Last week’s freezing rain gave many Ontario residents a glimpse of the effects of widespread infrastructure failure. For most it was an inconvenience more than real adversity. Power outages varied from hours to days.
Fortunately it was not very cold, temperatures were close to, or above, freezing in most of the affected areas.
We were without power for 36 hours from Thursday morning and another 2 hours on Saturday.
Most coffee houses and restaurants in our small city had power, we were able to get hot drinks and meals by driving a few miles. Some gas (petrol) stations and supermarkets were closed because of the power failure, others were unaffected.
We were able to keep a small fire burning in our wood furnace, even without electricity to circulate warm air, that kept our house at 15 C (59 F).
Our biggest concern was the rising water level in our basement. We do not have a generator to provide emergency power. This is only the 4th major power interruption we have experienced in 12 years. We had always thought an investment in a generator unjustified.
I was overseas during the last ice storm two years ago; a neighbour brought his generator to power the sump pump for Sue. Last week, his basement was flooding as quickly as ours and he was expecting a houseful of guests for the holiday weekend. His need for the generator was greater than ours.
As it was Good Friday, all the equipment hire businesses were closed.
We watched the water rising towards the electrical connections for the furnace and water pump. Switched them off for safety. By Friday afternoon, we calculated that we would be safe until Saturday morning.
Our fall back plan was to borrow a small petrol engine powered centrifugal pump from another neighbour. It would not be ideal to run an engine in the basement, but by opening the basement windows and ground floor doors, we could reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The power came back at 7:30 on Friday night. We waded through 2cm (8″) of water, dodging split logs from the wood pile floating around like ships in an armada. We switched the furnace and water pump back on, checked that the sump pump started. It ran continuously for two hours to empty the water.
The basement is just bare concrete, no damage, just mud and damp wood chips to sweep up. A nuisance, an inconvenience, not a real difficulty.
Our vehicles were not damaged by falling branches, just covered in ice.
We were lucky.
We might not invest in a generator now, but we will be buying a propane camping stove and more candles so that we are better prepared for the next time.
The bigger concern is that with increasing terrorist attacks in our countries and the vulnerability of much of our infrastructure to cyber attack the next big power interruption might not be due to the weather.
Widespread power outages for long periods and other service breakdowns, would cause chaos. Severe adversity, way beyond mere inconvenience.