Story of ice and more ice

20.02.2014 21:36

As you might have heard, the beginning of February has been kind of crazy regarding weather.

I spent the last week of January with my parents in Austrian alps, enjoying a vacation away from the grid. During the days when we were planning to travel back home more than 2 meters of snow fell in the south of the country. This record snow-fall was too much even for the industrious Austrian road services and all connections with Slovenia were closed. We were lucky to be able to wait it out a warm place.

When the Austrian roads cleared on Saturday we headed home. Unfortunately, the worst was still waiting for us on the other side of the border. When we arrived at my parents', the country was covered in perhaps half-meter snow and encased in an inch or so of ice. Trees were already falling due to heavy glaze ice and we narrowly escaped a trunk falling on the road. It took picks and dirt shovels and heavy work until nightfall to dig ourselves through the snow and ice on the driveway to the house.

That evening first the cable TV went dark and soon after that the power grid. The night was something straight out of a nightmare. It wasn't a storm. Just a persistent slow drizzle freezing on everything it touched. There were constant flashes of incredibly bright blue-green light reflected from the overcast sky. Some close, some far away, from shorted transmission lines. The neighbor's house alarm was triggered by the loss of power and then died down. After that the only thing that could be heard from the dark were loud cracks from trees splintering under the weight of ice.

The next morning there was hardly a tree still standing on my parents' yard. The ice was still thickening and wouldn't clear for a week. Most of the country was in state of emergency due to closed roads and destroyed electrical transmission lines. Logatec, city my parents live in, was among the ones that were hit the hardest by ice.

Glaze ice in Logatec

It's a scary feeling to be in a situation like that. The local supermarket opened running on an emergency generator. We were let in through the staff entrance in the back. It was dark, with only the cash registers powered up. The refrigerators with frozen goods were locked. A customer was yelling loudly at a lady behind the counter how outraged he was that he couldn't get fresh bread. I kept thinking whether I should buy more food than usual in case this situation will last more than a few days and whether that would look weird.

It's amazing to what degree we take electric power for granted today. Water and heat run out surprisingly fast without it. Checking for announcements on local government web site becomes highly nontrivial when the battery in your mobile phone runs down and later when the generator at the GSM base station runs out of fuel. Surprisingly, the only service that was working almost without interruptions, at least at my parents' house, was the telephone land-line.

In the age of electric stoves and kilowatt hair dryers mere 2 kW from a generator is preciously little. Even when you think you have everything prepared for an emergency there are still surprises. My father bought a generator exactly for a contingency like this. He serviced it yearly and kept it in good order, but it still took a few overhauls until it was running smoothly under the load of the central heating system. Many people found out that their generators were out of oil or fuel after a few years of gathering dust.

The server handling this website, my mail and a few other services was also knocked off-line. I had an automated duplicity backup, which I regularly used to restore an odd file or two. I was confident that I could rely on it. When I tried restoring the full backup however I hit two bugs that made moving my things to other servers far less than trivial.

According to reports at the height of the crisis one-fifth of the country was without power and the distribution infrastructure in the Notranjska region was almost completely destroyed. While a temporary line was established to my parents' neighborhood after a week and a half, there are still frequent day-long outages.

Even though my place in Ljubljana never lost power, I now keep a few spare batteries and a battery powered FM radio in the top drawer. And I have even more respect for people I know that volunteered in local emergency services and did long shifts to help people in need.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Life


I know it was bad storm but your father's generator failing is beyond belief :-) My samoyed was happy. And LJU ZOO lynxs...

Posted by MMM

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