Copyright© 2016 by Ernest Bywater
For several years life is good for everyone in the valley. Families grow and new houses are built for those who get married. Business is good for them all. The five games Mort writes all sell well. Overall life moves on at an even pace with the seasons. Winter comes to make them cold and is followed by spring then summer. Francine and Ted are good with the gardens to fill the house with fresh produce each year and lots of home canned goods for eating during the winter.
In late January of Mort’s eleventh year in Mallard House the winter is colder than any he’s experienced. One Sunday he’s leaving church when Harriet says, “Mort, is Mallard House well stocked?” He nods yes. “Good! I’m worried. The weather today is the coldest day in a hundred years. With the way you restored Mallard House it’s the best house to weather a severe storm in that’s not in the middle of town.”
“When things get bad enough to be very concerned let us know to get ready and then have everyone from the outer-lying houses in the valley come visit with gear to stay a week or so. We can pack them all in like at a camp, if need be.”
“That’s what I was hoping you’d say. Jenny told me how well you insulated everything and enclosed the porches, so that cuts down the heat loss. You have your own power and fire places if that goes out.”
“All of the windows are multiple layers to reduce heat loss. I locked all the shutters yesterday and they’re airtight too. We should be OK.”
After church Mort goes around all of the buildings checking they’re as well set up for a big storm as is possible. He ensures all of the windows, doors, and shutters on the out buildings are well secured and the gear in the covered area beside the stables is covered against the weather. He also goes through to check Ridge House is set to handle a bad storm, and he finds it is. Also, Diane is fully stocked on food and drinks. Mort passes the warning onto the other family members and he watches the weather reports each day.
The temperatures continue to drop. Monday morning the weather charts all show a huge storm centre slowly moving south from Canada. At one in the afternoon Harriet calls to let Mort know she’s putting out the alert. As the town mayor she has a duty to warn the people as well as her family. Mort immediately puts his family on alert, and they start organising to house a lot of guests. The kids will camp in the family room and the parlour so the spare air mattresses are set up.
Noises at the back porch alert Jenny to the first guests, so she goes out to see who is coming in that way. However, it turns out to be Ben with a huge truck load of firewood for them. His boys are with him to help with stacking the wood on the porch. Mort closes off all of the upper windows of both porches, except the southern ends because they’re well protected by the stables and garage. The new load of wood is stacked at the northern end of the porch. Mort leaves that to Ben and the boys while Jenny takes over settling the guests arriving at the front door and Mort sets about placing their cars and trucks to be safe and out of the way by parking them close together around the stables.
Mort surprises Ben by asking for the bill and is told, “I’ll email it when I work it out. I was told to fill your back porch, so I have. Now I have to do the same for the hotel. We’re moving everyone into here or the hotel so we can concentrate resources. None of us like the looks of this storm at all. I’ve even called back all of the family members from houses in the neighbouring valleys as well as some of the other smaller towns not as well set up as we are. Harriet and Colin are doing the same. An old almanac says this is going to be the worst storm since independence, so we’re taking all of the precautions we can.”
All Monday afternoon and night people arrive with small bags of clothes and boxes of perishable foods. This continues until late in the afternoon on Tuesday. Everyone watches the weather and the reports about the damage the storm is doing in Canada.
Many of Jenny’s family members who are adults are shifted to Ridge House via the tunnel, but all of the kids stay together in Mallard House. Most of the adults are surprised to learn about the tunnel because they hadn’t been told about it before now.
Tuesday morning Mort climbs up the ladder to check the situation at the wind turbines and the control building. All looks well with them, but he does reset and lock down the ventilation scoops for the battery room so they’re facing away from the wind. He doesn’t want snow being blown into them. Mid-afternoon Tuesday Felix arrives home from work with his truck loaded down with drinks and canned foods. His boss sent everyone home early due to worries about the storm.
At nine o’clock on Tuesday night the last of the people Harriet told them to expect arrive and are settled into Mallard House. The two houses are crammed with sixty-three children, five babies, and one hundred and thirty-two adults spread through them. Most are using sleeping bags on the floor. Every room in both houses is set up to sleep people; except the kitchens, toilets, bathrooms, hallways, and dining rooms. The attic in Mallard House is also being used as a dormitory, if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be enough room to house them all.
