Monday, December 18, 2006

Talkin 'Bout My G-G-G-Generator

So, no blog posts for a while. For those outside the area that may not have heard, Seattle got hit by a major storm that knocked out power to something like a half-million people. We lost power thursday night around midnight and still don't have it back as of Sunday evening, which is when I'm writing this (not sure when I'll get to post it). [Update: Posting from office Monday morning - still no power at home]

Thursday evening was MSCG's Xmas - oops, sorry - holiday party. Alisa and I left the kids with a babysitter and went into Seattle to attend. When we left, we realized the weather really was quite severe. Several blocks in the city were closed due to bits of high-rise buildings flying OFF of those buildings and landing in the street(!).

As we waited at an intersection at one point, the wind was slamming the car so hard that we were rocking back and forth as if driving offroad - only we were standing still. As we drove across the I-90 floating bridge, big cascading waves of water were being blown up over the edge and onto the road. Further down I-90, construction barrels were being blown about the road like moving road hazards. I saw one barrel being blown over the road and my first thought was "Wow! Half Life 2!" :-)

We got home, after driving through a neighborhood of green streets (so covered in cedar boughs that the pavement was blocked from view) power went out minutes after that.

Next morning, thinking "how bad can it be?" I figured I'd go into the office to get some work done. Big Mistake. Huge trees downed everywhere (I saw one that had cut a house in half - right through the living room), many streets were impassable, and all the intersection lights were out. My 20 minute commute took me 2hrs, and another 2hrs for the return.

That night we hung out with the kids and played Scrabble by candlelight. Two 30-pound toddlers in your bed is like a couple of big hot water bottles :-)

On the radio, they were talking about power being out for up to another week in some areas. Having seen the tree that (I think) was responsible for taking out our area - there's one nearby that snapped a telephone pole and took out a whole spaghetti-nest of wires - I figured we might be at the longer end of that time estimate. Our house has a hook-up for a generator, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy one. I called Home Despot, who were out, but expecting more that day. I got on a waiting list and decided to head into the store in case the list wasn't being ahered to.


A hundred-person queue had formed, some on list, some not. I was 66 on the list. 54 generators arrived. The called the first 54 names, and if you weren't on there, the called you and gave you one hour to make it in. When that hour passed, they gave up another 15 units, and I was at the tail end of that list. Goodbye, $600. Hellooooo POWER.

Then again, maybe not. To hook it up, I need a special 220-volt, 4 prong locking plug. They don't have one. Neither does the 3 next HW stores I try. All sold out. I also don't have gas, and there are hour-long gas lines at the few stations that are open.

So, back home get gas can, borrow gas can from neighbor. Get gas (queue wasn't so bad by the time I got there), get home, assemble generator, run extension cords for 120v into the house, power a couple lights and a space heater. Better, livable. Still no heat though. Still, with a gas stove and gas water heater, it's not so bad.

Sunday, I got up, stoked the fire, started generator, and then we had some neighbors over with their kids and had quite a decent breakfast. Later, my mission was to find that power hook up.

I ended up finding not the cord, but the components to build one myself. Two 4-prong, 220v male plugs, and a lenght of 50A rated 220v dryer cord that wasn't long enough, but would do to put the generator outside the garage and close the door (did I mention that as of Sunday morning, 1 dead and 100 hospitalized in Seattle area from carbon monoxide poisoning?).

So, I built myself a generator cord, took the house off the grid via the main switch, plugged the home made cord into the house, threw all the breakers to 'off', and plugged the generator into the other end of the cord. Then I switched on the breaker for the furnace and.... Ahhh... sweet, sweet, heat. Next some lights... Ahhh... beautiful incandescent bulb, how I missed basking in thy glow.

As of my writing this, we really aren't THAT bad off. We have heat, power, gas for cooking, the fridge and freezer are full (managed to even save the ice cream). Only negatives are that it's a pain to throw circuits on and off (I don't want to overload the generator, which is only a 5500-watt unit), and of course, no cable - and thus no internet nor cable tv. Oh, and I'm behind on work since I didn't count on 3 days of suburban survival action.

Could be much worse though. We could be one of the poor people that lost their entire home or had major damage to it via a tree going through the middle. Look on the bright side and all of that.

I'll try to snap some picks of the destruction in our neighborhood once I get the chance. In the meantime, I'll post some examples from other people's Flickr pages.


Anonymous said...

oh my goodness!!! i am glad and you your family are okay.

Anonymous said...

I think it is very telling that your house had a generator hookup - why do you think this was the case?

Anonymous said...

Wow, crazy stuff. Makes for an interesting holiday...

Reminds me of the big ice storm in QC a few years back.

Jason Della Rocca

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

I found your blog through another (my friend Ben). Did you go to the Home Depot near downtown Bellevue? If so I feel your pain. I actually had to go to work on Friday since my company is right on 8th and 116th (the only place in Washington with power apparently). That whole area was in absolute chaos. Anywhere you could get food or gas was mobbed. I ended up staying at work all weekend to enjoy the luxuries of internet and Microwave =)

Did you get your power back yet?

Andy said...

hey those g's were going for $866 w/tax down here. One place was gouging- 3k for generators!

The male fittings were completely sold out of all HW stores- so no building my own cord. Didn't want to risk melting down lower rated cords so we went with extension cord mania through the house and no well water. At least we could brew coffee and flush with tanked water.

Power on this afternoon.

Enough fallen trees on my place to justify buying a portable saw mill this spring (one crisis- two new "tools").

Luckily all trees missed the house- but nailed the power lines with precise accuracy. Some neighboring houses cut in half as well.

Going to have an electrician set the box up for generator hook up.

KimPallister said...

Jane: Yes, everyone ok. Everything back to normal now (except my bank account)

John: Yep. Also telling that 3 of hte people on my street have generators that kick-in automatically when the power goes out. This happens fairly frequently.

Jason: Yeah, my move to the US happened DURING the 98 ice storm. My movers packed us up by candlelight.

Andy: Yeah, took me a day to find the parts to build a cord. Found it on sunday when a small local HW store re-opened after being closed.