Living Off Grid – Tornado in Washington State?

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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The sky was black at 4:00 pm on Friday, July 20, 2012. It had been getting darker and darker all day long. Finally the thunder and lightning kicked in and then the rain and hail started coming down. Biggest hailstones I have seen in person although I know they can get even bigger.

It’s actually kind of fun to watch these kinds of storms out our front windows. The only things I ever worry about are the solar panels being hit by giant hail or direct lightening strikes. So far no worries.

It rained so hard for so long that I went down to the barn to check the one drain pipe we have on the property to see if it was being overwhelmed and that’s when lightening hit right over our house. No way I was going to walk back to the house until it settled down or moved on. After about ½ hour I felt safe enough to venture back out and get to the house.

The storm continued on all night. Worst storm I have ever been around. We got up the next morning and were glad to see we didn’t have any damage anywhere. I wasn’t so sure about our access road though. It is 3 miles long and drops over 1000 feet from our house to the highway. It’s a perfect scenario for washout. I know how to build roads and this one wasn’t built. They just took a D8 Cat and ran up the hill once and back down. No culverts or water channels – nada.

We had to go to town so I loaded a shovel into the back of the big 4 wheel drive truck and took off. It turns out there was very little damage to our road so that was good. The nearest town is 20 miles away – Republic, WA. We usually go there once a week for fresh produce that isn’t in season at our house.
We noticed the closer we got to town the more trees we saw down alongside the road and further into the forest.

We got to town and went to Les Schwab to pick up one vehicle they had worked on. As I drove by the school I saw trees down and power poles snapped in two. For the first time in my life I saw loggers working side by side with power linesman. Usually the power company does their own cleanup.

At the Les Schwab store we learned power was out for the whole town. We left there and stopped by the grocery store in case they had emergency power and were in business but they weren’t. They were handing out free ice to the local residents for their ice chests trying to save some of their food. It turns out that every single business and home was without power in all of Ferry County.

I grew concerned about a family friend and went to see them. As I drove down their road I saw tree after tree down on his fences and everyone else’s as well. That’s when I knew this was no ordinary storm.

After we got home, two days later I finally found one little paragraph of news on a station out of Spokane. It turns out the Governor had 16 counties declared an emergency disaster area in Washington State. Even Fema showed up. Because most of these areas are so rural and have no local weather stations and because there was almost no media coverage it was hard to get accurate information on the statistics of the storm.

I can only guess at the reasons for the lack of interest by anyone except FEMA. While the national media reported on Romney stumbling in Europe, local residents were tripping over trees just trying to get out their front door. While Michael Phelps was coming in fourth place on his first race folks were lining up to find out what kind of assistance might be available from insurance companies and how long before power would be restored.
We are used to being ignored in the West by the national media but the local media failed to report as well.
As I was leaving town there was a steady line of trucks with generators and chainsaws in the back. Friends and relatives were coming from all over the state to help cleanup and provide assistance.

Following is a list of storm damage as accurately as I could put together from the little information available for Ferry County only:

60 % of the roads in were blocked.
1 person was killed.
14 people were injured
5 homes were destroyed and over 100 homes damaged. (Total population in Ferry County is only about 7,500)
Multiple outbuildings were demolished.
Multiple vehicles destroyed.
Miles of fencing
250 power poles snapped, 40 miles of power lines went down just in Ferry County.
Thousands of trees on public and private property. It will take years to clean up.
3,500 homes without power for days.
The whole town of Republic was without power.
The best research says the winds were 66 miles per hour but one gust was reported at 166 miles per hour.
All of the above damage occurred in Ferry County only. There were 15 more counties affected.

Again, there just aren’t any facilities to accurately record what happened but I know this much from experience. We have had 66 (the only reported speed) mph winds countless times with no damage. I have never seen power poles and trees snapped in two like this storm did. My money is on the 166 mph winds reported which would make it tornado force winds. I have lived here for 58 years and have never heard of a tornado in Washington State.

Laurie and I have been trying to help the past couple of weeks. We go in the mornings and cut trees off of fences so they can be repaired. I know it is much appreciated. We are barely making a dent.

Since there are no pictures from the media I was given permission by a local resident in Republic to use the pictures she posted on her Face Book page (Breakthrough Photography). She is a professional photographer and did a good job of capturing some of the damage on film.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and

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