be exiting the area. Early reports from police phone calls stated that 80 to 90% of electric customers were without power. Walmart and Home Depot in the city of Paducah had lost power and had to close, along with the entire mall area - which for many, is a central hub of supplies for most of the region from Southern Illinois, East Missouri, West KY and NW TN. Much of the newscast was announcing school and business closings for Wednesday. Even then, most of us figured that after a day or two, life would be back to normal.

Cleaning up from supper took longer than the fifteen minute rinse and dishwasher chore we were used to, but we were full, we were warm and I knew that even with the temperature drop, we were going to handle this crisis like a piece of cake. The only think I did miss, was not being able to be 'plugged into the world'. I already felt a sense of disconnection as I was trying to get news off of a radio, from media that I had little respect for.

The wife and kids entertained themselves with some card games like SPIT and SPOONS, which was quite raucous and loud with laughter. The mirth and levity drowned out the sound from outside and we soon forgot about the conditions outside as the warmth of family and fun consumed our attention.

There is something about candle and lantern light that aids in the heaviness of eyelids. Without the big TV, iPods and other electronic distractions to force our attentions, everyone began to turn in earlier than normal. I finished my own chores of filling up the heater with kerosene for the night and getting blankets and quilts for everyone who was going to sleep in the living room, including my wife who wanted to be with the kids.

I planned to tough it out in our bedroom in the far end of our home. I had figured I set enough quilts and blankets to insulate me from chill, and since the kerosene heater was in the exact middle of the house, I assured myself that while it would be cooler than normal in my bedroom, it would not be unbearable. I turned down all the lanterns and blew out the candles. Already the deep breathing of sleep had captured everyone in the house but me.

I held the last lit oil lantern and walked into my bedroom. The normal ritual before sleep would have to be cut down to just brushing teeth for the night.. However, the ice water out of the faucet onto my brush seemed to alert my senses and wake me up to the sound occurring outside. As I turned down the last light in the house, I could see the glow from the kerosene heater flicker gently off the hallway wall and I tucked myself under the cold sheets hoping sleep would take me like it had the rest of my family.

But I hoped in vain.

There would be no sleep for me this night.

As I tried to settle into snoozeland, I was startled wide awake by an almost continuous barrage of what sounded like exploding mortar fire. Every ten to twenty seconds loud cracks and bangs and snaps and crashes rattled my ears. The shattering sounds of ice like glass would be followed by loud crumps of heavy limbs hitting the ground or the road.

It was the sound of destruction.

I wondered aloud as the trees nearest me would explode in noise to the point my heart would jump in my chest at the loudness - if this is what it sounded like for the 82nd Airborne dug into foxholes during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest in WWII. It was the closest analogy I could think of as I began to play a game with myself to see if I could guess where the next limb or tree coming down was from. I eventually tired of the game as my nerves were getting shot. The sound of trees collapsing and falling, lines going down was growing in frequency and intensity as the night wore on.

I got up to look out the window at one point, and it was fogged and frosted over to where I could not see outside into the darkness.

Only the sound was reaching me. It was beginning to both annoy and terrify me in the darkness of the night. I prayed silently for protection from the Almighty, and for His Will to be done. Was this part of the punishments prepared for a wayward nation, or simply time and circumstance? This is not the first ice storm in the Wintertime. But I had never heard anything like this before.

Crack! Shatter! Crump! Slam!

At the rate of the sound of destruction outside, I began to wonder if there could possibly be any trees left standing by the time daylight arrived.

As bad as I imagined it was outside, I had no idea of the scope and scale of the disaster that was taking place. Nor had I any idea that for us and many hundreds of thousands - the ordeal had not yet even begun.

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