In January, 2012 Washington State went through what the locals called Snowmageddon. My family and I had just returned from being stationed in Germany for the preceding nine years. Some of our belongings were still packed up out in the garage. Mostly my “camping” things. Having just started at the new assignment, I had not yet taken the time to unpack everything. I had bought some heavy duty shelves for the garage (in anticipation of unpacking my gear). While in Germany, I was stationed in Bavaria (Schweinfurt and Graffenwoehr specifically). I had been raised in the Midwest, so I was used to a lot of snow. The love of my life was a military brat, born in Lost Wages, raised in Europe. To the kids, lots of snow meant extra days off of school.
I arrived in Washington in time for the salmon runs, so my freezer was full of fresh fillets, family value packs from the butcher, and a bunch of frozen fruit from COSTCO. I had started to stockpile some canned soups that I got a good deal on, as well as several cases of bottled water. My wife and kids just rolled their eyes and called me a prepper like it was a dirty word. Then, on the 18th of January, the snow fell hard enough to knock the power out, luckily after dinner.
When the power died, so did the heat. While in Germany, we had purchased large down comforters for each bed, as well as some full size blankets. We normally keep the heat at 65 in the house; if we get chilly; we put on some layers or cover up with a blanket. I was not worried about staying warm or food, but cooking it soon presented a problem. The next day, I went out to the garage and started to dig out the camp stove. My gut clenched when I saw that it had been murdered. A forklift tine had punched through the box at some point and the stove was the casualty. The box had been re-packed and nothing said to me or my wife. It happened to be the only thing that was damaged in the move. I went into the house and looked at my wife through the hole, grinning at her facial expression.
I hiked through knee deep snow out to Cabela's, about two miles away. They were operating on generators and the debit cards were still working. On the way, I stopped at the Shell station and got lucky with the ATM and was able to get a couple hundred dollars cash just in case. When I got to Cabela's, the stoves and propane were all gone. I also noticed that most of the sleeping bags and trail food were gone. Undeterred, I tromped another 1.5 miles to Wal-Mart. Same result there. I then went to Big 5 Sporting goods, and was able to get a stove for $45 cash. They were also out of propane. I made my way to Wholesale sports and got lucky on the propane; I got the last six cans. Sales were cash only. While in line, the guy behind me tried to talk me out of half of them “They last a while, what do you need with 6 cans?”. I told him to pound sand, and he grumbled something about Army attitudes. Since I do not have my concealed permit, I was carrying openly, which he noticed. I got out of line under the pretense of having forgotten something, just to keep him in sight. There was no incident, but I was not going to take any chances. In each of the stores, there was generator power only (while the fuel lasted), cash was the only thing accepted (with the exception of Cabela's), all the stay warm gear and camping food was gone. I went across the street to Safeway and got another can of coffee. Cash only.
I got home, wiped down my sidearm, and started cooking dinner. The psychological effect of a hot meal cannot be under rated! The next day (19 Jan), I took a couple of my Rubbermaid tubs out back and piled snow around them. Everything from the refrigerator went into one and the now semi-frozen fruit went into the other. I cooked all of the pork sausage up and it went into a cooler out on the patio. I had a sedan; it took me 3 minutes to back out of my driveway and 45 minutes of shoveling and pushing to get it back into the original position. A couple of hours later, one of my coworkers roared up in his 4WD and we made our way to Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord or JBLM). We secured a couple generators and fuel from his shop and drove/ slid home. FYI, the use of the generators was sanctioned by the Brigade Commander.. The generator was enough for the water heater and the kitchen lights were very dim. We decided to leave them off. The value of a hot shower ranks right up there with a hot meal.
Our cell phones we working intermittently, either due to the fact they are 3G, the ice and snow build up on the towers, or both. I have an inverter for the lighter socket in my vehicle, so keeping them charged was no issue. My boss called and told me to just check in on the phone until I was able to get my car on the road. That night we did not run the generator, but you could hear all the other ones in the area and see lights here and there. They would have made good targets if the power was out longer than 6 days. On the 3rd day, I cooked everything from the freezer and put it all into the Rubbermaid containers. We were not going to freeze or starve, and we played a lot of board games, some match stick poker (Texas hold em and 5 card stud) and a couple of snow ball fights. Neither my wife nor I were able to go to work for the whole week.
Most of our neighbors had left to either relatives or hotels where the power was still on. Some of them had even left their pets, which really angered me. On day 7, the power was restored. I disconnected the generator, wiped out the fridge, and put all of the food back into it. I cleaned the propane stove and put it on a shelf in the garage, along with 4 bottles of propane. We had not touched the food stores in the garage, still had plenty of food in the fridge, and our bellies were full. My neighbors started to return in the afternoon. The single mom next door threw out all the food from her freezer and fridge, as did most of the others who had left. The HOA had not even made the attempt to plow the roads.
My wife and kids no longer make fun of my preparations, and they no longer dive into the bottled water stash. I was extraordinarily lucky to find a working ATM, new stove and fuel when I did. Almost every one of my neighbors chose to flee the situation instead of make due, allowing all their perishable food to spoil and leaving their homes and possessions susceptible to loss. Some even abandoned their pets. I do not associate with them; I find their values and morals to be lacking.
Looking back, I have learned a few things.
- Stocking up may not be the cool thing with the family, but do it anyway.
- Make sure you have distractions (other than books) for the whole family.
- Rubbermaid containers can impress your wife.
- Even in the Pacific coast, a truck is a must (I now have a 4x4).
- Above ground power lines are stupid.
- Make the time to check all of your gear, especially after a move.
This is not a complete list, but it encompasses the points I feel are the most important. The next purchases for my new 4x4 will be a brush guard, winch, and plow. If the HOA will not honor their commitment, I will be able to help my neighbors. I continue to read and learn on a daily basis, as we all should.
Keep prepping and keep your powder dry.