thermostat - Dennis column

It was almost 59 degrees inside, but almost 21 degrees below zero F. outside when I took this picture of my thermometer early in the morning of Feb. 20, 2015.


The power stayed on; that was something. There are plenty of times when it didn’t.

Yes, it’s probably tempting fate to comment that the power stayed on when it well might not have, but it’s more important to give credit where it is due.

I’m referring to last Saturday night. On Saturday, you may remember, it was unusually warm – 76 degrees here mid-afternoon – and that kind of thing in winter comes at a cost, payable in the severity of the cold front that follows. We’ve had plenty of those over the years, and until recently they certainly meant from a few hours to a day or two of no electricity.

In my part of the county, for the first decade I lived here and then some, electrical service was the way we learned the health of distant neighbors, because if somebody three miles away sneezed, the lights would go out.

Loss of electricity is always an inconvenience, but it can sometimes be life-threatening, especially out in the woods. It was five years ago next month that we had what the teevee people like to call a “paralyzing” snowstorm (though so far as I know the Weather Channel happy-talkers didn’t give it an actual name, as they’ve become fond of doing, which makes one think they do not know the difference between storms and puppies).

In that snowstorm the roads were all closed, but worse it got very cold – almost 21 degrees below zero here, as witness the picture I made of my thermometer. And the power was out, meaning no juice to operate even the fan in the woodstove that spreads the warmth around.

Both of my back-up generators were non-functioning; the John Deere’s starter mechanism having disintegrated due to vibration cracks, and the miserable Generac’s carburetor having succumbed to the corrosion ailment that comes of corn-belt politicians buying votes by legislating that our gasoline contain corn juice. (Somebody came up with a way of supposedly preventing this, and a few weeks ago I got and installed the new improved carb, so at least theoretically I now have a working generator.)

Possession of a working generator reduces the likelihood it will be needed. In this it resembles nuclear weapons. “Power through generator possession” – catchy, isn’t it? And like nuclear weapons, generators are very expensive to use. Mine burns through about eight gallons of gas per day.

But I’m digressing a little. The frequency and duration of blackouts around here seem on the decline. When I moved here, 15 years ago first of next month, it seemed as if a regulation was in place that proscribed repair or replacement of power lines. I joked that they must be historic objects strung by George Westinghouse personally and therefore may not be touched.

Things have gotten better since that memorable 2015 snowstorm, and certainly since the June 2012 “derecho” that knocked everybody’s power out for days and in some cases weeks – 11 days at my house – and that was so predictably bad that I emailed friends elsewhere that they probably wouldn’t be hearing from me for a while, in that I’d be without electricity; predicted it almost to the minute. I don’t think we’ve had a days-long blackout since the 2015 storm.

And for that we must give credit to American Electric Power. Nor is that company’s task an easy one. The wires are strung through the woods, over hills and creeks and places that are almost inaccessible even if you’re not carrying big wooden poles and reels of cable. There are places within a mile of my house where the full weight of trees rests on the power lines. It’s a wonder to me that they work to begin with, but work they indeed do. I think the company has done a lot of work to fortify the lines. Or it could be that most of the trees likely to fall down have already fallen down.

It is one of my peculiarities, perhaps a shortcoming, that when the power goes out I feel compelled to report it. That can be a tall order where I live because here – like much of Athens County, dammit! – there is no cellular telephone service. So when the juice ceases to flow, it means a nine-mile car ride to the nearest reliable cellular service, after which I can report that the power is off.

During the last such trip, sometime last year, I got an actual person instead of the automated system. She seemed knowledgeable and was friendly and forthcoming. She told me, for instance, that I was on a line that comes out of Peach Ridge. Estimated time before restoration, she said, is calculated by computer, using criteria she didn’t know. She was cheerful, remarkably so for someone who hears primarily from people who are angry or upset, and it was a pleasure to talk with her.

Saturday afternoon was a prime candidate for loss of power, despite my now having a generator that I more or less believe more or less works. You could see the inescapable solid line of storms coming; if you were following the radar. Just before 4 p.m. the oh-my-God-we’re-all-going-to-die first gusts hit. The power did blink off and back on a half-dozen times in that familiar staccato way, but I’ve put small uninterruptible power supplies – they’re pretty cheap nowadays – on the WiFi router and other things likely to get scrambled by a brief blackout. After that, the power stayed on through the warm but windy night.

In that I’m the first person to bitch and moan and whine and sook when I think the power company (or telephone company, or Internet company, though those two are now the same) has fallen short, no pun intended, I’m pretty well obligated to comment favorably when everything works as it should.

Which it did last Saturday.

So I must note it even if by so doing I make sure that next storm the power will go out for days and my generator will be broken again.

Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears every Thursday in The Athens NEWS. You can reach him at


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