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Laurie Niles

Wind Day

December 2, 2011 at 3:05 AM

A wild wind blew into Southern California Wednesday night, and I spent the evening cowering in the kids' bedroom, wondering if the roof was in the process of blowing off or if the latest loud band was one of the giant trees from the neighbors' yard, collapsing onto my bedroom across the hall.

The power had been out since 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Looking out the second-story window, I could see clear sky, stars, huge trees madly flailing in the wind, and in the distance, what looked like blue flashes of lightning from time to time. The bursts of lights apparently came from the fatal snap of power lines, still hopelessly out of commission.

In the morning we went down to our garage -- which opens with an electric door, so we would not be getting out! We sat inside of the car, listening to AM radio and charging the cell phone. The land line was out.

My kids have never known a snow day in sunny California, so imagine their excitement when the news announced a state of emergency in Pasadena, and no school. A "wind day"!

Californians, I thought, rolling my eyes a bit. It was a tough night, but canceling school over some wind? Heck, when I lived in Denver…

We decided to survey the damage, slipping boots and coats over our pajamas. We live in a condominium complex with eight units.

Our walkway

Upon opening our front door, we saw the two of our neighbors' porch fences had ripped apart and tipped over, blocking the walkway in one direction. We walked in the other direction, toward the street, and found ourselves staring at a large, decapitated palm tree, the trunk still standing straight as a rod, but the large bushy top sprawled on top of one car and next to another unfortunate car that was parked along the street. One car was so buried I couldn't tell much about it; the other now had a smushed nose and broken window.

Top of palm tree that landed on car

Looking back toward our building, we realized two of our neighbors' half-dozen trees that stand next to our property line -- the trees I'd been hiding from the night before -- had smashed into our neighbors' units. We had lucked out -- the ones right by us were still standing.

The wind had temporarily subsided, so we decided to check on our neighbors up the street. The street looked like a hurricane had hit -- nearly every tree was either stripped of leaves (some completely green and not ready to fall), snapped in half at the trunk or blown over completely. Trees and branches blocked every road we saw. Random parts of apartments and houses sat in all the wrong places. A decorative piece of siding from an apartment a full block away sat in the middle of the sidewalk.

House around the block

Arriving at our friends' place, we found them cleaning up from a solid balcony banister that fell from the second story and a large piece of their roof that they found on their driveway.

Happily, the grocery store up the road had power, food and supplies. I walked there with the kids and got some ice, matches and food. The weather service had predicted another "wind event" tonight, but later in the day they downgraded it to a "wind advisory," a much more normal situation!

The kids have kidnapped their friend and played board games ("bored" games?) during the afternoon-- going for world domination with "Risk." Kind of nice -- no T.V., no video games, no Internet.

Guess what else you can do, with no power? You guessed it. As the sun set today, I played my violin. Very quickly, the light grew dim, and I the candlelight didn't illuminate my music enough to read it. I kept playing, old things I knew, new things I'm learning. My kids eventually came downstairs and start requesting pop songs, so I played pop songs from the radio, old songs from Disney musicals and more. I could see the candles flickering in other windows. Without power, I didn't have a lot of competition, when it came to making noise. The winds should be calmer tonight, and maybe we'll have power tomorrow. I kind of liked the world that gets dark and calms down at 5 p.m. though!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 3:22 AM
That sounded like one amazing storm! Have a head lamp ready for next time, if there is a next time. Head lamps turn everything into a fun adventure.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 3:26 AM
I definitely have a few items on my new list for the emergency back-up kit!

From bill platt
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 3:51 AM
What the heck! We had wind in August, Emily had wind in what, October, and now even el Santa Ana kicked in for you!
There is no escaping!
From Emily Grossman
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 5:22 AM
We all three must be full of hot air! Except mine's cold!
From julie Littleton
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 11:48 AM
Wow that was exciting glad everyone is ok. Back when we lived in Ca.there was a big one that blew down a transformer by my house and an electrical wire fell on the fence while children walked by on their way to school. My husband went out to keep children away from it and a sheet of plywood flew past and nearly got him in the head. Kind of nice though to have a no electric day. Good for everyone to have to live without sometimes to remember what it is like to do with out.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Glad y'all are alright!

When the power goes out here, I have found a small, lightweight LED flashlight most useful for reading. A stand light would work too.

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM
When I heard on the news (in Indiana) about the incredible winds in Pasadena (yep, they specifically mentioned Pasadena), my first thought was "Jeez, I hope Laurie's okay!" Glad to hear you and your family are safe and your home escaped damage. Hope the power is back soon, but enjoy the tranquility until then! :)
From Randy Walton
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 1:43 PM
I,too am glad that y'all are all right! Isn't it amazing how much power there is in wind?
From Maurice Gatewood
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 2:17 PM
Wow,I'm glad everyone is ok too!


From Jim Hastings
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 2:21 PM
What drama. Glad to hear you and your family are unharmed and the trees didn't hit your place.

"Guess what else you can do, with no power? You guessed it. … I kept playing, old things I knew …."

Much like life here last April, when we Alabamians took the brunt of the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in US history. In the 103-hour blackout on this side of town, all the careful memorization and interval-listening beforehand -- plus the penchant for scales and etudes and improvisation -- really paid off.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 2, 2011 at 7:03 PM
I'm feeling a lot of sympathy for those who have been through so many natural disasters lately -- the tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. Thankfully I don't think anyone was hurt here, just a lot of tree carnage and home damage!
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 12:55 AM
Laurie, that was excellent reporting, complete with photojournalism. I never knew that wind could be that strong outside of tornados and similar natural disasters. I'm glad that you, your family, and your home are all OK. When we lose electrical power in a storm here, I like to play my violin, partly as revenge for my neighbors' silenced TVs.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 2:34 AM
Pauline, credit for the photos goes to Brian Niles! Indeed today we saw a cement pole that holds up traffic lights -- snapped in half!
From Smiley Hsu
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 4:46 AM
Here are some things that make power outages a lot more bearable:

Head lamp ($20)
Battery powered lantern ($30)
Portable butane stove ($25)

Any outdoor store should have these items. The head lamp and lantern are a lot more convenient, and brighter and safer than candles. The great thing about a head lamp is the fact it is hands free, so you can go about your business with both hands free. So tasks like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, etc are a lot easier.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 3, 2011 at 5:31 PM
Our local paper (SF Bay Area) showed a gas station pump roof collapsed. The article said some people likened it to a tornado. I would be cowering somewhere, too. We worry about earthquakes here also and have all kinds of earthquake supplies, but when our power goes out because of a storm, at least we know (1) our generator will probably hold out for the duration; (2) the plumbing still works; and (3) our gas stove still works. But all those downed trees could be a real pain.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 4, 2011 at 7:11 AM
yay, our power has returned! Also, my kids and I coined a new term for all the tree debris: "arbage"!
From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 5, 2011 at 6:49 PM
Reporting in from up north in Boulder Creek. Power out for 3 1/2 days (I started to write 'daze' and that just about covers it.) That was one fierce windstorm! Interesting to see how hard Pasadena got hit. I hadn't heard that news. (Maybe because for 3 1/2 days I heard no news beyond gossip at the local store that ran by generator.)

Glad your nights were spent so happily! Must confess that mine included more red wine than violin playing. More easily done by candlelight!

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