18 December 2011

La tempête appelée Joachim

The wind started blowing really hard after midnight — in the wee hours of Friday morning, in other words. The house shook and the roof tiles clattered. It rained about 1½ inches — 37 mm — in just a few hours.

Since we sleep up under the roofline now that the loft is finished, the racket and the shaking is much more perceptible than it used to be. And the two big cedar trees in our yard are right outside the window, on the northwest corner of the house. I could hear the gusts whooshing through their branches.

Getting the power back on

The way the wind was blowing, the tallest tree would not have fallen on us, but away from the house, if it had succumbed to the wind. However, it bent and swayed and rocked quite a bit. In the early morning, as light started to dawn, I could see its branches waving around just outside the loft windows. I knew it hadn't blown over, at least. The wind was still gusting as high as 70 mph.

The electricity was on at that point, because I noted the time on my digital clock radio. It was about 6:50 a.m., and I thought I might get up and make some tea or coffee. Turn on the heat. Look at the computer and the television for news. But I dozed for a few more minutes.

The poteau électrique out back was the focus of a lot of attention.

My eyes were sort of half open right around 7:00 when there was a sudden flash of light outside, as if a bright lightning bolt had descended from a cloud. But Joachim was a cold storm, and there was no lightning or thunder in it. The bright flash of light also woke Walt up, and it cut the electricity off — the clock radio went dark.

It must have been a transformer burning out, or exploding, one of us said. Damn. We made it through the night without a power cut, and now at 7:00 a.m. we're dead in the water. Walt got up and started lighting candles and making tea. Since we use bottled gas for cooking, we could boil water. Walt had taken the precaution of bringing in enough dry firewood to get the wood stove going for heat.

Our neighbor the mayor — madame le maire — consulted
with the EDF work crew.

In preparation, we had closed all the shutters around the house, so we couldn't yet see outdoors. Besides, it was still dark. The hard wind and strong gusts would continue until nearly noontime. We finally got a look outside around 9:00, and we saw that all three of our tall conifers, as well as the big decrepit apple tree, were still upright. I walked out on the road to a point where I could see the roof and confirmed that no tiles had blown off. I got soaked of course.

And then we waited. I tried to call the people at the mairie, but the phone was constantly busy. We have a couple of old-style telephones that don't require electricity, so we were not completely cut off from the outside world. And we have a couple of battery-powered radios, so we could get some news. A ship ran aground off the southern coast of Brittany; the crew was rescued. Trees and a grain silo fell on railroad tracks and main roads all around western France, so traffic was perturbé. People were evacuated from low-lying areas along the Atlantic coast.

Our back yard is none the worse for wear.

Meanwhile, we had leftover blanquette de veau for lunch. It was hot and comforting.

In the afternoon I succeeded in getting somebody at the mairie on the phone. The current was back on down in the village center, and they were saying ours would come back on by nightfall. Nightfall came and we really were in the dark — no restoration of power. What should we do about the freezers, we wondered. Walt went up to bed at 7:30 p.m.

I sat in the living room and listened to the radio by candle light. Bertie the cat came meowing at the window so I brought him in and held him in my lap for half an hour. Then he wanted to go back out. I kept putting logs on the fire until I too gave it up and went to bed, at about 9:00.

Putting up the new transformer

The wind had died down hard rain fell at several points. I had taken Callie out for an afternoon walk and had a look around the hamlet. Thank goodness no trees were blown over and the rooftops all around were intact. No windows had blown out, and we all had stayed relatively warm and completely dry in our houses.

Saturday morning we still had hot water! We were invited out for the afternoon to have a long lunch with American friends who live down the road. They hadn't lost power at all, and had no damage from the storm. I called the mairie again, and they told me the power should be back by early afternoon. We were glad to be able to take showers before going out.

Then they were gone, and we were back on the grid.

It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny. I went to the market and order a guinea fowl capon for next weekend's Christmas dinner. I got back home before noon and shortly afterward, four or five blue EDF (Electricité de France) trucks drove up the road. The had a sort of crane and a cherry-picker. Minutes later, there were six or seven men working out back.

They took down the old transformer, which didn't appear to have exploded and didn't have any burn marks on it. They put up a new, larger transformer. Then they drove away in all those trucks. Five minutes later, the power came back on. We checked all around to make sure everything was working and then we left to go to our friends' warm house for lunch.

The power outage had lasted only 30 hours this time, compared to 5 days in February 2010. Our only casualty, as far as we can tell, was Walt's computer monitor. It's one we've had for more than 10 years. I think a surge burned out its power block. Too bad, because it was a great monitor.


  1. Good to be back! With gas to cook, wind-up radio and candles it is a bit of an 'adventure'. We have no gas and the oil heating needs electricity so we exist in the room with the wood burning stove and play Scrabble! Our blinds/shutters are electric and the day-time can be as dark as night-time if the power fails at the wrong time. I regret to say that the biggest worry is to not be able to watch the final of Srictly Come Dancing or the last two episodes of The Killing II if things turn pear shaped!
    Things can always be a LOT WORSE.

  2. Glad nothing major happened. Our Gite got a bit flooded with the last rain in the morning. So we had to mop up the floor minutes before we left for our road trip.

    The drive was uneventful, little traffic across France.

  3. Welcome back! Glad you suffered no damage.

  4. Good to see you back and none the worse [a part from the monitor] for wear.
    We've ordered guinea fowl too but not caponée.

  5. Glad you are back up- we missed you. Thanks to CHM and Simon we knew you were OK. Sorry to hear about the good monitor's passing.

  6. So glad you suffered only a brief (but not brief enough) power loss and one old computer monitor.

  7. Good to hear from you! Very interesting to read about all of the process... storms and lack of power really have an impact!


  8. Whew! We're glad you weathered the storm with minimal hassle.

    RIP good old monitor.

  9. That old monitor was an 18" flat panel that I bought in 2000 when I first went to work at Extricity with Susan, Barb, Ginny, Simon, and Ellen and all. It cost $800 back then! I guess it was good to get 10½ years' use out of it.

  10. Any time without electricity feels too long. I'm glad you weathered the storm as well as you did, and thanks for a thorough account. Hope that's it for you for power outages--let's hope the new transformer works wonders!

  11. Another adventure that wasn't too bad. Thank goodness! At least there was plenty to write about in the blog - not to mention the activity of the electricians!

    Mary in Oregon


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