Yes, we went TWELVE days without electricity after the ice storm that rolled through the Oklahoma City Metro on October 26. Thankfully, it was only cold for the first three days. Thankfully, we have a gas water heater and a gas stove. We may have been living in the dark, but at least we were clean and well-fed. Without electric lighting, I spent most evenings reading on my tablet in the dark. Consequently, we spent a lot of time driving around charging our cell phones and the tablet. Thank goodness modern cars are equipped with USB charging ports. All those hours in the dark also gave me lots of time to think. Below are my three takeaways from the October 2020 Ice Storm.
Cheap Flashlights Rock My World
We have some expensive flashlights that we bought to use in the storm cellar during tornado season. They are super bright. However, they chew up and spit out batteries after about 8 hours of use. We also have those cheap Ever Ready lanterns that use 6-volt batteries. They aren’t as bright, but the batteries lasted for all twelve days. Two days into the power outage we bought new batteries for all the flashlights since we had already had to change out the batteries in the fancy flashlights. By day twelve we gave up on the expensive lights. Seriously, it wasn’t worth feeding them AA batteries every other day. I am glad we have never had to be in the storm cellar with those silly, expensive flashlights. The cheap lanterns were perfect to use a torchieres while cooking, eating, bathing, and simply walking around the house in the dark.
Takeaway: Buy the cheap Ever Ready lanterns.
Maybe It Is Time for Solar Panels
Having a natural gas water heater and stove made me love Oklahoma Natural Gas company. No electricity was needed. Of course, we lost nearly all the food in the refrigerator. We salvaged a few things in a cooler, but a few hundred dollars of perishables went into the big green trash bin. I kept thinking that if we had battery-backed solar energy, we would have electricity. The last big ice storm came through the metro in 2007. Power was out for eleven days that time. That was THIRTEEN years ago. What has Oklahoma Gas and Electric been doing since then? Were they hoping another ice storm that large would never hit? I am glad to see some Oklahoma City councilmembers and state representatives asking hard questions of OG&E. Not only did the power company put little effort into upgrading and maintaining the electric infrastructure over the last thirteen years, but they also had a haphazard plan for restoring power.
Takeaway: Solar + Natural Gas may be the way to go.
Internet and Work and Social Media
The first week of the power outage was the worst. Not only was the power out, but for some reason my cell phone data service was non-existent. Luckily, I could get text messages, so I was not completely incommunicado. To get data service, we had to drive to a local grocery store where we could connect to a different cell tower. We were not the only ones. On any given outing to the parking lot, at least three other cars were parked at the far end of the lot while people charged and used their cell phones. I had a very important Zoom meeting that week and did it sitting in my car in that parking lot. We all take internet access for granted, but we should not. So much of our lives, especially if you work, are self-employed, or are a student, depend on our ability to access the internet. The second week was better since my data service improved, but without power or internet I could not grade papers or prepare to teach. My students faced similar issues, so I spent a good deal of time encouraging them and letting them know Mother Nature’s nasty temper would not impact their grades. Lack of power and internet was not all doom and gloom: not being able to watch television or scroll social media was no loss. You may already know that I killed Facebook and Instagram (and any other app associated with Zuckerberg) earlier this year. I think I could easily knock off Twitter and LinkedIn. I didn’t miss them at all. I will confess that I missed Pinterest a little bit. I do love scrolling and pinning.
Takeaway: Internet is vital for education and work, but social media is meh.
Mostly, I know I will never be one of those people who goes off into the wilderness to live off the grid. It sounds so lovely and peaceful to an introvert. But, No Thanks. We live in an electrified world. I want to make digital art and sew on my sewing machines. I want to use my computer and connect to the internet. I do not enjoy sitting around in the dark. So, the question is, How do we ensure continued access to electricity? A large, unwieldly, bureaucratically stunted electric corporation like OG&E is not the answer. I have heard some say it is time to break up OG&E. But will that solve the problem? I think individual homeowners and business owners investing in battery-backed solar systems might be a better answer. Currently, battery-backed and off-grid solar systems are quite expensive. If we want to ensure we do not have to rely on the electric company (or gas-powered, dangerous generators) to keep us powered during natural disasters, we need to lobby our representatives to offer bigger, better incentives for homeowners and businesses to install battery-backed solar systems. This is Oklahoma. We have frequent weather-related power outages. If OG&E can’t figure out how to provide a more sustainable system, we ought to take our electric needs into our own hands.