All evening the winds increase, the temperature drops, and snow drifts rise. The news reports are all about community after community suffering with the loss of services when the storm front moves in to pound them. Highways are closed ahead of the storm to reduce people being stranded out in the storm while on the roads.
At two o’clock in the morning on Wednesday an alarm wakes up Mort. He and Jenny are sleeping in the office to be closer to the controls to manage everything better. He goes to his computer to see what alarm was set off. He checks a few things, and swears.
After a couple of minutes Mort turns to Jenny and says, “Love, shut down the servers. Send everyone a warning, wait a minute, then start a shut down. Have the routing table give access to the weather site.”
Jenny nods yes as she goes to her computer. First she checks the status of the network before she sends the message about a service disruption. She doesn’t wait to shut down equipment as the status report shows some of the servers aren’t in use so she closes them down while waiting for people to stop using the others. Five minutes later all of the servers are shut down, along with most of the other gear. The only item she leaves powered up is the main router because it doesn’t use much power but it will allow people to make direct contact with each other. She turns to Mort, saying, “It’s all off but the main router. I’m going down to turn them off at the boards as well. Just to make sure they don’t come up.”
Mort is finishing what he’s doing and he puts his computer back in its standby mode while saying, “I’m going down there to open some breakers. Go around the house to make sure non-essential equipment is turned off and unplugged. Confirm all essential equipment items are on the green lines, please.” She nods her acknowledgement while thinking about the last sentence. All of the power sockets have a number inset in them, it designates the circuit breaker the socket is on. Some have a green number and some have a blue number. This is to make it easier to segregate the system power should the need arise, like it just has.
After getting dressed Mort goes to the basement. He checks all of the freezers are on the green lines, goes into the server room and turns off everything except the main router. He confirms it’s on a green line. Then back to the main circuit breaker box to open all of the blue line circuit breakers for power and lights. He walks through the tunnel to Ridge House to inspect everything that’s plugged in over there before going to its circuit breaker box to open every blue line circuit breaker. Now only essential items like heaters, minimal lights, water heaters, refrigerators, freezers, and the stoves are drawing power.
Mort’s moving about wakes Felix and he asks, “Mort, what’s up? Why are you over here?”
With a grimace on his face Mort turns to Felix and says, “I’ve gone to stage two power conservation. All blue lines are now unpowered. Only essential items are being powered. We’ve lost two of the wind turbines. If we lose another we’ll have to close down some of the heaters. But we’re all right, for now. All heaters, including water, stoves, and food storage are on, so are the two green line power sockets. Also, use minimal lights.” Felix nods his understanding of the situation while wondering what happened to the two turbines. Mort adds, “The emergency cut-outs activated on the turbines due to snow in the feed and the wind being so high. I got them disengaged and turned out of the wind before they were seriously damaged, but they’re off-line. The only good news is by turning them out of the wind they’re creating a partial windbreak for the back two, so they’re still working. They aren’t in the direct blast of the winds, but will still get a good airflow from what flows around the front two turbines. We’ll just have to live with it for now.”
“What do we do if it gets worse, Mort?”
“Don’t worry, Felix. Both houses are well insulated. The heaters are still on, but they’re only on at ten percent of what they can put out and you’re still warm. If we lose another turbine I’ll turn off half of the heaters over here and three quarters of them in Mallard House. While our usage is still a bit below what’s being generated I won’t make any more adjustments. The batteries should even out the flow for when the stoves are used. All the ISP servers are off but the main router is on. Go back to sleep. I’ll let you know if they’re any other issues.”
Mort goes back to Mallard House, lights the stove, then goes around the house making sure all of the fires are well supplied and burning well. It’s a few minutes after three o’clock when he undresses and goes back to sleep with Jenny on the mattress in their office.
Wednesday morning many people mention some of the lights and power sockets don’t work so Mort has to explain to them about the problems with power while Jenny cooks breakfast on the wood stove. The lack of power for electronic entertainment for the children isn’t an issue because there are plenty of printed books and board games to keep them involved with non-computer things they enjoy doing.
Jenny has her laptop computer working in the kitchen to keep up with the news and weather reports. The power grid is out for the whole of the north east, everywhere east from near the border of Indiana and Ohio to the coast, and from the Canadian Border down to Richmond, Virginia. The US news isn’t reporting on how much of Canada is off the grid, all they say is the situation in Canada is just as bad. There’s no sign of the storm wearing itself out or moving on in the near future.