Unexpected Snow

When I woke up, the power had been out for hours, and this is what I saw. I took this pic with my phone and sent it to Pedro and said, “I don’t want to get up today.”

Chance of snow accumulation had been the forecast. In my past life, I forecasted weather, so I know how hard it can be. A weather forecast isn’t simply “snow: yes or no.” In reality it’s “snow: yes or no; if yes, when will it start; where will it fall; how long will it fall; when will it end; how much water content in the snow; how much will fall each hour; etcetera.” There is so much potential to get part of it wrong. Our overnight temperatures were forecast to hover on either side of freezing/melting point, so it would have been possible to get mostly rain with some snowflakes only during the coldest part of the night. Instead, we got the biggest snowfall of the year in an area where it almost never snows.

On April 11, last Monday, I measured a foot of snow at the deepest.

Here, I measured 10.3 inches. It snowed another inch and a half after this measurement.

Eventually I ran out of things to scroll through on my phone, and I was forced to get out of bed.

When the temperature hovers around the melting point, we can consider that to be “warm” air – warm in comparison to air that typically would hold snow. Warm air has the potential to hold more moisture than cold air. Translation: we received not only a lot of snow, but the snow that fell was wet. Wet snow is beautiful and also heavy and destructive.

Where is my deck? Unfortunately, I have an artichoke and a geranium beneath those snow heaps on the left. Happily, they both survived.
The garden and driveway in front of the house.

In the photo above, you may be able to see the trunk of a tree hanging horizontally, suspended in the air, just beyond my driveway. I saw it, too. I put on boots and grabbed my camera and went to look.

This is the main road in front of my house. Yikes!
Looking the other direction. There’s my house to the right.
Part of my yard. What a mess.

I had not called the power company to report an outage until I saw the tree down. The power had gone out about 3 a.m. I knew because it blinked on and off a couple times and each time it came back on, my printer jumped to life and began a series of alignment tests and kept waking me up. After the third time, I got up and unplugged the darned thing. But anyway, lines down over the road and a tree hanging over the road seemed quite dangerous, so I called and they were super friendly and thanked me for the information.

During the night I had been hearing trees crashing down around me. When I went to investigate the power/phone lines, trees were still crashing down on all sides. I watched one huge branch break off a tree and slam to the earth. I got scared and went back inside the house till the snow stopped.

I heat almost exclusively with wood, and I had plenty of dry wood and soon had the woodstove roaring and me and Racecar and all the small hens (what I’m calling my new chicks that are living in the house with me till they get bigger) stayed quite warm. No power means no Internet. That’s fine, I can live without it for a day. No hot water, but also, no water, because the well uses an electric pump. I am fortunate, in that I don’t like the taste of my well water, so I happen to have water stashed all over the place. My drinking water comes in 5-gallon jugs, and I had one partly full, and a full one. I had a spare 2-gallon jug in a cabinet for just-in-case. I also had 2 gallons of filtered well water that I use for coffee.

Speaking of coffee…now how would I get coffee? I must have it and I could not drive into town. I went to the garage and fetched my camping gear and set up my camp stove on top of my kitchen stove and had boiling water for my press pot in minutes.

Heating water for coffee.

After a few hours, I got hungry. I had nothing I could munch on without cooking it. So I used the oven mat you see in the image above, and laid it onto the wood stove, and made chicken and cheese quesadillas. Yummy!

And then the snow stopped. And then, since it’s April, the sun began peeking through the clouds. And the snow began to melt. I felt safe enough to go outside and take another look at the dangling tree.

Look how many people chose to drive under it!

I made a tour of my property, looking for damage. I was mostly concerned about the henhouse and chicken pen, but all completely untouched despite being surrounded by trees.

My baby orchard, however, is smashed. It’s still smashed today, a week later, because I have no idea how to get the roof off the top of it. I should start with an image of what it looked like without the snow.

