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Cold Snap

On Monday, last week, we had a surprise snowfall.

We woke up that morning with almost an inch on the ground and even though there wasn't the merest mention of snow in the forecast, it snowed all day. I had worked that weekend and would also work Tuesday/Wednesday and all I wanted to do on Monday was relax. Hannah and I ventured over to my parents house where a good bit of my extended family had gathered for an impromptu breakfast. For hours we lounged around, reveling in the warmth of family and the large open floor plan.

I had fully expected that there would be no snow this year at all. It's been years since we've had a solid snow storm and even longer since the snow actually stuck for more than a few days. Here in the Shenandoah valley, fall, winter, and spring weather have always been erratic, cold one day and hot the next. Up until this week it's been pretty rainy and cold, but not winter cold. More like wet fall cold. And even though this past week has been super cold (1 degree on Wednesday to be exact), next week, temperatures will be up into the mid 60s. It's weird seeing an almost 60 degree temperature difference in the span of just a couple days. I know it has a lot to do with climate change and it makes me feel sad. Every time the temperature rockets up or down it reminds me of what it's like to be sick. Feverishly hot one moment and then freezing cold the next.

From two weeks earlier when freezing rain hit us out of nowhere

On Wednesday last week, it got really cold. Most people, in preparation for severely cold weather make sure their food stores are stocked, spare jugs of water are filled, extra firewood is brought over, and warm blankets made readily available.

Us? We just went to bed. So foolish.

Early Wednesday morning around 0040 I climbed out of bed to get a drink of water. On these particularly cold nights, we run our space heater constantly. Up near the ceiling of the bus it's about 60 degrees, but down by the floor its about 30 degrees. I was regretting not having a glass of water by the bed the moment my feet hit the floor. I walked the three steps it takes to get to the sink and turned on the faucet. Nothing happened. I cursed and then stomped my foot in frustration. What the heck!? I knew immediately what was wrong as this had happened once before; our Fresh Water Pump had frozen. I knew the pump was frozen because it made this weird creaking noise as if to say it was trying but couldn't do it. Muttering to myself, I pulled the laundry basket and several miscellaneous items out from under the bed and placed the space heater where it would blow warm air onto the plumbing.

Teeth chattering, I crawled back into bed. But I couldn't sleep. As the minutes inched by I kept thinking about the frozen pump. How long would it take to defrost? Is it broken? I couldn't bare the idea of replacing yet another water pump. How many times have I done that already? Three? Four? I was having trouble keeping count and in my sleepy state started wondering if maybe this was a sign from a higher power telling us to move into an apartment.

Around 0130 I got up again to check the heaters progress. The space under the bed was nice and warm. Through the semitransparent water tank I could see about 12ish gallons of water sloshing around so I knew the tank wasn't frozen. But still, no water came from the faucet. Fearing the worst I climbed back in bed. My anxiety had progressed and I had to fight the urge to start googling "apartments with running water." I checked again at 0200 and then again at 0215. Nothing. On my inspection at 0230 the pump was still cold and silent. Frustrated I banged it with my hand. What was that? The creaking sound the pump occasionally made just got louder. I started whacking the pump and the surrounding pipping every which way I could and all of a sudden it kicked on and I heard water and ice rush through the pipes. Thrilled, I scooted from under the bed and leapt to my feet, only to smash my head against the bed frame. Eye's watering, I went to the sink and filled up a glass of water. Really cold water--mmmm.

The rest of Wednesday passed without mishaps. That evening, however, I realized we would need to refill our water tank in the next day or so (why hadn't this been done BEFORE it got cold?? Who knows). We use about 75 gallons of water a week which amounts to a once weekly refill. We fill the tank via a 325 foot hose that we run down from a nearby well and we have just accepted this as part of the bus life. Normally it's a 20 minute task and other than periodically poking our head under the bed to check the water level, we don't think much about it. When it's 1 degree outside though, that hose freezes. And it freezes pretty solid. I had forgotten to drain the hose from the last time we used it and now we had a 325 foot tube of ice preventing us from filling our tank.

What to do? I'll spare you the specifics but from Thursday through Sunday temperatures stayed well below freezing which made defrosting the hose a tedious task. I tried bringing one of the sections into a nearby shed and thawing it with a space heater only to have it refreeze before the water was able to drain out. I tried laying it out in the sun only for it to be cloudy all day. I even spent an absurd 15 minutes trying to melt it with a little hand-held heat gun. It was to no eval. That damn hose remained frozen.

In the meantime, we had to make do on 12 gallons of water; just enough for drinking and brushing our teeth. We hauled a five gallon bucket of water down from the well for dish washing and while I wallowed on the couch, moaning about our predicament, Hannah cleaned up the evening dishes. She was as cool as a cucumber. "It's just the situation, Jonathan. Get over it" she would say, which mostly just made me grumpier. Doesn't she get how annoying this is?? I didn't spend hundreds of hours building this place just to get checkmated by some weather. I had to figure something out.

The solution? Lay the hose out on the paved driveway and (impatiently) let the sun do the work (for this to work it has to be sunny, the missing ingredient on my first attempt). I laid it out on Saturday and by Sunday afternoon I was able to run water through it again!

Boy, the sound of our water tank filling was music to my ears. Four days of water insecurity is enough for me.


113 views3 comments


Jan 23

Oh my word....perfect: It's just the situation, Jonathan. Get over it"


Jan 23

I keep a mental note to always drain the hose after watering the goats. And disconnect it from the pump so water drains back underground from the pump spigot and it doesn’t freeze and break the pump. But Bruce dealt with the brunt of the freezing weather this time on his own—by the time I got back from China, the weather turned balmy!

Jan 23
Replying to

We should really get into the habit of leaving ourselves post-its during the sub-freezing season... We haven't yet left a wet hose attached to the spigot itself *knock on wood*. We hear that the outcome can be pretty catastrophic (e.g., broken well casings). However, we have plenty of blocks of ice lying around from frozen poultry buckets/cat dishes...

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