I grew up in Yorkshire in the North of England. Winter was cold, and snow was no stranger. We used to get at least a couple of good six inch snowfalls every year, and life would mostly carry on. The town I grew up in was small enough that we just walked most places we needed to get to, and if we had to use the car then we knew the roads would be salted so the snow would be navigable. The only reason school would be cancelled would be if the boiler stopped working.
Portland… Portland isn’t like that.
Winters here are pretty mild. It might hover around freezing for a couple of days, but weeks of freezing temperatures is not something you see here usually. Usually.
Portland is on the Columbia River, though, which means that if the weather systems line up right we can get Arctic air channeled down the Gorge from Canada. We are also close to the Pacific which brings the potential for rain. So we can get several inches of snow quite quickly, but much worse than the snow is the ice. This is the hidden secret of why Portland can’t handle freezing weather: it’s actually the sheets of ice covering everything that make it impossible to get anywhere.
We had one of these freezing weather systems run into us three weeks ago. We hunkered down as the cold air and the snow moved in, checking our supplies just in case. There was word of power outages elsewhere but we had juice all weekend. I even went for a run in the snow on Sunday morning, belligerent perversity powering me through the icy conditions. In fact, on that run the thin sheen of ice that coated everything helped stabilise what would otherwise have been very powdery snow.
Things went wrong for us on Sunday evening. We were finishing dinner and we saw a yellow flash and heard a bang. The lights went out. Moments later, they gave a glimmer more of illumination before there was a blue flash and an even louder bang.
We were, in fact, lucky: we were only out of power for twenty four hours, and we had camping equipment we could use to cook. We weren’t looking forward to another cold night, but the lights came on just as it was starting to get properly dark.
Our Internet didn’t come back though, and mobile phone service was out too.
Normally this wouldn’t faze us. I would have caught a bus to the office, or at least walked to a place where I could catch a bus (our neighbourhood is hilly; busses often get rerouted when its icy); the boys would have gone to school. Even if we couldn’t have travelled we might have been able to go to a coffee shop to use their Internet, or even find a friend we could stay with.
But these are not normal times. We isolate ourselves and shy away from contact; we don’t dare visit each others’ homes except in very restricted and carefully arranged circumstances. Indeed, the very idea of going into the office is frightening to me at the moment.
Having taken Monday as a snow day, I ended up needing one more day off to let the snow clear enough to drive in. On Wednesday Jen gave me a lift to down town and I had the rare opportunity to do work again. I wasn’t the only one who’d come in to use the Internet; it was actually quite novel to have another human to talk to.
Our Internet came back on after lunch on Saturday, almost six days after we initially lost power.
This incident has caused us to reflect on how much we rely on these accoutrements of modern life. As I say, if we hadn’t already been in a remote working and learning situation things might have been less disrupted, but knowing that so many of our daily activities, such a large part of our lives, is entirely up-ended by losing access to electrons and bits is quite humbling. It’s certainly made me more fond of physical media.
We’re more or less back to normal now. The last breakage for us was the landline, which worked flawlessly while we were without Internet but was disconnected when the Internat came back, and that was repaired a couple of days ago. I lost time on tasks with deadlines (particularly the domain move), Jen couldn’t work at all for a week, and the boys lost a week of school, but these are pretty small in the scheme of things. We’re all caught up now, anyway.
I hope you stayed warm in the recent freezes, especially in Oregon and Texas. Be kind to each other in the snow.