This is a photo I took in January, when high winds caused a tree to break off. The top fell onto the roof over the orchard and broke a pvc pipe joint (you can see the two ends hanging), but it is otherwise unharmed.

I innocently planted a baby orchard (there are only four young trees) with no varmint protection. I managed to keep the deer away and on year three, both the peach and the plum tree had beautiful fruit. I waited patiently for them to ripen. Then, the day I went down to collect the fruit, it was ALL gone, and half the branches in the trees were snapped off from a stinking raccoon who climbed the trees and ate all my fruit. I told my neighbor this story, and for fun, he and his son invented a roof for my little trees, and built this temporary cage for them. My idea was that when the branches were strong enough to hold up an adult raccoon, I’d tear the cage down. It has been two years since the raccoon damage, and this spring both the peach and the plum were again loaded with blossoms. The pear and the cherry are still too young.

But with the heavy, deep snow, the wire mesh caved in, crushing my tiny trees. Since I live where it usually doesn’t snow, none of us thought to build the structure to hold up under the weight of it.

My heart just aches to see this.

I knocked all the snow off that I could, and tried to use the snow shovel to push the roof back up, but I couldn’t budge it. My trees are all still alive. They will someday return to greatness, but I fear it will be years for them to regrow branches strong enough to bear fruit. Filled with sadness, I went back inside to warm up and check and see if I had power. I did not. I went over to the neighbors to let them know I had plenty of water and ask if they needed any. They, like me, don’t like the taste of the well water (sulphur and iron), and had lots on hand.

By early afternoon, the tree was still dangling over the road and making me nervous because many more people were venturing out and traveling the road. I called the power company once more, and got a different, also very friendly and gracious employee on the line. This time I tried a little harder to explain the situation, to make it seem more urgent for them to come. Again they thanked me for the detailed information, and wrote it all down. I went back to investigate, and took more photos.

This massive cedar tree with a curvy trunk that I loved dearly, broke off and fell into the creek.
These are the branches that came crashing down the first time I came outside, and it sent me scurrying back indoors for safety.
See the line on the right, almost touching the ground?
Cars coming from both directions would come to a complete stop and stare at this tree before deciding whether to go beneath it.
Looking at the tree from the other direction, you can see the telephone pole is leaning.
I couldn’t believe this was the same day that it snowed!!

In the evening I fried sausage before it would go bad from being in a warming refrigerator, and I heated a can of carrot soup on the woodstove. Hours passed and I wondered if the power company would ever come get that tree before it brought down the power poles and all those wires with it. At 7 in the evening, a tree company showed up! Yay! I went out to watch.

I had been wondering how a crew would lift that tree off of the power lines. The trick is to work smarter, not harder: cut the tree into pieces, and no one has to lift anything. I was watching when the final piece was cut and the power and phone lines went springing into the air. Wow! I still can’t believe the telephone poles didn’t topple and the lines didn’t break.

This young woman worked efficiently and effectively. The whole project took less than 20 minutes.

They were in a hurry and didn’t even move the logs out of the road. When they left, I put my boots back on and went out to the road and pushed the logs as best I could, to clear a wider space.

Many of my neighbors left town. One of them told me he had to stay at a hotel four towns away along the Interstate, because everything closer had no vacancy. The snow was widespread and all the hill communities in my area got clobbered. He also told me that HE was the one who got the tree company to come over here. He knew the lady with the chainsaw because she had done work on his property two years ago. He spotted her out clearing roads nearby and told them about this tree. They said it was not on their work orders and they weren’t even planning to be on our road that day. Maybe the power company called them afterward and sent them over? Maybe she was wrong and it was on the list? Maybe my neighbor really is the person who finally got it taken care of.

And then it was nighttime. I kissed my kitty and all my little peeping girls goodnight, and went to bed with high hopes that I would wake to a powered home with water.

The next morning I did not have power. I needed a shower. I needed to do homework on my computer. I filled the food for my inside girls and for the Hussies outside (the big hens), packed a bag, kissed everyone goodbye (except the Hussies, they run away from me), and left for Pedro’s home in the city. He was happy to host me. I was happy for flushing toilets! Oh, and also for Pedro of course.

