Friday, May 30, 2008

Weather, be prepared

Weather, et al.

If what they say is even 20% true, then what folks are referring to as strange weather, is going, or is becoming more like normal weather.
Meaning, normal is as normal does, and it does act strange.

Read an interesting story over at a while
back, called 'Lessons learned from the Ice Storm'. Pretty good

A few years back, when I was spending my work-week nights in a
tiny cottage on the back of a small horse farm in what used
to be a rather nice region outside our Nation's Capitol (now
completely buried under tract mansions) there was (as there
often is) a 'significant rain event'. In this area, this
causes low grade flooding, and of course, everyone who is
relatively new to the area freaks out. When folks around DC
freak out, they like to smash their cars into each other. I
don't know why. When it rains really hard, rather than slowing
down, they like to hydroplane off the road into each other,
and all kinds of fun things. They also love to get on the
cellphone, and use up every available circuit, so that
cell communication becomes rather spotty. These folks are always
in a big hurry, and anything that slows them down drives
them nuts. at least, in the short run.

So, I was happily sitting on my couch in my tiny little house,
glad I don't have that commute, when I noticed the flashing
blue light out on the main road, and the zillions of brake
lights. I ignored it, but after a few minutes, it was still there.
meaning, that whatever it was, it was happening right there.
About that time, my landlord showed up at my door. Seems
someone had managed to drop off the berm of the road and
was blocking outbound traffic. Sheesh! Okay, I grabbed my
rain gear, and muck boots, went over to my trusty, rusty,
brush-painted-by-hand toyota land cruiser pickup, told
the land lord to get in, locked the hubs, lit'er up and
headed out, drove off onto the right of way around all
the hoopla, to the scene of the incident. A gal had given
up on the completely stopped traffic, tried to turn around,
misjudged the edge of the road way, and dropped her back
wheels off the embankment. sigh. The temp was about 40,
and it was raining hard, that inches per hour stuff.

I walked up to the soaked and sad looking cop, told him
I could get her out. He said there had already been a tow
truck dispatched. I countered that we could clear this
right now, or wait for the truck, but it was his call.
He said, Sure, go ahead. So, I talked to the gal for
a few moments. Bless her, she was really shook up,
climbed under the front of her car, found a decent
place to grab the little car, hooked up a logging chain,
backed my truck up, and with the cop coaching her, we
gently, very gently pulled her back up onto the roadway.

Now, this was a few years ago. The cop in question was a country
boy, turned law enforcement office. He probably had always
been a law enforcement officer. Some folks just are. Doesn't
really matter what they do, in the end, they are, and should
be cops. He could think on his feet, judge a situation,
and deal with it. He was constrained by liability concerns.
In his world, this wouldn't be a problem, but this isn't
his world. These folks used to be everywhere. They aren't
any more. Some cops can't, or rather won't think this way.

We had a short conversation that surprised and pleased me.
he said, 'I just don't know what's wrong with people any
more. Used to be there would have been 5 of you guys
here trying to get this woman taken care of.' Well, I said,
it's just the way things are, you just wait, you just wait
until the weather gets really bad for a few days, and these
folks will remember what's important, and start lending
a hand. Now, ya'll are out here plowing and salting the
road when nothing is going on, so these folks don't know
what it used to be like. When it gets like that, they'll
wake up. Really, you'll see. 'Well, maybe your right' He
replied. 'I hope you're right.'.

We shook hands, and I took my wet ass and my landlord
back to the farm, and took a nice warm shower.

I still think about that. I still think I'm right. I am
still concerned about that cop loosing his faith in
the people. When the weather gets sketchy, I try to
keep a few things, like a chainsaw and fuel, a snatch
strap, my hardhat, chaps and the like in the car. A subaru
outback. Last winter, I was driving up to my Moms place
up on the mountain during an early winter weather event.
There was a large oak limb down in the road, and a cop
in a SUV attending. Now, there is a rather large federal
installation near by, and this was a federal cop. I pulled
up, explained to the cop that I could get this cleared,
get this road open, and do it now. He told me to return
to my vehicle for my own safety. I did. Sat there and fumed
for a bit. Got back out, opened up the back
of my wagon, put on my chaps and hard hat/face protection,
unpacked the saw, fueled it, test started it, and walked
back to the cop and this time, told him what
we were going to do. Friendly, but firmly, 'Sir, please
control the traffic, I am going to take this branch apart,
and then hitch it up, and pull it from the roadway, watch
my back.' And then went about doing exactly that. He didn't
argue. Within 10 minutes, we had the road cleared and open
again. Now, this cop was younger, and federal. He was well
trained, completely constrained by convention. I have no
doubt he could think on his feet, but probably wasn't
allowed to. I have a background in military law enforcement,
and the one thing they taught me, that I actually learned,
is that if you take charge of a situation, for the most
part, folks in general will defer to you. Regardless of
rank and standing. Give good clear, concise and sensible
instructions, and people will obey, almost without

In the first case, the cop was in charge, and proactive.
In the second case, the cop was not really in charge,
and was being fully reactive. With a liberal dose of
common sense, we can all make things better, rather
than worse. Turn potential issues into non issues.

