Ice Storm Saga
An adventure I could have done without.

Part One:
What is that strange sound?!… (Answer) Silence

When we moved here there was dense shade from numerous large trees. Over the years the winter storms took their toll, but the worst was yet to come.

It is 93 degrees F outside so it seems incongruous to write about this. Let's hope remembering, writing and reading about the ice storm will have a cooling effect.

It was Sunday, February 16, 2003…
Husband/Best Friend/Chief Photographer was out of town taking care of family responsibilities. I awoke to an strange, unusual quietness punctuated by frequent loud sounds. What was that!!! From all over town came loud: bangs, cracks then crashes – silence in between.

Opening the window drapery revealed a breathtakingly beautiful world, what an unbelievable sight! I could hardly believe my own eyes - HOW BEAUTIFUL!!!

Before long the sounds of chainsaws started, first one, then several as neighborhood men commenced to clear one narrow, meandering lane through the streets of our neighborhood so emergency vehicles could get in if needed, for several households were comprised of elderly citizens. The problem was: if you cut off a piece of fallen branch, where to put it. The streets and yards were buried under a deep load of debris. The channel was narrow indeed. The result was a tunnel.

And, of course, the electrical service was off.

The National Weather Service and the Kentucky State Climatologis reported 2.37 inches of freezing rain beginning on Saturday, Feb. 15 and extending into Sunday the 16th with temperatures remaining below freezing. Research of past available records conclusively showed it was the worst storm in our recorded history. 132,000 homes in our county, Fayette County, were without electrical power.

People who had been traveling toward Lexington on Interstate Highway 75 later said there was no ice – nothing – until they reached the county line. At that point it was as if they stepped over a line drawn on the ground for suddenly there was ice everywhere, a phenomenon, a streak of ice ran right through the county. The rest of the state had only rain and only in some areas.

I tramped about on very strange footing. I had never seen grass with two inches of ice on each blade and now I was trying to walk on it. I wanted to survey my realm and see how it fared. Next I needed to decide what should be done first, and then start making plans. Where does one start in such conditions! It was bigger than I, and I was overwhelmed – so, I just went back inside and waited to see what fate would bring.

No quick way to make coffee, my breakfast was cold cereal with milk and a classic Coca-Cola… strange breakfast… oh, well. The rest of the milk in plastic jugs and a few other things were put outdoors pressed into the icy grass. It would be colder out of doors than in. I knew it would be safe; neighborhood cats would not be putting their warm paws outdoors on this slippery, cold under-footing, and if the raccoons, opossums, or skunks got into it – so be it.

In an attempt to keep refrigerated and frozen foods safe to eat, I gathered pans of ice from the shrubs, grass, and anywhere else I could break it off, and put it into the refrigerator’s small freezer. I then refrained from opening its door unless I absolutely had to. But, five days without electricity was too long, so at the end, I had to throw away all I could not eat.

I learned later: In some neighborhoods across town, neighbors collectively had cookouts on outdoor grills to use the meat from their silent freezers before it spoiled. Everyone they knew was invited to help eat the banquet - if they could get there.

I was lucky, only five days of no electricity and thus no heat. Most homes were without longer than that, some for a few weeks. Before long the thermometer in our hallway registered 46 degrees F.

I kept a fire going in the small fireplace in my bedroom, and by calling into use, some of my grandparents’ pans and cooking utensils from their wood burning cook-stove days, I could have hot teas, instant coffee, and soups. I baked potatoes in their jackets in the hot coals. Even so, I could see my breath as I sat near a window to read by what light it could provide through its ice coated glass. Hmmm, this was like camping - appealing to my very scant pioneer spirit – and really rather fun IF it does not go on too long!

So, for days I lived in my long, hooded, down coat, even slept in it at night - along with wool socks, gloves, and a tight-fitting light wool hood-style scarf under the down coat hood. Layers and layers helped, especially thermal under clothing.

Family members put hand warmers in my Christmas stocking a few weeks before; I do not know what I would have done without them. They were gratefully used day and night, especially during the following days as I spent time outdoors surveying the devastation and supervising men with chainsaws.

The trees were so badly broken! Sections left “standing” were bowed to the ground with the weight – ready to snap any second. I wondered how much they could tolerate. Large trees loaded with thick ice continued to crash throughout our old neighborhood of mature trees. From the sound of it, I wondered if anything would be left. Any, and everything, even close to dead was coming down. I noted, with concern that the big old bur oak at the bedroom end of the house was hovering not far from the roof. Normally, it never stretched completely over the roof. But, it was now!

I recalled a conversation I had several years earlier with an arborist when he was here to look at work I wanted done. There was a large limb on that tree that extended toward the house. I asked, “What do you think about taking that limb off?” I was thinking people never turn down more work if they can get it, but he seemed disinclined. I said, “Well, if it were your house and your tree, what would YOU do?” His answer was: “Barbara, that very well could be the strongest tree on your place. If it were mine, I would leave it.” And, so we did.

