Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stormy Weather and Lessons Learned in Two Parts

Roger here...

PART ONE.  Last Thursday night was our last night at St. George Island on the Florida panhandle.  While I was packing up the outside "stuff" in preparation for an early morning departure followed by an eight- hour drive, Dianne, who had been watching the Weather Channel, told me that storms were predicted during our drive the next day.  I noticed that the skies

 were beginning to cloud up, so I came in to watch the weather.  (Thankfully, our satellite allowed us to get the Weather Channel because there were NO local stations to pick up on St. George Island and we also had very spotty cell phone coverage, so using the tether to our cell phone wasn't an option.)

As it turns out, the prediction was for heavy winds during the day and severe thunderstorms, hail, and possible tornadoes at our destination at the Corps of Engineers campground at Lake Lanier, just north of Atlanta.  It is not fun -- and in fact, quite dangerous -- to drive a high- profile vehicle in extreme winds.  The few times that I have driven the motorhome in less severe, moderate winds, required me to have both hands on the wheel to be ready for any sudden wind thrusts that could push the vehicle in another lane or off the road - very nerve-racking.  I had no desire to do that for eight hours, so I called our destination, told them we would be a day late.   I then made a reservation at River Park RV in Valdosta, four hours down the road, but well south of the storms. 

As it turns out, the forecast was accurate.  There were severe winds, snowball-sized hail, downed trees, and tornadoes.  When we arrived at Lake Lanier, the only damage at our site was a fire pit full of 8 inches of water

 - no campfires that night!  We dodged a bullet and felt somewhat smug at having done so.  Little did we know that the bullet was out of the gun, but had not yet reached us.

PART TWO.  The next day was beautiful - warm, sunny, pretty vistas of the lakes and forest from the motorhome.  We wanted to be sure to explore the campground area on that day because the next day was supposed to be cloudy, rainy, and cold - no forecast of severe weather, just crummy weather.  

I got up early the next morning and was reading on the couch.  It was raining and I felt sorry for the man in the campsite across the street who had arrived the evening before and was in a tent. Everything was normal at his site when I first looked out the window.  When Dianne was heading for the coffee, I told her that it would be a good day to clean the roof on the motorhome because it was raining, but no lightning.  I then said that it was probably a little too windy.  (That comment soon became a HUGE understatement.)  

At that point a huge gust of wind toppled a pine tree across the street. 

 It missed the man in the tent, but prevented him from driving his truck.  Within a minute his tent blew down and he scampered to his truck.  Another stronger gust followed, which prompted Dianne and I to "stow" the satellite dish (not supposed to be in winds stronger than 35 mph) and pull in the two slides to help stabilize the motorhome and prevent damage to the awnings that extend over the slides.  We were feeling pretty good about having weathered the storm and were thankful that we did not have the problems of the man in the tent (whose truck battery was also dead), but our problems were just beginning.  A loud pop, followed by the loss of electricity, extended the day of frustrations.  If you watched the national weather that day, you probably heard about extensive damage in northern Georgia due to 50 mph straight-line winds.  Thousands were without power for hours.  That was us.

We decided to use the day to plan an upcoming trip to South Dakota to officially change our residency.  We could make reservations using a tether from our laptop to Dianne's phone.  We switched the refrigerator from electricity to propane , knew we had water, and settled in for a quiet "inside" day.  A comedy of errors (not really funny ones) ensued.

While Dianne was researching campsites on the computer, she noticed that the computer charge was low.  I said "no problem", we'll just run the generator for a while and get our electricity from it.  Unfortunately, to prevent the motor home from running out of gas while on the road, our generator does not operate when the gas tank is less than one-quarter full.  On the day of our drive we had a half-tank south of Atlanta and could have stopped to fill up, but we decided that we could probably find a gas station closer to the campsite, and besides we had plenty of gas to get there - plenty of gas to get there, but less than a quarter tank left = NO GENERATOR. 

 We then determined that we could charge the computer using a connection to the motorhome battery.  Dianne said that the connecting tether was in a box with other miscellaneous electronic wiring.  She thought she knew where it was.  The search began.  Every nook and cranny was investigated - no box of electronic connections.  About two hours later I asked if it could be in the small compartment above the driver's seat.  IT WAS!  I did the happy dance.  Dianne smiled.  Unfortunately, the right connecting tether was not in the box.  We evidently don't have one.  There would be no computer until the electricity came back on. 

Other issues....  We decided to use our rechargeable, battery-powered Coleman lantern for light.  We did have lights that operated from the house batteries in the motorhome, but we did not want to drain them since we could not run the generator.  Unfortunately, we had left the Coleman lit outside all night the night before, and drained the battery; obviously, we had no electricity to recharge it. 

All of our cooking would need to be done using the propane-fueled stove top and oven - no microwave or outdoor grill (in the rain).  However, we turned on the furnace the morning before to take the chill off instead of using our electric space heater that was stowed in an outside bay (too cold to go out and get it in jammies).  We forgot to turn it off.  It kicked on several times the next evening.  When we checked our propane level, it was low.  Ouch.  A good thing we had a supply of crackers.  

Walking the dogs was another issue.  Their morning constitutional was delayed for about three hours due to the wet and windy weather.  When Chaplin, a very quiet dog, needs to go, he stands by the door and stares at the door.  He did a lot of that on that day.  Thank heaven their bladders are much, much larger than mine.

Finally, there was nothing much to do.  No TV.  No outside walks.  And for me...  no reading.  I had just finished the book I was reading on my Kindle the night before and was planning to order a new one.  When I tried, I discovered that the Kindle would not connect due to poor cell phone coverage.  I could have ordered a book using our computer, but then, as you know, we did not have an operating computer!  

There was really only one activity to occupy our time and that was watching the saga unfold with the man in the tent. 

 Did I mention his truck battery was dead?  He attempted to charge it with an electric battery charger plugged into an outlet, not realizing that the campground power was out.  His wife then arrived with jumper cables, but there was no way to get the two vehicles close enough to connect due to the downed tree.  After a few hours a crew came to saw up and remove the tree.

  At that point the man packed up his wet tent (yuck), jumped the battery in the truck, and followed his wife out of the campground.  (I did offer to help, but honestly he was too angry to want help from anyone!)

Frustrations with two people in a confined space (no escape due to the rain) almost always leads to conflict.  I was proud of the way that the two of us conducted ourselves; however, I did grind about an eighth of an inch of enamel off my molars.  (Dianne here - I ground a QUARTER INCH of enamel off mine!!!)

Looking back on the day, we were very lucky to have endured only a series of frustrating inconveniences.  No one was hurt.  Nothing was damaged.  It could very easily have been a different story.  At 7:30 p.m., the electricity returned.

(Short note from Dianne - As you can see from the two photos below, our three

 "sons" were mostly unperturbed throughout the whole drama!)  

1.  Walk the dogs BEFORE it rains.
2.  Charge the computer when the electricity is on.
3.  Never arrive at a campsite without enough gasoline to run the generator.
4.  Always have an extra book to read.
5.  Know where the electronic tethers/chargers are kept and order a charger that allows the computer to be charged by the house batteries.
6.  Retrieve the electronic heater from the outside bay on cold mornings, even if you ARE in your jammies.
7.  Don't forget to turn off the furnace.
8.  Always have a supply of snack food that does not need to be cooked.
9.  Turn off the Coleman lantern before you go to bed.
10.  Never be too smug about how you handle situations.  Inevitably, your smugness results in being taken down a peg or two!

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