On Wednesday I went out with a saw and some podcasts to keep me entertained, and cleared all the fallen trees that had crashed onto the mailboxes and blocked access, after seeing that the mail lady had to park and walk through the branches to get to our mailboxes. Then I did a better job of pushing those huge logs off the road. I spent a couple of hours, sawing and dragging branches off the road. I finally cleared it to two lanes. Then I drove my Jeep through the deep snow a few times to show others that the lane was cleared. In two hours, most of the snow on the road had been beaten into slush by vehicles.

In the days since, the weather only slowly warmed up. I still have snow in places where the sun doesn’t hit. I have power and everything’s working fine at home. But the destruction remains. You should see the neighborhood. What an awful mess that we can’t even clean up yet because melting snow and rain has saturated the ground and it’s muddy and cold out there.

I am so grateful for how well I managed during the storm. I had heat. I had a camp stove. I had a boyfriend with a home in the city. None of those trees came down on my house, or the car that’s parked out front. None of the trees or branches came down on any structure on my property except the orchard. Nobody I know got hurt or had their home ruined. I learned that I’m going to want to keep a spare 5-gallon jug of drinking water as often as I can, and my friend Margaret suggested also storing another 5-gallons of well water for toilets. Next time there’s a catastrophe, hopefully I’ll be in ever better shape.

21 thoughts on “Unexpected Snow

  1. Oh my. That was the morning I drove from Centralia to St Helens! There were trees and branches down all along 30. Rainier looked like a ghost town. You must be up on the hill. That’s a pretty stunning description of that freak storm. You’re quite resourceful! When there were snow plows on I-5 I knew it must be bad. I’d have endured it much more enthusiastically if there were awesome quesadillas at the end of it! Brava to your creativity!

    1. Oh goodness. I’ll bet you saw a lot of the destruction I’m talking about. I heard it was really bad toward Clatskanie, but I had no reason to go that direction on 30. I think you would have been resourceful, too. I assume you camp? I mean, I had everything I needed to have a comfortable camp, stored in my garage. (I had to use my phone flashlight to see in there though, ha!) Since the fridge was going to get warm, I had to eat up stuff that would go bad. I had leftover chicken legs from the night before. I shredded them and with a little Tillamook cheddar and some tortillas, viola!

    1. I wonder if we’re getting the snow you used to get. When I first moved here, we could go a whole winter without ever seeing the ground white. It seems like the last few winters now we always get a big snow. And this winter TWO big snows. It’s crazy. This snowstorm was the biggest in my area in 80 years.

    1. Ha ha!! Why thank you. I have practiced for many years in order to get up and get out of bed. The hard work felt good. The brush had to be cleared off the road by somebody eventually, so why not me. After I returned from Pedro’s house, I wasn’t planning to go anywhere, but was worried about the conditions for others. The mail lady, the school bus, everyone was negotiating a narrow space between fallen logs and heaped snow. It was all right here in front of my office window, so I had to watch it, and I wanted to help….

  2. You’re a survivor! I’m happy that all ended up more or less luckily, except for the orchard. You did quite some work for that logging company! Isn’t it their work to free the road? And so happy for you and Pedro that the road between you was passable. And now, on to spring or what?

    1. Funny, you just reminded me that the road I usually take to his place was closed because of trees down. I had to take a different route. Ha!! But yes, there was a way to get to his place. Thank goodness. And oh my goodness, I’m ready for Spring. I have these baby hens living with me and we are both ready to be done with the situation. They are dying to get outside and I want them outside. But the forecast for at least a week is nighttime temperatures near freezing, so they need to remain indoors. Sigh. Where is Spring?

    1. Did you see the forecast for Wednesday? 2% chance of tornado. What state do we live in?

      Thanks for commenting and yes! an adventure tale. That’s funny. Glad to know you have camp gear for backup.

