48 Hours Without Power

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I hadn't expected this to be so bad. Thursday afternoon we had an email going around in the office warning that the 520 bridge may be closed at night because a storm was coming in and people living on the "westside" (Seattle) might consider leaving a bit early. I live in Kirkland and wasn't too worried about the storm. While the top wind speeds were forecast to be around 50-60 mph, my home (Germany) experience with storms of that magnitude (we call them "Orkan") was commonly that they rip shingles off roofs, down some trees, and may cause the occasional 3-4 hour power outage, but we learned that that "experience" isn't worth much when you move from the flats of the lower Rhine area here to Washington where a significant number of neighborhoods are basically built right into old forests with large trees and where quite a few of the power lines come here across the mountains. The storm knocked out power for over a million households and businesses. It took 48 hours for us to get power back and with that we're in the lucky 50%. A significant number of households here (300,000+) are still out. And we were doubly lucky in that we've got a natural gas heating and warm water system which self-generates the little electricity it needs. So at least we were warm.

When the power failed early Friday morning just before 2am we thought "ah, it'll be back tomorrow morning". Well, it wasn't. Since I am "on duty" for servicing hotfix requests and support escalations for ASP.NET Web Services and .NET Remoting last week and this week, I got up in the morning - with power still out - and drove out to Microsoft campus. Based on the experience from the winterstorm we had just a few weeks back, I would definitely stayed at home if it hadn't been for that. Why? Well, I think I can move my car reasonably safe over the streets here, but I am losing trust in many of the other drivers around here on a daily basis. Let's leave it at that.

Anyways, so I left the neighborhood in which I live and it already started dawning on me that this would take a while. Once I got to the first bigger cross-street with a traffic light, I found that to be off. Surprise. Not. What was also not much of a surprise is that the right-of-way rules here are not helping with the traffic congestion, at all. There's no notion of a privileged street. All traffic lights that are off are automatically four-way stops. That doesn't help with the throughput on main traffic arteries, of course.

When I arrived at Microsoft, I parked in the underground garage of my building. Elevators didn't work. Actually, I can't really say that because I couldn't even get to the elevators since the building access card readers didn't work. Took the stairs up, someone let me in the building (checking my card) and while the the floors had some lights, my office was predictably dark. Most of the other people arriving during the short time when I was over there came from their houses simply because they had no power and heat at home and were freezing. Nobody really expected to be working. Very few people from Seattle showed up, because the 520 bridge was closed. Microsoft shut down by a storm. Who would have thought.

After a Friday evening trip across the then-reopened and surprisingly empty 520 bridge to spend some time in the light over in Seattle (downtown was back on by then), we were confident we'd have power Saturday morning. "I can't be that the power stays out more than 24 hours". Well, yes, it can. It took until 1:30am for out power to come back on. Sabine beat me left and right in every board and dice game we played and I got through 1/2 of a very good book. All that with 30+ candles providing the light and, luckily, gas heating. Not too bad, after all.

And thanks to KIRO710. You've done a great job keeping everyone informed in the AM band.


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