Hence the point of this post:

Lessons Learned is a good read, I'll recap some of the
things I learned from it.

It happens. Expect 'It' to happen more often in the future,
than it has in the recent past.
In my short time, I've witnessed the concept of self-sufficiency
almost evaporate from the purview of so called 'every day life'.
Folks seem to expect the power to be on, or restored quickly.
Folks seem to expect the roads to get plowed before they
begin their commute. Folks expect the grocery store to have
food, McDonalds to be open 24 hours, the ATM to work, the
credit card machine at the checkout to work. Fuel for their
SUVs to be readily available and affordable, or at least
'gettable' with a credit card.

This is unreasonable. Expected, sure. But not rational.

Little things, like a rain event, like an ice storm, can
really mess stuff up. We in the US are tied to 'just in
time' supply chains. We are wholly tied to electronic
communication, and believe it or not, this stuff is
actually pretty brittle. It breaks, and gets repaired
pretty quickly for the most part. But at it's core, it
is really no more reliable than your Cable TV service.
Think about that for a while. Sure, being out for
a few hours is no big deal.

But, when the ice storm comes, and 'they' can't get the
power back up within a few hours, or at worst, days, some
things will happen. A real biggie, is that you can't
use your credit card if the power is out. Do you have
cash? No? where do you get cash? the ATM. Oh, guess what?
same story, no credit cards, then no ATM either. Whoops.

Your cellphone might work, it might not. if it does, can
you charge it? Sure, in your car. Do you have gas?
Can you drive? Can you get more gas? hmmmm.

Do you know your neighbors? Really? Well, it's a good
time to get to know them. If things get shaky, as they
do when the weather gets bad, despite what the zombie
movie fans think, folks actually show their best, that's
been my experience. People know they should look out for
each other, People are gregarious critters. That doesn't
make for good movies, and novels, but it's the cold
hard reality. Folks will help where they can, and seek
help where they need it. Neighbors are pretty cool, really.

If the power has been out for a while, and you have a generator,
be sure you have enough fuel to get around to your neighbors,
and run their fridges for a few hours every day. If you don't have
a generator, GET ONE.

Nasty bit is that folks will steal generators. This I've seen
more than I care to recall. Folks do this because either
they are mean and venal, or they feel isolated and scared.
if they are your neighbors, and they feel isolated and scared,
that's at least partially your fault. Think about it.

Even when the power has been out for a while, if you live
in an established area, there is a chance you might have
real phone service. But, does your 'land line' work without
power? going down to Wallmart to buy one that does work
without being tied to house power won't work. Folks beat
you to it, and they are sold out. Get a real phone. Cheap
and handy.

Can you cook? is your stove electric? do you have a camp stove?
Guess what, Walmart will be sold out of these too. as well
as sleeping bags, useful flashlights, toilet paper, batteries
and the like.

Food, those big fat piles of food at Wegmans, Wallmart, Meijers,
Martins, etc aren't going to do you much good if you can't
buy them, again, do you have cash? Are they open? do they
have power? does their credit card processing work?
Oh, and by the way, that stuff gets stocked about every
day, and the trucks arrive daily, and just because you saw
big piles of food last week, doesn't mean there will be
big piles of food there now. If things are bad, the trucks
maybe didn't arrive, and the shelves may have thinnned out,
or just flat out emptied. Folks down on the gulf coast
learned this in very bad ways.

This isn't night of the living dead, this isn't I
Am Legend, this is an ice storm, they happen. This
is a few days of severe weather, a nasty snow storm,
Or, bad weather along your normal supply lines.

Chances are, if you live in what is called a built
up area, you are wholly dependent on remote resources.
Are there any farms where you live? Do the folks who
work at the hospital have to commute 60 miles because
they can't afford to live where they work? What about
the ambulance folks, the police? Chances are pretty
good, that if you have a Wegmans, then your demographic
precludes having service industry folks in your
neighborhood, and you are particularly vulnerable.
Again, got a generator?

We've seen over the last few winters, that the linemen
who fix things as they break when the ice and snow comes
tend to get spread pretty thin, pretty fast. After a few
days, they start to get in a bad way too. Think about
that for a while also. Same is true for the folks
working to keep the roads open.

I don't know where this came from, but as a child,
there was a 'junk' drawer in the kitchen, that pretty
much had everything one would need to survive a nuclear
winter. I have one, most of the folks I know have one too.
Because their Mom had one. I don't know if this is
a universally human trait or not. But I do know that
it primarily comes down the matriarchal line. Dads
have junk drawers too, but it's not in the kitchen.
And it has cool stuff, but not necessarily useful.
Except of course, the pocket knives and lighters.

There is a lot of stuff that folks used to do,
that I don't see them doing any more. Folks who
used to go home to northern Michigan for the winter
holidays, used to carry sleeping bags and food
with them. Because you never know. Do you carry
what you need, or are you counting on stuff
'just being there' for you when you need it?
Well, maybe you should.


On a side note, both the American Red Cross and the
Federal Emergency Management Agency suggest that
everyone be prepared for three days without power,
and all that entails of course. That rather comes
under the heading of 'told ya so'. With some
forethought, this shouldn't be a big deal.
Expect it, and it won't be unexpected.