Snowmageddon, Indy style

10 01 2014

When I moved 5 hours southwest from Ypsilanti, Michigan to Indianapolis, Indiana, people told me I would be enjoying milder winters. What a bunch of hooey! You may have been able to fool people twenty years ago with the power of persuasion, but this is the age of information. It’s the same darn weather. Period.

In this modern era, I am armed with information at my fingertips. I hold in my pocket the wonders of NetAtmo, which feeds me real time weather readings both inside and outside of my home, which I contrast with iPhone weather apps for any city I choose to virtually explore, and, finally, the coup de gras, I got myself the Nest. No, this is not for the birds. It’s a high-tech thermostat that reads your daily patterns and adjusts the temperature automatically in anticipation of your next move. It programs itself, so even dummies with big pocketbooks can reap the energy savings. You might say I’m in a constant game of chess with my house.

photo 2 photo

When the forecast first showed glints of a one foot snowfall on the way, I was prepared. I noticed that this recently purchased house was nowhere near as well insulated as our beloved home in Ypsi. The furnace is electric- it still makes me cringe to say this out loud- and can barely keep up once the temps dip into the single digits.

photo 5Bethany and I battened down the hatches- almost literally. We geared up, headlamps at the ready, climbed below the wooden floor joists, and disappeared into the nether regions of our crawl space. Bethany tediously wrapped the main trunks of our ductwork, which was exposed to the un-insulated crawl space air. While great for the feral cat community, heating our crawl space was not in our budget. I maneuvered 4×8 sheets of rigid insulation at $20 a pop, cutting and trimming with a tetris’d efficiency so as to make the most of each sheet. I lined the furnace room with the pink sheets, and used foil tape and spray foam to seal up the rim joists and furnace air leaks. As we both grew weary, I passed the last sheets of insulation into the crawl space, where Bethany placed them carefully against the cold exterior knee walls. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing.

Above ground, we still had work to do. In an attempt to prevent too much of our precious heat from escaping, I cut the remaining rigid insulation to fit the windows. Slowly, one by one, the house grew dark as the ample daylight disappeared behind the pink sheets. It felt like we were really hunkering down for the storm of the century. It was too cold to apply further measures, like adding more weatherstripping around doors, so we stuffed towels into cracks along the floor. I had already finished caulking around all the doors and windows to ensure no air came in around the wood trim. We dug out the candles, got the faucets on a slow drip to prevent the pipes from freezing, and then we sat down and waited.photo 4

It wasn’t the 12 inches of snow that was the big deal. We actually went out and had a long, stunning, albeit wet, walk in the storm on Sunday. It was a heavy, wet snow, that required three rounds of shoveling to keep up. That night, however, the snow tapered off and the winds picked up. The polar vortex had arrived.

Temperatures plummeted to negative digits faster than I would have imagined possible. It was a high of -6F on Monday, and a low of -16F, with wind chills nearing forty degrees below zero. The news spoke of nothing else, but the treacherous risk of venturing out in temps that could lead to frostbite in just ten minutes.

I watched from my phone as the Nest reported the house temperature creeping lower and lower with each hour. We had oil filled space heaters in our bedrooms, but everything else was at the mercy of the measly electric furnace. The city banned all non-emergency travel, and businesses were closed everywhere. My work sent out an email clarifying that, we too, were not allowed to come to the office, and must work from home to be safe.

photo 2photo 3I am an energy efficiency specialist, which means I have access to fantastic gadgets via work! Monday morning, energy toys at my ready, I wasted no time seeing what the real situation was. I pointed my temperature gun at the tiled kitchen floor. There is one corner where I swear they placed the cabinets directly over a gaping hole to the crawl space, such is the rush of cold air when you open the corner cupboard. The digital readout stimulated my scientific mind with real data, and I couldn’t help but keep checking to see the cold creeping into the kitchen. It was like watching a train wreck. What started out as 54 degrees Fahrenheit the night before was down to 39 by the morning. It kept declining, until I could almost see my breath in there. The overall house temperature declined less rapidly, but never left its nadir of 48 degrees until Wednesday morning.

photo 3For three days we were trapped in this frigid frame of a house. I can only imagine what would have happened if we had lost power. We baked everything we could think of, in an effort to fill the kitchen with warm, sweet, electric oven air. We drank tea nonstop, and then recoiled into our bedrooms to recover from standing on the cold kitchen floor.  Only one window remained exposed, in an otherwise dark and dreary place without time. Occasionally, I moved the sheet of foam from our bedroom window to peak out into the world and make sure it was still there. The white snow blinded me, and I retreated back into the darkness like a creature from a late night novel.

When the forecast finally gave birth to a small respite from the arctic blast, the entire Midwest cheered at the beautiful sight of a large black oval on our temperature gauges. Zero degrees has never looked so good.

photo 1As Wednesday arrived, and zero degrees came and went, we were more than ready to be rid of our cabin fever. The pipes, two of which had frozen, took another day to thaw out and flow once more. We could finally wash dishes in the kitchen sink again! The toilet flushed without pans of water! The little things that we take for granted were appreciated immensely on that day. The roads were still treacherous, but people ventured back into work.

So, Indiana, you thought you could scare a Michigan girl. This may have been the coldest, snowiest storm since before I was born, but you can’t keep a Michigander down. I’ve taken road trips to northern Michigan in February. In a Honda Insight Hybrid. You’ll never win this one, Indiana, so just can the tough talk and show me what you’ve got in store for spring.

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