One evening last month a line of summer thunderstorms rushed through the state, bringing high winds, thunder and lightning, and heavy rains. Roughly 50,000 customers lost electric power that evening, and my family was one of those customers.
I would like to say that I was busy keeping a classroom filled with college students calm during the storm, but that would be an exaggeration. As the storm first approached, I was chatting with two of the students who had arrived early—class was not scheduled to start for another twenty minutes. When the tornado siren was heard, both students grabbed their phones to check for weather warnings. The National Weather Service had detected rotation in clouds at the other end of the county, twenty miles away, and that rotation was not moving in our direction. I reviewed with them the school’s policy in the event of a tornado warning that actually applied to us. The siren silenced after a moment, and we talked about other matters until the rest of the students arrived.
About forty-five minutes later we were aware of heavy rain striking the classroom windows. Although the blinds were closed, some flashes of lightning were evident as the storm raged. The classroom lights flickered once, but for the most part we remained focused on history, with barely a thought to the weather outdoors. By the time the class ended, the violence of the storm had moved on, and we merely had to walk to our cars in a soaking rain. I was surprised, as I drove home, to see large branches and even a tree lying by the side of the road.
When I arrived home, the house was dark. Even the orange light in the doorbell button was dark, so I knew the power was out. My family told me that the outage began the same instant as a bright flash of lightning and a loud crash of thunder; they all happened simultaneously. With no electricity, we were isolated. The telephone and the internet were inoperative; even battery-powered handheld devices could not access the internet. We could not entertain ourselves with computer games or television; we could not cook food with the stove, the oven, or the microwave. The air conditioner was not running, but the storm had cooled the air outside, so we opened the windows and allowed the breeze to blow through the house. About all that we had that was working was the hot and cold water and the grandfather clock.
But we did have candles and we did have books. I reflected upon how much I resembled Abraham Lincoln, reading the memoirs of Henry Kissinger in the flickering candlelight. One by one, we set down our books, blew out our candles, and went to sleep.
We awoke at sunrise, and the power was still out. I took a shower in the dark and then drank cold coffee with my granola bars. After breakfast I drove to work, where I had access to a working computer with internet, as well as the benefits of air conditioning, and a microwave to warm my lunch. My daughters had similar daytime benefits, thanks to their jobs at the mall.
Power was restored about eighteen hours after it had been interrupted. Most of our electronic devices and appliances still worked, although the washing machine would not work. Also a ceiling fan/light fixture was not working. I tested the electrical socket for the washing machine with an electric pencil sharpener to verify that it was receiving power. (I would have used a nightlight, but we don’t have one in the house.) It was working, so we knew we would have to call a repair worker to fix the washing machine. We emptied the ice out of the icemaker bin, knowing that the ice would have softened during the outage and would freeze into one large solid lump.
The next day we found out that our cable TV was not receiving a signal, even though the telephone and internet—which run on the same cable—were working. The cable company’s tech support talked me through the process of rebooting, but the signal did not come back. They had me try several other steps without success. They next promised to mail a new box for the cable TV. That arrived a few days later. I installed it according to instructions with no success. I got back to tech support, and after two more failed reboot attempts, they decided to send a repair worker to the house. He arrived two days later as scheduled, replaced several parts and cables, and got everything working again. I’m glad to say that the cable company did not charge us for the service. Repairing the washing machine will cost four hundred dollars, and the repair worker is still waiting for a part.
A few days after the storm I was mowing, and I was surprised to find several wood splinters in the back lawn. The first splinters I saw were by the neighbor’s fence, but I didn’t see any damage to the fence. Then I found more splinters, some longer than a foot. One was impaled in the ground at an angle, pointing in the direction of the utility pole at the corner of the property. Apparently the lightning struck the pole and traveled through the ground to my house. It’s a blessing that the damage was limited; things could have been far worse. J.