5 Lessons From a Hurricane

in Home Energy

maple tree damaged by hurricane arthur We knew Hurricane Arthur was headed our way, but the forecast called for it to weaken to a post-tropical depression by the time it hit Atlantic Canada. It was supposed to be pretty much a ‘rain event’ here in South-western New Brunswick.

But Arthur hit us with surprising strength – carving a path of toppled trees, broken power poles and washed out roads across areas of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The effects of Arthur quickly faded from the news beyond the locally affected areas within a day. Stonehaven didn’t get back on the grid until nine days after the lights went out on Saturday July 5th.

5 Lessons from Hurricane Arthur

  1. Don’t underestimate a ‘post-tropical’ storm headed your way
  2. Plan for 72 hrs without access to services
  3. The worst time to buy a generator is when you need one
  4. A Solar/Dynamo powered portable radio is your information lifeline
  5. Make sure you have a supply of cash on hand

I’m not going to pretend this was a huge event although it did leave it’s mark on the US eastern seaboard before making landfall in Atlantic Canada. In New Brunswick, it was relatively local with the capital city of Fredericton and the surrounding areas up to 70 miles inland suffering the brunt of of the damage and power outages. Although small on a global scale, any event like this has a significant impact at the local level.

1. ‘Post-Tropical’ storms can pack a lot of punch

fallen trees on power linesThe North Atlantic has historically been too cold in July for hurricanes to have much strength left by the time they reach Atlantic Canada. That is obviously no longer the case.

One of the reasons the winds from the storm caused so much damage is that the trees were in full leaf and the ground was saturated – thousands of trees simply fell over or limbs broke off – causing the largest power outage in New Brunswick history.

At Stonehaven, the day started with a huge limb from the old maple landing on the driveway. We were just lucky it fell there instead of crashing through the front of the house and porch. The power went out late Saturday morning. As the day went on, we watched as several trees in the apple orchard tipped over. Just before dark we looked out to see the wind had taken down our 30 foot Willow. We’d grown it from whip we’d gathered from a tree that was damaged in a Fredericton park during the 1998 Ice Storm. Born of a storm – died of a storm.

clearing up maple tree after hurricane arthur While there was little that could have been done to prevent those trees from falling, the lesson we’ve learned is that we’re now more vulnerable to summer hurricanes than we used to be. And there are unknown thousands of weakened trees that may come down on homes and power lines in storms this fall and winter.

2. Follow the 72 hour rule

I was complacent about the coming storm. I have a generator hooked into the house to power all the critical systems ready for an emergency like this. I even fired it up Friday evening to make sure it would run. I had a mostly-full 2 1/2 gallon container of gas in the garage. We had plenty of food in the house so figuring the worst case scenario would be a 12 or 14 hr power outage, I thought I was all set.

I was wrong.

By Saturday evening I knew from radio reports that the city of Fredericton, about 20 minutes south, was almost completely without power. I headed out early Sunday morning in search of more gas for the generator. All I needed was to fill my two 5 gallon containers to get me through a couple of days while the power crews worked their way through the mess. My plan was check the local stations and head north until I found gas.

By the time I hit the third powerless gas station 15 miles upriver I had to make a decision: continue to burn the less than half a tank I had in hopes of finding a functioning gas station… or head back home and regroup. So home I went.

As the day passed I learned that there was a 24 hr gas station 20 minutes south of Fredericton operating on generator power. But the line ups all day Sunday were an hour long. My plan was to do a late night run when the lines would be shorter. About 9 pm Sunday evening a neighbour popped in and told me one of the local stations just got power back so I scooted out to fill up the car and my containers.

fueling station for portable generatorLesson learned – don’t be complacent – because the next storm just might be ‘one’ that catches you with your guard down. Be fully prepared to ‘be self-sufficient’ for at least 72 hrs.

3. Generators – panic purchase vs planning

It happens during every major storm when the power goes out – thousands of people rush out and spend hundreds of dollars on a portable generator. I’m sure most people have near-zero knowledge of what would actually be the best solution for their particular needs – it’s a panic purchase with potentially expensive downsides.

I know several of my neighbours bought or borrowed generators to run fridges and freezers during the nine day outage. They saved their food but they very well may have damaged their fridge in the process. I heard an interview on the news a couple of weeks after the storm – an appliance repairman telling the reporter that he couldn’t keep up with the service calls to replace the electronic controls in appliances that were damaged by the dirty power produced by generators designed to run lights and power tools. I’d think long and hard about whether I’d charge my cell phone or tablet with one of these too. 

Besides making an informed choice for a backup generator that won’t toast your household electronicsproper storm planning includes water for drinking and flushing, as well as provisions for heating and communications – all coordinated to help you and your family weather future storms. You’ll be better prepared for whatever happens, more comfortable in your home for longer and won’t contribute to the congestion and chaos that can impede emergency responders and potentially put you at risk.

4. Solar/dynamo power beats batteries

solar-dynamo charge portable radio Even though we had a generator, we didn’t run it continuously – only about 8 – 9 hrs out of 24. When the generator wasn’t running we used a portable radio to keep ourselves informed about which areas were most affected, updates on services as they were restored and when we might see power crews in our area. The solar/dynamo powered radio charges by just sitting on the window sill. Once the charge was depleted, we could just crank the dynamo for a minute or so to get another 15 or 20 minutes of listening time. No batteries to buy, or try to remember to recharge. It worked great for us and would be ideal for anyone who is completely without access to electricity or batteries.

5. Cash is crucial

Debit and credit cards rely on two systems to function – Electricity & Communications – doubling the odds that you may not be able buy what you need if you don’t have cash in your pocket.

cash works when debit doesn'tIf your power is out and you have a carload of hungry kids and no cash – you could be in trouble if the debit/credit system is out. Banking machines might be working but could quickly run out of cash as people just like you withdraw the maximum amount. I normally operate on debit and credit cards and rarely carry more than a few dollars in cash. We were fortunate that we just happened to have an envelope with a couple of hundred bucks in it when Arthur hit – otherwise we might not have been able to buy gas for the generator for a couple of days.

Summary: Planning paid off

All in all, we were very fortunate, and I was pleased that my planning a few years ago for this type of emergency paid off. The portable generator/transfer panel setup performed perfectly and made a nine-day power outage seem like just ‘another day at the office’ here at Stonehaven.

(I emailed this spoof ad to family and friends to assure them we weren’t suffering much hardship after a week without power).


stonehaven luxury living off the grid


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