Thursday, July 14, 2011


We live in a suburb of Chicago, which you may recall has the nickname "The Windy City".  Lake Michigan affects the weather patterns in this area, making good weather even better and bad weather even more severe.  This past Monday was a perfect example of that.

Around 7:40 that morning I let the cats out - the sky was still overcast but the air was still.  I couldn't smell any approaching storm either.  I came back inside and started on a new blog post.

I was writing the second paragraph when the entire north wall of our house shuddered as though it had been hit with a giant's fist.  Simultaneously, my computer screen went dark.  The still weather that I had seen just five or ten minutes before had completely disappeared.  A strong wind was whipping branches and bending large trees in half.  My cats were pawing at the door and screaming to be let back in.  And the wind began to howl like a freight train.

I let the cats back in and yelled for the children to get into the hallway (the center of our house).  With a loud crack of thunder, rain began to fall - I could see out a window that the rain was driving horizontally.  The sky turned black and lightning flickered.  For a few moments, it was sheer destruction outside.  Our cats cowered under our arms and the puppy was crying - and Hansel, our foster dog who had lost his family in a tornado earlier this year, was so terrified he wet himself.

And then, after about 8-10 minutes of terrifying storm, one last powerful blast shook the house...and then the wind went still.  It was stunning, almost as though someone had flipped a switch and turned the storm off.  We waited a couple minutes to see if the calm was temporary.  The sky lightened, the sun came out, and birds started singing, so I figured it was safe enough to leave the house. 

Branches - some small, some large - littered the yard and the street.  One of our neighbors had lost a tree.  I grabbed the camera and took a few pictures of the damage.

There was no sign of lightning damage on this pole - the wind alone brought it down.

This branch brought down a wire - you can see it on the sidewalk.

This tree brought down another wire, and was resting on several others.
I didn't get far - barely a block away a city official told me it was too dangerous to continue.  There were several downed wires and he was not allowing anyone to pass.  I went back home.

Our power was still out.  As the day wore on, conditions became dangerous.  The temps got up into the high 90's, and the sun was pounding down out of a clear sky.  I kept the house cool by spraying the roof down with water every hour (word of this technique passed down, and soon every neighbor was outside on the hour, watering her roof.).

Updates continued to trickle in via phone.  Over three quarters of a million people were without power.  Estimated times for the power to be fixed varied from a few hours to several days to more than a week.  Without power, the traffic lights wouldn't work - and if you've ever been in the Chicago area, you can just imagine the insanity of no street lights.  Traffic was backed up for miles, and commutes that usually only took twenty minutes were taking over two hours.

Jonathan, bless him, took it upon himself to find ice.  He rode his bike around and eventually found a store that still had ice left.  He brought home three bags of the stuff, and I credit his actions with saving the hundreds of dollars of meat in our freezer.  He had even brought enough ice to fill the cooler, so we could have cold drinks.

If you watch the news - national news, not just local - you'll discover that power outages are becoming more frequent with each passing year.  The grid just can't handle the demands of the population - and all it takes is one freak event - in our case, a storm - to completely knock it off-line.  One of my long-term goals is to get off the grid - to have my own source of cheap electricity without having to depend on others. 

We were without power for over 30 hours.  It was a long time to be without power, but at the same time I'm relieved it wasn't longer.  From what I understand, some areas are still without power.  I'm grateful that ours was restored as quickly as it was.  Thanks to the ice Jonathan managed to find, we didn't lose the food in our freezer.  But we lost almost everything in our fridge.  If we had our own power source, this wouldn't have happened to us.

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