How I Survived the Arctic Blast and Beyond

“A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.”
— Charles Dudley Warner, Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, August 27, 1897 (often attributed to Mark Twain but probably mistakenly)

English: "Besides disrupting transportati...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s said that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. While I can’t agree wholly — I’m from the midwest, and no clothing in the world will save you from a tornado — I agree with the sentiment that a little preparation goes a long way toward making one safe and comfortable.

Let me say that there were some very real troubles during the cold snap — shelters were set up for the homeless, and for some the power outages created real issues because they didn’t have the advantages I’m about to describe. I’m certainly not mocking the suffering of those.

That said, some of the hysteria was hilarious.

“OMG, my house temperature is in the 60s!”

I saw a lot of social media updates describing lost power and falling house temperatures, but most of these weren’t real crises. So you’re worried because your house is the temperature of a nice spring day? The kind of day where most of the kids are wearing shorts to celebrate the warming temperatures? Most of us keep our houses set somewhere in the 60s during the winter, anyway. Saves a bundle on heating.

I confess to a higher degree of skepticism for this type of complaint due to my own history. Before building the house I live in now, I lived for a year in an old farmhouse which had previously stood empty and un-maintained. It was a… very special house. By which I mean, when we were finally ready to tear it down and build our new house, I offered it to our local fire department for a training burn, and the fire chief who came out to inspect it was horrified. “I can’t even let my people in here for a burn,” he said. “It’s way too unsafe. Young lady, how in the hell did you live here for a year?”

To be fair, I didn’t know for most of that time just how unsafe the house was (just one example: the multi-story brick chimney was actually resting only on four 2×4″ timbers in the cellar, which had been in foot-deep water for years and were nearly rotted through). But I did know that I couldn’t plug in more than an appliance or two, and certainly nothing pulling 220, or the outlets would literally catch fire. And I knew I would never have to turn down the heat.

The furnace was ancient and even though I paid a technician to “tune it up,” he warned it would never really step up. But there was no point in replacing a furnace in a house I wanted to tear down, so I lived with it. During December and January, with the furnace running constantly, the center of the house could reach 56 degrees. The outer rooms were, um, not quite that warm.

I wore layers, I kept my toes on my laptop power brick, and I survived. Okay, I know that not everyone wants to live like that. But as I know for certain one can live at 56 for weeks, I’m not really worried about living at 65 for a day or two. Seriously, it’s January in Indiana, you should probably be wearing a sweatshirt anyway.

(I should do an entire post about that old house sometime. It’s a fun story.)

But these days, I have a wonderful wood-burning fireplace! And I keep stockpiles of good firewood. So I was ready for you, Arctic Blast.

We Were Ready

With the power of prediction, we prepared:

  • weather-stripped the French door which gaps (been meaning to get that fixed forever, but…) and resolved not to use it until the cold had passed
  • weather-stripped the front door, which should have been anyway
  • pulled out all the warm winter gear, hats and gloves
  • bought birdseed and suet, and I cleared the fridge of leftovers for the outdoor critters. I don’t normally feed the wildlife, but in these temps, I’ll certainly supplement!
  • filled the cars’ gas tanks

Okay, Arctic, bring it.

Life Off the Grid

We did lose power, albeit for only a day. The very heavy wet snow took down quite a lot of trees and consequently power lines.

I’d been planning to use the snow days to write, but I’m hopelessly addicted to my laptop (something about being able to read what I’ve written) and so the loss of power nixed that. The wood-burning fireplace kept us warm, though, and I even made burgers over the flames. Mmm.

I did make a couple of runs out for other people, but for the most part it was fun to sit at home and be “snowed in.” Sure, my car can handle the quarter-mile driveway and drifting snow, but why not pretend I have to stay by the fire for a couple of days?

We got power back before nightfall, but we always keep flashlights and candles, just in case. We’re on a power stub by ourselves, so we aren’t exactly high priority if power drops.

“Sorry, Kid, I Can’t Explain This”

The blast ended, and I went to California to speak at ClickerExpo. I brought back an 8-week-old puppy with me. It was nearly 70 degrees in Long Beach; it warmed to merely sub-zero when we got home to Indianapolis. That’s a rough thing to explain to a puppy, y’know?

We were very careful with tender puppy paws, but everyone stayed safe and she adapted to the weather. Now she adores the snow, of course. (There are lots of pupdates on my training and behavior blog, if you’re interested!)

Who Needs a Furnace?

This past weekend, the blower fan motor burned out in our furnace. We have a geothermal, which we love, but it can’t work without a fan. It was a couple of days before anyone could get to us, and the house had dropped to the lower 50s even with the fire I was burning. But I still had power! so I was able to work on the laptop in front of the fire, dressed in layers and wearing the fingerless gloves my writer friend Stephanie had given me for NaNo sessions. Just like old times!

The motor was replaced and the furnace kicked on, warming the house just in time for the cold to break. We are now well above freezing and we’re slowly melting off the packed drifts from our official Snowiest Winter on Record.

But Wait, There’s More

We’re not done yet, though; I saw a prediction today for 70 mph winds and severe storms with a decent chance of tornadoes next week. And as I’ve said, there’s no appropriate clothing for tornadoes. There is, however, a lot to be said for basements and storm preparation.

This is the price of four distinct seasons in cheery Indiana. Stay warm and dry and safe, everyone!

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