Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Big Chill Upon Us

This was our high on Monday.  With 20+ MPH gusts outside. Uber-Brrrr.  For fun compare this reading with the photo I took of this one in 2012.  Quite the contrast.
It is supposed to be uncool to talk about the weather. Hip people from mild climates find discussion of the weather to be mundane, unimaginative, and a sure sign of someone being dull. But, past posts will indicate that rain and snow and wind mean something to me. Living in the countryside, in the serenity of nature, has many advantages but it also amplifies the your vulnerability to the weather.

Earlier this week we experienced the coldest temperatures at my house since 1995. It was 6 degrees at my house Tuesday morning, with a constant breeze and a wild chill of minus 10. Ouch. Fortunately, we knew it was coming and spent a lot of time last weekend (when it was 55 degrees) winterizing our property in ways we haven't done in almost 20 years.

Record lows were set across much of the nation. It was the coldest Arctic blast (as my dad calls these things) in recent times. It is actually a lopsided swing of a constant Arctic weather pattern known as the Polar Vortex.

Now I tend to be an anxious guy. Anxiety is an underlying issue for me and has been for most of my life. I am the natural worrier that my dad's mother was. It is something I generally keep in check. But, when I have clear, rational reason for concern (as opposed to inventing troubles in my head) I tend to spring into action and react frustratingly toward anyone around me who makes light of whatever the impending, inevitable challenge might be.

My primary concern was the plumbing in my crawl space. My house sits on the side of a hill and is rather exposed to the wind. So, when I saw that this big chill would include gusts in excess of 30 miles per hour I knew simply closing my foundation vents wouldn't cut it this time.

But, also living in the countryside, sometimes materials are scarce. I needed something to further seal my vents and help insulate my crawl space against the coming winds. So I rummaged around my pole barn and found an old piece of carpet backing which I hauled down to the house and fashioned into rectangular pieces with a pair of scissors. The pieces were fitted for the vents, most tucking in nicely except for a couple that required some trusty duct tape to secure.

The last time we had a windy "Arctic blast" of this severity my water meter burst down by the road. It sits up on a bank above the surface of the road, exposed to the west. Luckily, the burst was nothing more than a pressure relief valve that the local government was responsible for replacing, even though Jennifer and I recall being out of water for a day or two way back then.

I certainly didn't want a repeat performance of that. The area around the water meter is more overgrown now than it was back in 1995. I thought about covering it some way but really never got around to dealing with it. Instead we simply decided to leave the water dripping in all our internal facets this time. That did the trick and we survived without any water issues.

Our power bill will be a different issue this month. The sunny South is covered with heat pumps for heating and cooling. But heat pumps by themselves a pretty close to worthless in temperatures this cold. Even with using the "emergency heat" setting (which really devours the electricity) the indoor temperature of our house dropped four degrees during the coldest night. Part of my preparation last weekend was to get my two kerosene heaters out of the barn and clean them up. I bought six gallons of K1 last Saturday for $4.59 a gallon, the most I have ever paid for kerosene in my life.

The last time I had the heaters out and cleaned was about a year ago when the tornado blew away my late grandmother's former house about two miles from where I live. We lost power and I was prepared to use the two heaters to keep our house warm in what was moderately cold temperatures in the absence of electricity. But, fortunately, the power came back on before I deployed them, just as I was firing them up for a initial burn in my carport before we brought them inside. Before that it had been many years (before recent warm winters of extended drought) since we had used any kerosene in the house.

When we first built on our property Jennifer and I used kerosene all the time to supplement our heat in the winters. But, we have grown accustomed to not using them and experiencing their residual odor in our home. Kerosene provides wonderful warmth but, even with new wicks and the cleanest fuel, the odor builds up over time in your house as long as you have the heater burning. I lit the heaters outside to keep the initial flame-up odor out of the house. Then I carried the heater inside. Not the safest thing in the world to do but I was careful and only had to carry them a few feet to our living room.

Anyway, having the odor in our house again was not a plus after so many years of not having to deal with it even though we were thankful for the powerful BTUs the heaters put out. They stabilized the temperatures inside within a half hour, taking a bit of the burden off the sputtering, struggling heat pump. Still, the heat pump ran continuously for about 60 hours on either emergency or auxiliary heat which will no doubt be rather expensive when it comes time to pay our power bill.

It got up into the lower 40's today, which felt downright balmy. I checked our crawl space tonight and all is well. We have survived unscathed but for the heating costs which will undoubtedly be high. Tonight the edge of the unusually severe winter weather is gone from my mind though the price tag to the American economy might be as high as $5 billion.

Apparently, this "swing" of the polar vortex was due to a combination of high-pressure systems over Alaska and Greenland. Some also attribute the radical southernly swing to global warming. They claim that the temperature difference between the polar climes and the equator is lessened due to the warming of the Arctic Ocean (and the melting of the northern ice cap). This causes the vortex to "wobble" and spin out of its "normal" geographic confines. Does this mean we will see more of these polar vortex events as global warming continues? Now there's a thought that makes me shiver.

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