Ice will melt, but the stories linger
- Published: February 17, 2011
The Great Yellow Springs Ice Storm of 2011 was many things to many people: weird lights and scary noises, unexpected hardships and considerable inconvenience; and for local police, rescue and utility workers, long shifts working in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. But for many Yellow Springers, the storm had a silver lining, as the warmth of community softened Mother Nature’s blow.
Ice or aliens?
Beginning Monday of last week, the village suffered an icy one–two punch, with a significant ice storm Monday night leaving much of the village impassable. Only the most intrepid villagers navigated slippery downtown sidewalks and roads Tuesday morning, but rising daytime temperatures later allowed cars and pedestrians to be out and about.
But the big event came Tuesday night, as temperatures cooled and a second ice storm charged into town, this time bringing the menace of wind. As wind whipped through trees, iced limbs and branches plunged into yards and onto roofs, turning Tuesday night into a cacophony of eerie creeks and cracks.
A willow tree next to the Northwood Drive home of Brooke and Carl Bryan almost bent in half under the weight of the ice, its limbs scraping the roof over and over.
“It was the most spooky, rumbling sound,” Brooke Bryan said.
Not one to let a potentially interesting experience go by, Brooke marshalled her children — Lily, Kaden and Vivian — and her audio recorder and began recording the sounds, both the spooky inside noises and the haunting whispers outdoors as iced branches shivered in the wind.
Afterwards, the family topped off the event by telling scary stories.
Later on — at 2:47 a.m. to be exact — Ron and Pat Siemer suddenly woke in their Allen Street home to “the most horrible roar. I thought the roof had collapsed,” Ron Siemer said. While closer inspection revealed that the roof was intact, a limb from an ice-laden tree had fallen on it, terrifying the occupants.
Along with strange sounds, the sights of Tuesday night startled many villagers, including Kathleen McMillan, who looked out the window of her Park Meadows home Tuesday night to see “the sky lit up in red, lights flashing all over in a way I’ve never seen,” as the ice reflected the flashes on myriad surfaces. Initially she considered the possibility that the strange sight could be the Northern Lights on an odd southern sweep, or perhaps the landing of aliens. However, after glimpsing a DP&L truck stopped at a nearby corner, she decided to calm down and go back to bed.
On Limestone Street, Carl Champney saw unexplained green lights lighting up his windows. Further down the street, Doug Hinkley and Jill Becker watched the burning of a transformer near Bill Duncan park.
“First we heard a boom, then another boom, then multicolored lights began shooting out of the transformer,” Hinkley said. After calling the police, the couple watched the transformer burn, while across the street, flames sparked out of utility wires.
A cold, tough job
On the job 27 years, Police Sergeant Tom Jones had never seen a night like last Tuesday.
“The night after the windstorm in 2008 was a tough night,” Jones said. “This was tougher. There was cold, wind, ice everywhere.”
Calls never stopped after he came on duty at 5 p.m., Jones said, estimating that overnight and into the morning the Village dispatchers fielded about 1,000 calls from villagers as their power went off, or limbs and branches came down. Jones was joined at 9 p.m. by Officer Pat Roegner, and together the two spent most of their time pulling limbs and branches out of roadways.
“It sounded like gunshots,” Jones said of the constant cracking and breaking of ice-covered trees.
The officers called in the Miami Township Fire Department, who helped with pulling debris from the road as well as dealing with blown-out transformers.
“They caused a lot of grief, but watching them was spectacular,” Jones said of the burning transformers.
Especially scary, and especially dangerous, was a live electrical wire that went down on Dayton Street about 3 a.m., with flames and sparks shooting four to six feet up into the air, according to Jones. At that point, the police called in Superintendent of Electric and Water Kelley Fox, who had just been able to go home to rest. Fox came out of bed to go to the substation and turn off that line’s power.
During the night, the Miami Township Fire Rescue Fire Department and rescue squad went out 28 times during a four-hour period, according to Fire Chief Colin Altman.
While most of the calls involved downed lines and blown transformers, the squad responded to a few villagers dependent on oxygen whose power had gone out. Most were able to transport themselves to the Greene County Hospital, where they could use oxygen set up in a special wing, according to Altman, who said there were no storm-related injuries.
Like the police, the fire department’s biggest challenge was navigating streets strewn with branches and limbs.
“It was kind of pandemonium for a while,” Altman said.
Constantly falling limbs and electrical problems added to the night’s tension, Altman said.
“It was pretty dangerous for us and for the police to be out there,” he said. “But we have to do what we have to do.”
According to Sgt. Jones, “We did the best we could under difficult circumstances.”
The ice storm continued through Tuesday night, and into Wednesday afternoon.
The Village electrical crew could not work during the night on Tuesday night due to the danger of working in the dark and wet conditions. But their work began before dawn on Wednesday morning, according to Fox this week. About 80 per cent of village homes were without power Wednesday morning, and 30 to 40 percent were still without power Thursday morning, although most was restored that afternoon. About 50 homes remained without power until Friday, Fox said, and all but one had power later that day. A single home, in which the electrical mast had been knocked off the house, remained without power until Saturday.
The four-member Village electric crew — Fox, Jane Hamilton, Chris Hamilton and Dan Mayenschein — was joined over the next days by crews from Piqua, Versailles, Tipp City and Lebanon. The local crew worked long, difficult hours, logging in 236 hours all together from Wednesday through Saturday, according to Fox. Along with the current crew, former electric crew head Mike (Zap) Applin came out of retirement, providing invaluable help, Fox said. The Village road crew also helped with directing traffic and clearing roads.