Now with the limb hanging almost inches from the roof that conversation came to me and I could have hit him! He and all the other licensed, reputable tree service businesses were inundated with calls. The telephones never stopped working, they were functional all the time, but there was no way to get through to the tree companies due to constant busy signals and recordings. They were all out there working – from can to can’t – and then some more - a LOT more I am sure.

I found out later what had happened: The city government had called them all out to clear utility lines so the electric company’s electricians could get to the lines to do their work of getting the electrical service back on.

The dear electrical service repairmen! Over the years I have come to appreciate them more and more. Out there working in daylight and dark, in all kinds of weather and dangerous conditions, sometimes up on those tall poles with lightening striking all around them, doing their best to help others. This time those men worked beyond the call of duty.

Gradually electricity was restored to small areas one at a time. There were more brownouts, then blackouts, again. It was slow going. Struggling to get it back on went for days and days - into weeks. Some of the workers had families of their own who were without heat, but they were part of the whole, and it took time. Frequently, service was restored to others when their own families were still waiting, and waiting, in cold houses.

Local Daughter said their lights flicked a few times and each time she thought, “Here it goes.” But, it never did; they had power the whole time thanks to underground utilities. She tried and tried to get me to come over there and move in with them for a few days. Her mother-in-law was in the hospital and we all agreed she was better off there and should stay, for there was no heat at her house. The father-in-law did spend nights with them and days at the hospital with his wife. I ate dinner with them a few nights; one night, the other grandparent and I joined the grandchildren in a game of dominoes. It is a warm memory of togetherness.

But, I would not stay long; I wanted to stay with my house.

At first it remained quiet and still, everyone was still stunned. Then gradually it began. All day, everyday thereafter, men pounded on my door or approached me if I was outside. They were men from all over Kentucky with chainsaws looking for work clearing the mess. More than one said to me, something to the order of: I didn’t know if you were home; all your neighbors have left.

The word was out on the streets that most of the homeowners in my neighborhood had left their houses and gone to motels where it was warm. That was necessary for the elderly and the unwell, but I did not want to leave my house. It was a situation ripe for opportunists bent on criminal intent such as housebreaking and burglary. I am happy to report I never heard of any.

I began to get estimates and assign groups of men to various areas. I worked with about six teams; the mess here was too much for any one team. But they would not stay with the job and complete it. They would stray off to other properties and work there, too. I soon realized they were juggling several jobs. Finally, I got so exasperated I said to one group, “I don’t care who does the job, but the ones who do the work are the ones who get paid. I’m not saving this for you if you leave.” With that, the man who appeared to be the leader of that group sent word to bring some others back off a job they were working on.

One young man looked so cold. I suggested he zip his light jacket and handed him the warm hand-warmers out of my pockets and told him to put them into his. He smiled as he thanked me, and added, “I’m a single parent and if my little boy did this (unzipped jacket) I would fuss at him, and here I am doing it myself!”

One memory still makes me smile. A little background information here: It just so happened that several days before, I had a few houseplant cuttings I was rooting, a houseplant I had just repotted, and one I suspected I had over watered causing damaged roots. They all got the same treatment: I wrapped them in plastic bags of various kinds and sizes to protect them against dry house air until the roots regenerated. Some bags were quite large plastic dry cleaners' bags.

They were still like that when the storm hit.

Local Daughter, concerned because I would not leave my cold house, came over to check on me and brought her daughter with her. Seeing her breath as she walked through the cold house noting ways I was coping and trying to keep warm, eleven-year-old Granddaughter piped up, "Look! She's even wrapped up her flowers!"

I was glad that Husband was out of this. He cannot tolerate the least bit of cold due to effects of some of his medications. And, besides, he does not have the very real hot-flashes that being a certain age causes me to have; for once, those steamy spells were a comfort.

And, what a blessing it was to have hot water! Our water heater is natural gas fueled, so there was no problem with that. The second evening I decided to soak in warm water to try to get warm. I built up the small fire, spread clean clothes over the foot of my bed (The foot of which is approximately only four feet from the fire.) to warm them while I bathed. I put hand warmers between the flannel sheets under a down comforter (duvet), closed the glass doors of the fireplace, then closed the door into the hallway.

Going down the hall to the bathroom, I ran hot water in the bathtub to warm the tub and the room (door closed). The room became filled with fog and candlelight. What a delicious soak in a deep, warm water, tub bath… by candlelight. How sensuous! A small, battery powered audio tape player provided bird songs set to beautiful music. Lovely!!

After a while of luxury, I began to think. I knew I had to get out of the warm water sooner or later… it wasn’t going to get any warmer, just cooler by the minute. So eventually, gritting my teeth, I grabbed Husband’s big, warm terrycloth robe and disappeared into it, raced down the hall, jumped into the “warm” clothing, and slide in with the hand warmers. Not bad…. for a few minutes. Soon, cold was seeping in everywhere - down coat, down cover, hand warmers or no – brrr!