      1. yes, truly ridiculous. and sad. and scary. Are you near Portland? I can’t believe how much snow you got!! And I’m sad for your fruit trees. All those years of waiting and hoping and working on them.

      2. I live in Rainier, just past St. Helens on Highway 30, but I’m very connected to Portland, since I worked right downtown before I retired. Before I moved here I lived in Montavilla and my neighborhood was SE Hawthorne and Belmont. Most of my friends live in Portland or Vancouver. I’m part of a Hood to Coast team and we meet in Portland. My boyfriend lives in Beaverton, so I’m there all the time, and my VA doctor is in Hillsboro- so yeah, I’ve got lots of connections. 🙂 What part of town are you in?

        Thank you for your comments about the trees. I guess I need to keep working on them, and hoping. One of my neighbors has a lovely row of cherry trees right next to the road so I see them all the time. One of those was snapped at the trunk, and I’ll guess it was a 15-year old tree. ugh. Sadness. Country living seems to be a never-ending challenge. But I do love the payoffs.

  3. I’m in SW. The SW corner of SW Portland. 🙂 My 2 kids have lived all over town so between them and my own wanderings I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a lot of it.

  4. I’ve had this page open for days trying to get to it. It’s the middle of the night and I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. You really got hammered worse than the greater Portland area! H took a few photos of her snow but so close to the river, they got so much less. Weather patterns are definitely changing again. It’s hard to see so many big trees crumble under that kind of snow. You remember the ice storm we had a year or two ago. I can’t remember anymore. First the fires then the ice. I have no way to cook or anything if we have a storm here. We tend to worry more about fires. Looking at all your photos tells me I need to get to work on preparing for any disaster. It sure was pretty though. Sorry about the orchard. That has to be hard to take.

    1. Good morning, Marlene. Sorry you were having trouble sleeping. Yes, fires are much more of a concern there. There are Arizona fires right now, aren’t there? The ice storm was just last year, can you believe it? I remember it was February 2021 because my girlfriend had to have brain surgery and she wanted someone to sleep over at her house on her first night home from the hospital in case there was a problem. I don’t blame her. Anyway, I remember driving through the destruction in Gresham and being amazed. There was still ice and huge trees down, and it was days after the storm. The most important thing to think of for an emergency is water. If you do nothing else, at least be thinking of how you’ll get water. I know that water heaters are a good source of stored water in a home, but I do not know how to get to that water if I needed it. In your apartment, you may not even have your own water heater. It might be shared. Another idea is to store water bottles in your freezer. They can provide ice to keep things cold if the power is only out for a day or less. They can also be drinking water if you need them.

      The snow was very pretty and I just love a good storm of any kind. I didn’t spend much time enjoying it though, mostly being amazed at the destruction. Pedro and I managed to get the roof off the orchard over the weekend. Now that the snow melted there isn’t any extra weight on the wires. Also, the temperature went up a little, so the wires and pvc pipe were warmer and more flexible. We used my extending ladder and jammed it in there and that is what is holding up the roof now. I went out yesterday with tree-safe tape and clippers, and clipped and pressed and pulled and tried to put broken limbs back together, then taped them in place. That way, if the tree is able to heal some of the breaks, the branches are at least going the right direction. The ones that were really bad I just cut off. Later, when we get time again, we will go down there and try to put all the pipes back together.

      1. Yes, it’s fire season here now. High winds are a part of the package until the monsoons come in July, hopefully. Hope you are able to save those trees. Sometimes, they come back stronger. That’s a lot of work and time. Often worth it though.
        They keep the individual water heaters and furnaces locked up in those little storage closets on the back porch. We don’t get keys. I try not to worry too much about catastrophe’s. I do have several pitchers of water that’s filtered in the fridge and some ice. I’ll send a note soon. Time to get a walk as the wind is starting to pick up again. I hate wind over all else. Breezes are more my style. 🙂

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