Along with the long hours, the storm brought difficult decisions, including prioritizing the areas with the largest outages to fix first while knowing that some villagers had to wait longer for power, Fox said.
“I know most everyone in town,” said Fox, who has worked for the Village for 27 years. “Leaving some people without power was not a good feeling. But we had no choice at the time.”
What? No coffee?
On Wednesday morning many Yellow Springers faced a jarring reality: no coffee. There was none at home for the hundreds without power, and downtown regular hangout spots were also dark. Having pulled the piano out on the sidewalk to host the community during Hurricane Ike in September, 2008, Emporium owner Kurt Miyazaki said he briefly considered doing so again, but quickly decided against it.
Instead, Miyazaki put a sign in his window directing people to the Sunrise Cafe, one of the few downtown businesses with electricity. Inside the Sunrise, grateful frozen villagers found a warm spot, and business was bustling all day, according to manager Isaac Delamatre.
At Current Cuisine, owner Steve Current sat inside his darkened business and watched as customers came to his door and tried to open it, seeming stunned to find the door locked.
“People seemed shocked that downtown was closed. They did a double take,” Current said, adding that many then walked across the street and had the same reaction at the closed doors of Tom’s Market.
Current Cuisine and the Emporium stayed closed all day, but the power outage didn’t result in thousands of dollars of food being lost, as it had during Hurricane Ike, Current said. Rather, the owners transported some produce to a distributor in Springfield and kept some items fresh in vans outside, naturally refrigerated in the ice and cold.
While Tom’s Market lost some ice cream in the blackout, the store was also able to salvage most items by keeping meat and other perishables outside on shelves, and opening the back door to let the cold air in, according to owner Tom Gray.
After Village crews got the power back on downtown Wednesday afternoon, Tom’s opened its doors about 4 p.m. And business at the Sunrise stayed lively.
“We had a lot of people sitting down for a meal,” said manager Delamatre. “And a lot of orders for coffee to go.”
Friends come through
The Bryan family’s response to the ice storm — spending time together telling stories and recording strange sounds — is an example of the “fractured time” aspect of weather emergencies and natural disasters, according to Brooke Bryan. While her family could spend each evening together, they usually do not, instead engaged in individual activities.
“People tend to come together more,” she said of fractured time. “They have more conversations.”
Many villagers, some of whom had the day off from work due to the weather, found themselves coming together on Wednesday, finding warmth in the homes of neighbors and friends.
In Park Meadows, some in the condominium development had lost power and some had not, according to Paulette Olson, who said she and several other residents without power were served lunch in the home of a neighbor with heat, while another brought soup. Still another who had a wood stove offered shelter to anyone who needed it, and several went door to door checking on residents.
“Everyone here takes care of everyone else,” Olson said. “In an informal way, we made sure everyone was okay.”
The lack of heat sparked conversations at the home of Doug and Christine Roberts, who have an upstairs renter. While doors between the two homes are usually closed, with the power out, the Roberts fired up their wood stove and opened the doors, heating not only their space but their upstairs neighbor’s as well.
“The doors were opened,” Christine Roberts said. “We had more communication than usual.”
In the Kurt/Livermore Street neighborhood, Laura Ellison and her family went door to door to check on neighbors, and if no one was home, she left a note in the mailbox with information about what businesses were open and where to go to get warm. While she may have taken such action anyway, Ellison was acting as a neighborhood representative, a new volunteer position sponsored by the Village Human Relations Commission.
“I love neighbors,” Ellison said last week. “You end up living closer in proximity to your neighbors than your family, and things happen in life. It’s important to look beyond differences, because those differences aren’t as important as being kind.”
Ellison was just one of several who checked on her neighbors, according to Joan Chappelle of the HRC. While the immediate focus of the HRC-sponsored block parties of the past two years was an event to bring people together, the organization also sought someone in each neighborhood to check on others in the event of emergencies. Nineteen village neighborhoods had block parties last year, and almost that number now have neighborhood representatives.
“It used to be like this years ago, neighbors checked on each other,” Chappelle said. “HRC has a commitment to bring that back.”
The Village of Yellow Springs staff also played an important role in providing safety and comfort during the emergency, offering the Bryan Center as a shelter to anyone who needed it. On Wednesday, about 100 villagers took them up on the offer, stopping in to charge cell phones, use the microwave or just hang out, according to Village employee Tina Fox. The gym was left unlocked that night in case anyone needed a warm place to stay, Fox said, but there was no evidence that anyone did so.
The Village used its Code Red emergency phone system twice during the ice storm, first on Wednesday evening to invite those still without power to come to the Bryan Center and the next day to give an update on the outage.
Along with clearing debris from roads, the police checked on several older people in town, according to Caroline Mullins of the Home Assistance Program, which has as clients many older villagers who live alone. All were okay, according to Mullins, who said some had children who took them to a warm place, and some were cared for by others. In Lawson Place, where many older or disabled villagers live, “a lot of people took care of each other,” she said.
Still, according to Mullins, the ice storm was “one more reminder that all of us in this community need to be prepared.” That preparation means keeping cell phones charged and flashlight batteries working, she said, along with asking someone to check on you if you live alone and the power goes out.
“Find a contact person,” Mullins said. “Everyone should have someone.”