Island Senior: Winter storms

By Peggy Sue McRae

Journal contributor

If you’ve lived on San Juan Island for a while, you no doubt have experienced one of our legendary winter storms. I was working on Decatur Island in the early 90s; the year hurricane-force winds cut swathes of trees down like clearcuts throughout the county. I was the relief caretaker for Decatur Northwest and was left to hold down the fort while the caretakers took a Christmas vacation.

I was looking forward to the hot tub. However, that was not to be. After everyone else left, I noticed an eerie stillness and oddly yellow sky. I learned later those conditions often precede a hurricane. All hell broke loose that night. Luckily, the only farm animal I had to contend with was a gigantic white rabbit. I brought the rabbit into the house and hunkered down. That night I watched through rattling windows as trees along the ridge were whipped around by the wind.

The next day, power was out. No boats or planes were going anywhere and everything was frozen. I kept a fire going in the small woodstove and checked out the freezer to see if there was anything that, with the electricity off, should be eaten. If I remember correctly, that justified my cooking up a salmon over the fire. Other storms have not been quite so dramatic. The power goes out bringing whatever you were doing to an abrupt halt. You switch gears, cook a lovely dinner on the woodstove and sit down to dine by candlelight when suddenly the power comes blasting back on! Reminder: turn electronic items off during an outage and turn them back on slowly once power is restored.

With the arrival of winter, it’s a good idea to make sure you are prepared. Now that I live in an all-electric apartment, planning for a power outage means having food handy that does not require cooking. Peanut butter, apples, crackers and sardines are good storm food. If you know it’s coming, filling a thermos with hot water or your preferred hot beverage can give you a reason to thank yourself later.

If you rely on electricity for heat, keep extra blankets and sleeping bags where they are easy to find. Have some extra batteries on hand for your flashlight, plus fake candles and that old boom box if you have them. In the event of a power outage that lasts for more than a few days, consider whom among your family or friends with an alternative heat source you could stay with for the duration. Meanwhile, a good book, a deck of cards, and instant coffee should see you through. If you are prepared for it, a power outage can be a pleasant interlude in our otherwise electrified lives.

For a detailed Winter Storm Checklist and more information regarding power outages please visit the OPALCO website: (