The power line

downed power line among brush on ground

It was a dark and stormy night. No, seriously, it really was.

In the midst of thunderclaps, there was another noise. Much closer and very loud. First impression: a big tree branch just landed on the roof, right above us.

The ceiling didn’t cave in, which was probably a good sign. 

Then another loud noise. If that was a squirrel up on the roof, it was one the size of a horse. That loud.

Then quiet. Except for distant thunderclaps. I pondered. Most likely a sizable tree branch just fell onto the roof. Or the deck. It’s dark. And raining. If I go out there, I won’t be able to see much anyway. I looked up at the ceiling. No water dripping, so roof was probably okay. I prayed that we’d be safe and protected in the midst of whatever just happened.

The morning after

With morning comes light. Thunderstorm long gone. I went out into backyard. And there it was, nicely draped over tree branches and bushes: Our power line. 

From the main utility line along our back fence, a branch goes to our house, keeping us connected to the grid. Normally hangs in a graceful curve from pole to corner of the house, high above the ground. 

Not so this morning. It was definitely at ground level and close enough to touch. Not that I was going to. Because our lights were still on. That line carried electricity!

The first bang last night was probably when a tree snapped and fell over the line. The other was the line’s anchor separating from the house. 

There was an old tree, not much more than a trunk left, that stood right next to the powerline. Close enough that the hanging line brushed up against it. I’d wanted to cut it down, but hesitated, because odds were really good that I’d knock down the power line in the process. So had left it in place. Obviously a bad call. I figured the top of it had broken in the storm and taken the line out.

So there we were: Powerline down, but still electricity at the house. 

Calling the utility company

I decided to call the the utility company. Because it’s their line. I think. With the phone company, it’s very clear: If the fault is on their line to the little interface on the wall, they fix it. If the fault is on my side of the box, I fix it. I hoped electrical utilities worked the same way.

Reaching the utility company, a recorded voice advised me that they were experiencing larger than normal call volumes. Duh. Thunderstorm last night.

I called them back the next morning. Finally found a live person to talk to. Sympathetic enough. They’d send somebody out to fix this. 

Later in the day, an electric company truck pulled up. The guy surveyed the situation. His main concern seemed to be if the meter was okay. It was. Still ticking. That was good, because, in his words, “that gets expensive”. 

My layman’s assessment was that the powerline (3 power cables and a steel wire that holds them up) needed to get lifted back up and reattached to the house. The pipe that the cables continue in down to the meter had popped lose in a joint and could just be put back in proper position and anchored back into the wall. That was easy enough to do. To me, the tricky part was lifting the power line. Because heavy. That would need a small winch. Which I don’t have.

The utility guy got me back to reality. He outlined the plan: Get your electrician to put the pipe and anchor back up. Then the electrical company would restore the power line. 

Check. My electrician. Now I had to find one of those.

Who do you call?

I go to an early morning Bible study once a week. One of the guys there is a realtor. So when I saw him next, I explained my predicament. Right off, he texted somebody. And had an answer in minutes. Before 7am.

Later that morning, I called that electrician. Less than half an hour later he was surveying the situation with me. Yes, his team could fix this. But might have to relocate the anchor. Because the old position was really close to the deck. You could stand on the deck and almost reach the power line. First step would be for me to call the electrical company and have power turned off temporarily.

That became an interesting conversation. The power company service desk could only promise to turn off power sometime on Monday. What? Even the phone or cable company will give you a 2 hour window of when they’ll come.

Then I asked about getting power turned back on, once the job was completed. I was told that would require a city permit and inspection. Because power was turned off. Never mind that it only needed to be off for a few hours.

I calculated: Power off sometime Monday. Repairs on Tuesday. Inspection on Wednesday. Power back on sometime Thursday. If all went well. So now I had to prepare for being without power for several days. Think fridge and freezer. And getting work done. No electricity, no internet. Not a good prospect.

When power goes out suddenly during a storm, you just roll with it. Planning for an undermined power outage is more nerve-racking. So many variables.

Serendipity rolls in

Friday morning a utility truck pulled up. The guy explained he was here to turn off power. We talked. About how I did need power cut off, but not until Monday. Then he offered the seemingly impossible: What time on Monday would I like power cut off? Because he’d come back at that time. We agreed on 10am. 

I called the electrician and told him he could come in the afternoon on Monday. Life was looking up slightly.

Over the weekend I prepared for a few days without power. Because even if the work got done on Monday, that still left inspection and getting someone come and turn power back on. Multiple parties involved. Might still be Wednesday before power was back on. I needed a plan for getting my daily work done.

Getting things done

Shortly before 10 am on Monday morning a utility truck came. The worker and I went out to the downed powerline. As we were talking, the electricians arrived. At that point I let the experts confer. 

The outcome of their conversation was amazing: Once power was cut, it wouldn’t take the electricians long to put the pipe and anchor back up. So the utility worker decided to stick around to connect power back up when all was done. Plus the electricians brought a long ladder and he wanted to use that to get up to reconnect power. 

Power was cut and the downed powerline coiled up out of the way. I have a chainsaw, but it’s electric. So I went to work cutting down that tree trunk with a handsaw.  

I only realized how rotten the tree was when I’d cut through about half of it and tried pushing on it. It creaked and swayed. I pushed more. Timber! It fell in the intended direction, leaving a stump showing broken, crumbled wood. Rotten to the core. Definitely glad to have that out of the way.

Just about an hour after cutting power, the utility worker had it reconnected. The line from the utility pole to the house once again hung gracefully curved high above the ground.

I flicked a switch inside the front door and there was light. It was good.

Yes, it was good indeed.

A potentially really bad situation had been fixed in an hour. Not days.

Utility workers reconnect power after the line is put back up
Almost done: reconnecting power after everything is put back up

The rest of the story: Thankful

That might be the end of the story. Except that would leave out all the things to be thankful for during this highly unusual event.

You will probably say that experiencing a big tree limb falling from high up in a tree during a thunderstorm, ripping down the power line is not something to be thankful for.

True. I would much prefer, had it not happened at all.

But since it did happen, I’m very thankful for:

  • No power loss when the line originally came down — not even blinking on and off
  • No damage to the house
  • No fire
  • No damage to the electrical meter installation (To quote the first utility worker: “That would have been expensive.”)
  • The first utility worker to come by the house decided the downed line was safe enough to leave power on, so we still had electricity until repairs could be made
  • Nobody injured during the initial event or during the restoration process
  • A friend instantly connected me connected with a great electrician
  • I cold-called the electrician and he not only answered his phone, but was at my house within 30 minutes
  • A utility worker who came on the wrong day and who on the spot set up a specific time to cut power so we could plan
  • Utility company and electricians worked together seamlessly to restore power in minutes, not days
  • I got a tree, that needed to come down anyway, out of the way without having to worry about damaging the power line

Total time without power: 1 hour

Can’t really beat that.

I am very thankful for God’s provision in so many ways throughout this event. Something that could have been a really bad thing, turned out to bring occasion to give thanks in several specific ways.

Life can be good, even when a big tree branch comes flying down.