You watch the weather. Winter storm advisory. How many times have you heard it and said “yeah, yeah – no big deal”. I went to work on Monday, Dec. 10, after being down in Florida since Nov. 28. It’s always hard to get back in gear after being away for so long, isn’t it? By early afternoon, we were hearing about plans for closing campus and re-scheduling finals because of the ice storm headed our way. Listen to the 6am news, they said. I admitted that I wouldn’t be crushed if campus shut down on Tuesday. I could use another day off!
I woke up to the 6am news and didn’t hear a thing about K-State shutting down. I got up, made myself a cup of hot tea, and sat down to watch the Topeka news. That’s when I finally heard the announcement. We were closed. Power was out in various parts of town. 15,000 in the county. Roads were treacherous.
My power was still on. The lights flickered once on Tuesday morning as freezing rain continued to fall.
On Wednesday, campus was reopened. I drove to work and on one road had to navigate around downed tree branches. I decided not to park near any trees on campus! Folks drifted in slowly that morning and we began to hear how many of our staff were without power. Trees fell on their houses and their cars. There was no heat in many homes and temperatures were dropping. Everyone hoped that power would be restored in 36-48 hours. The news wasn’t good. The power company said it might take 10 days to fully restore power. I took a few pictures…
We heard that power had been out on campus and in the dorms for a while on Tuesday. I can’t imagine being in a high rise dorm with no power in the middle of the winter!
Our staff holiday dinner had long been scheduled for Wednesday and went on. I’m sure many appreciated the hot meal though I imagine all they really wanted was their own homes warm, toasty, and lighted!
Cell phones were plugged in and charging in many of the electrical outlets throughout the building. You wanted to smack the TV folks who were telling folks who had no power who they should call to report their power outages. We were hearing stories from staff whose spouses spent hours looking for generators, who went from one store to another trying to buy AA and D batteries, who were trying to buy firewood for fireplaces because that was all they had to keep warm. A few lucky folks had propane or gas furnaces. They had no light but they had some heat at night. It was too dark too read. Very quiet. No TV, no video games. Whoa…
By Thursday, we told staff they were welcome to set up sleeping bags in the building. Several staff took advantage of a warm place to stay. They had ‘movie night’. Others sent their children and/or spouses to relatives’ homes. Many of us opened our homes (or our freezers) to colleagues. One individual stayed with me Friday-Sunday.
It snowed Friday night and Saturday morning. Several inches of snow fell. Many folks still had no power.
Power did return to some within 24 hours of the first outages. Some had power the first 2 days, then lost it as lines snapped as the ice melted or transformers blew. Others waited 6, 7, 10 days. We’d listed names of those without power on the board in the office and slowly crossed them off. I believe that by Thursday, Dec. 20, everyone had power back. The hell for many that began on Monday, the 10th, was over. It was a hard 10 days, an incredible & strange 10 days. You feel helpless. You want to help. You do a few things but wonder if it’s enough. Every morning you’d go into work and get the updates. You feel guilty that you never lost power. (I only heard about 4 of us who never lost power. I imagine that at least 90% of the library staff were without power at some point.)
In the midst of the mess, several of us received invitations to a surprise birthday party for a co-worker. Her husband was throwing a party even though they were running on a generator! Luckily, their power came back the morning of the party. We got to celebrate with full heat and lights.
Oklahomans also suffered tremendously from this same ice storm. Let’s hope we don’t see anything like this again in the future!