February 5, 2024 Precipitation in inches across California. Screenshot courtesy of The Weather Channel App.
It’s funny, Kyria – who lives relatively close to me, but much closer to the coast – also wrote about the weather yesterday. I had mentioned in an earlier post that I thought our January weather had been pretty nice (except for a few rainy and cold days) and she had the opposite impression. It didn’t rain as much as she thought, but it looks like the Bay Area definitely had more cloudy and rainy days than we had here in the Central Valley. I will admit that overcast, gray skies have probably swayed her perception, as did a few days of blue skies and sunshine for me.
But as you might have heard on the news, California experienced an Atmospheric River last weekend. An atmospheric river is a narrow band of concentrated water vapor that is transported in the atmosphere and appears like a river in the sky. They form over warm water, typically tropical oceans, and are guided toward the coast by low-level jet streams. They are very common along the West Coast, where the Pacific serves as the reservoir of moisture for the storm, and the coastal ranges and the Sierra Nevada act as barriers. When atmospheric rivers run up against mountains and are forced to ascend, the moisture they carry cools and condenses, and produces intense rainfall or snowfall, often accompanied by strong winds.
And then we had a power outage for 6.5 hours.
I realize this is nothing. It’s a short amount of time. It’s survivable. But 6.5 hours is long enough to make you realize how much you rely on electricity and cell service every day.
Our home hasn’t been prone to power outages. We’re not served by PG&E (they only provide our gas), which you’ve probably heard about in the news frequently in connection with power outages and fires in Northern California. We get our electricity from Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and they have a very reliable network. I don’t recall any substantial power outages in all the years that I have lived in Sacramento. But of course, it’s not infallible. The longest outage I recall was about 5 hours and it was a pre-scheduled maintenance outage. Of course, it’s easy to handle that because you know exactly when it happens and, more importantly, know how long it will last. The outage was during the day, too, so it was light then.
It’s a different story when the outage is unexpected (due to a storm) and there is no way of knowing when power will be restored. We’re not prepared like other people. We have a few basic supplies, but we don’t have a generator or anything like that.
The outage happened – you can guess it – when I was on my Peloton bike. The screen went black and that was the end of my workout. What I didn’t realize was that with the power (and wifi), my cellular service crashed too. It wasn’t completely gone, we could make phone calls, but data use was almost non-existent. I couldn’t open any apps to access “outage updates”, the weather channel, or the news. So there was also a forced social media break. Maybe not the worst thing in the world, but also not the best when you’re anxious to connect and let people know what’s going on.
Engie asked on Sunday’s post what I did with my time during the power outage. Well, originally I had hoped to hop back on the bike again in a little while, but in the meantime, I retired to the couch to do some “forced” reading. I mean, what else was there to do? I read for two hours and then I decided to take a late-afternoon nap. The power hadn’t come back on and it started getting dark outside. Luckily, we have a Coleman Camping lantern and battery-operated candles. We sat in the semi-dark for some time and … waited. It was a little odd.
By 7:30 pm, we started to get hungry and decided to make dinner. We were able to cook dinner because we have a gas stove that could be ignited manually. We possibly ate the best turkey chili I ever made. And then we sat and waited some more.
The power finally came back on around 10:00 pm. I felt relieved. I already had created scenarios in my head of how the next few days would go if the power didn’t come back on. 6.5 hours is of course laughable. I absolutely realize that, but it’s definitely long enough to make you appreciate the comforts of modern life.
Power outages were a novelty to me when I moved to the US. I’ve never experienced a power outage in Germany (most power lines are underground) and it’s baffling to me that power lines and poles here look so amateurishly constructed. I am honestly surprised the power grid is as reliable as it is (most times) judging by the infrastructure. (Again, I live in an old, established neighborhood with old houses and old infrastructure. New suburban neighborhoods might look different. I hope they do). This is what our power line situation looks like in our backyard. Normal.
Have you experienced power outages? How long did they last? Were you prepared? What did you do when it happened?