As I lay there listening to ice coated braches falling, I continued to be concerned about that limb hanging over the far bedroom and not far from the roof itself. With telephone near to hand and bedroom door locked, I slept fitfully. Then I heard it. It sounded as if an airplane had hit the house and I thought: There it goes!!!… (Instant visions of large tree parts fallen through the roof and bedroom ceiling, with sky exposed!) Now what?!

Hmmm, thinking to myself: What should I do? It’s cold! I’m nearly warm under these covers. I don’t want to get out from under them. Hmmm, well it’s dark anyway – couldn’t see anything. What if the house IS crushed, what can I do about it… in the dark… in the cold… if I did get up and out. So I didn’t. I just went back to sleep. What was done was done.

Next morning a peek into the far bedroom showed no change. WHEW! Going around the outside revealed a smaller limb – large, but smaller than the one I had been watching. It had fallen and hit the roof, slid down that iced slope – and destroyed the longest most expensive run of new leaf-guard gutter. Oh, no! Well, (rationalizing) – OK, it could have been worse.

OK, that’s it! I’m ready for a break from this cold. I want hot coffee (lots of it), a hot meal, and creature comforts. Cracker Barrel restaurant here I come!

It was still tricky navigating through the small twisting crystal tunnel of ice. It was so pretty I hated for the tunnel to end, even though icy limbs scraped the paint on top and both sides of my car. The restaurant is several miles away, but I had nothing but time. I took a safe route and absorbed the beauty I was driving through.

Upon arriving, I found the parking lot packed. That was not unusual. I parked somewhere and went inside where the building was wall-to-wall people standing like upright sardines. The hostess had been stationed at the door so she could head off people. “Maam, there is a four-hour wait.” Without missing a beat I blithely replied, “That’s OK.”

I thought: it is warm, it is bright, there are people, there is laughter and music, I can browse the store’s pretty wares, it smells good, it has warm restrooms, I have on my sport shoes with good support, and I noticed an employee going through the crowd every few minutes passing a plate of sweet bits of cookies. I will be just fine!

Apparently, people were pouring in off the nearby Interstate Highway only to find the place full of local people like me plus locals who had moved into the motel next door. I saw several groups of people who appeared to be travelers, saw them give up and decide not to stay any longer. They left to go farther down the road to find another place to eat. (Safe journey! Thank you for leaving!)

A few hours later, I was beginning to feel the fatigue and began to droop. (Shoulders up! Back straight! Stomach tight! You are OK - take another cookie bit! More people are leaving and time is moving on.)

When my name was called, I wearily stepped forward expecting to be seated near the noisy kitchen or behind a door or some such unpleasant place as women alone are usually seated, as has been my experience. Low and behold! I was shown straight to the best (and my favorite) table in the house. It could have easily accommodated four people, and best of all – it was right in front of the large, crackling fireplace. It was perfect! Before long, I had the largest, and hottest Kentucky breakfast you ever saw – everything! It was wonderful! My cell phone rang.

Local Daughter’s worried voice, “Where ARE you?!” Reply: “At Cracker Barrel drinking hot coffee and eating a good hot meal in front of a roaring fire!” Daughter, “I called your house and you didn’t answer!” Me: “Nope, I’m out here and having a wonderful time, but will head home soon.” L.D.: “When is Daddy supposed to get home?” Answer: “Tomorrow, some time late afternoon.”

I drove slowly back through a winter wonderland, drinking it in, this time taking a long way home.

Husband returned.

I was worried about him, but he managed to cope that night and the next day. He spent most of the day calling our insurance agency and tramping about the place taking a few pictures and just looking. The tramping was a good way to keep warm.

During the day, Local Daughter invited us to dinner in their warm house. As we returned and turned into our neighborhood – Lights Were On! Yippee! I did not worry about him now, for the electrical power was back. He had to endure only one night and one day.

Those dear hard-working men were out there day and night working in the cold to restore power for people when many of them had families still without. Some worked in the dark by the light of large battery powered spotlights. It took weeks to get it all back to normal. Crews from other states flocked in to help.

Where do you feed so many hard-working, cold, hungry men?! A local buffet restaurant seemed to be one place. Their trucks by the dozens were lined up in the restaurant parking lot.

For weeks it was quite an adventure. Large trees had fallen onto smaller understory trees (dogwoods, redbuds, fringe tree, etc.) crushing them. I counted forty trees that were either down, or had to be taken down because they were so damaged, or had to be worked on to remove damage.

I stopped counting when I got to the ones that were too small to really bother with counting. Of course, not all the damage was repaired, further damage will show up for years and it may not even be possible to get it all done. This area will just have strange looking trees… for a long time!

If it were not so beautiful, this gardener’s heart would have been broken due to the damage. Even as I calculated and noted what had been damaged, I kept thinking, “Oh! This is SO incredibly BEAUTIFUL!” And, I was glad to be able to see it.

-To Be Continued-

To see photos from the first and worst days, go to this man’s photo album, he took some good ones. When you get to his site, click on "slide show" in the upper right corner of your screen. That will make the photos larger and it moves quickly. ICE STORM PHOTOS

To Continue to Ice Storm Part 2 (Click Here)