Four years ago, we installed a net-metered photovoltaic system on our barn roof. Photovoltaics, or simply PV, is a term that means “light electricity” or solar energy.
On sunny days solar powers our energy needs.
We appreciate our PV system. On sunny days, when our system produces more electricity than we use, it runs our meter backward as power flows out into the energy grid. At night and on cloudy days, when we’re using more power than we’re producing, we draw electricity in from Alliant Energy, our utility. At the end of each month, we pay the “net” so it’s called a Net-Metered System. This eliminates the need to have storage batteries. We’ve had a monthly bill as low as $5!
But what happens when the grid goes down? It did on August 10, 2020, when a derecho roared through Iowa with 140 mile an hour winds. Hundreds of miles of wires were torn down as trees crashed into them. We joined thousands of other homes without power.
Solar chargers help keep people connected when the power goes out.
So, did our PV system power our lights, computers, and television? Nope. We used candles and lanterns when it got dark and couldn’t power our computer, television, or any other electric appliance for about two weeks.
Net-metered systems, like ours, have an automatic switch built into them so they don’t export electricity back to the grid when it’s down. It’s a safety mechanism designed to prevent a utility employee working to restore power from getting a shock. Our system produced electricity during the blackout, but it just dissipated. As soon as our power was restored the PV system again sent power outward.
An Important PV Safety Tip
Our PV system survived the wind intact but others were ripped from roofs and tumbled to the ground. A PV panel laying on the ground upright makes electricity. Grabbing wires or the panel can give someone a tremendous shock. If a PV panel is on the ground stay away……or cover it with a tarp to darken it so it doesn’t produce electricity. It’s safest to wait until after dark to flip it.
Sometimes blessings spring from catastrophes. That happened years ago when a massive flood inundated Iowa’s Coralville Reservoir. Water overtopped the dam built to control downstream flooding. As the raging river gushed over the emergency overflow spillway it ripped soil from bedrock before invading downstream homes and businesses with gooey muck. When the flood subsided visitors discovered an amazing array of fossils in newly exposed limestone. Many were crinoids.
You won’t find a living crinoid in Iowa today because our ocean abandoned the Hawkeye state years ago, but about 600 species still live in faraway seas. Fossils teach us that millions once thrived here.
Iowa was once a vast ocean where calcium wafted down through the water column as it formed limestone. Dig down nearly anywhere in Iowa and sooner or later you’ll hit limestone. Chances are that the rock contains crinoid fossils, the remains of the vanished Iowa fauna. In some parts of Iowa, especially Southeast Iowa, crinoid pieces make up a significant portion of the bedrock.
In what is now Iowa, those crinoids lived some 310 to 485 million years ago, give or take a few million years. They looked more like branching flowers than crawling, swimming, or flying animals we’re familiar with. Although they appear plantlike crinoids are animals.
Why doesn’t Iowa Have a State Fossil?
Iowa can’t claim them exclusively, as crinoids are found in limestone worldwide. Missouri honored this humble animal by designating it their state fossil. The Cedar Valley Rocks and Mineral Society has worked for years encouraging the Iowa legislature to follow the example of our neighboring state and name our common crinoid Iowa’s state fossil.
To learn more about crinoids and other fascinating rocks, minerals, and fossils check out the Rock and Mineral Society’s Website. Everyone’s welcome to attend their meetings and lend a voice encouraging the state to honor Iowa’s crinoids.
Various parts of crinoids: Root, column, cup, arms and branches called cirri.
To form fossils of crinoids, sediment had to be deposited quickly. The sediment protected the crinoids from being disturbed.
Gilmore City, Le Grand, and Davenport, IA, are famous for high-quality crinoids.
Millions of years ago crinoids covered the ocean floor.
Winding Pathways invites readers to enjoy past features in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Wandering Nebraska and South Dakota’s Rich Fossil Freeway. Follow US Highway 20 across northern Nebraska while exploring its fossil-rich history. Along the way wet your line in trout streams, paddle clear rivers through sandhills, camp in a National Forest in the Great Plains, and bicycle parts of the Great American Rail-Trail. Then, end up in the enchanting Black Hills of South Dakota.
Alaska In Winter. Most folks experience Alaska in summer. Winter has its rewards, too! Plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts and mild-mannered indoor types. Museums. The Bear Tooth Theatrepub. Great eateries. Iditarod Ceremonial Start. XC ski races. Campbell Creek Science Center. And, perhaps most wonderful of all – no skeeters or bears!
Indiana Dunes National Park. A great stop while speeding along I-80 is the Indiana Dunes National Park. A cooperative venture among city, county, state and federal government, this necklace of preserved areas rings the southern end of Lake Michigan. Soft sand beaches to explore, dunes several hundred feet high to scale, charming villages, bicycle trails to follow, and varied places to rest your head at night. This new national park can fulfill any family’s vacation dreams.
America’s Magnificent Mounds line the Mississippi River and many other waterways in North America. While most mounds have been lost to “development” many remain. And, travelers can learn so much about ancient cultures and appreciate why preserving these mounds is important.
“Well, two ugly storms in one week is enough for us for a while. Today has been full of dark clouds, winds, rain. Then as we
were sitting on the porch for a quiet read of the daily paper, I could see rapidly rotating clouds, some heavy rain and heard
a roar of the wind.
“I told Peter (spouse) that we needed to get inside. As we moved ourselves to the living room, I prayed that it would not come
our way. (In 2002 a tornado did set down on Kelso Mill Road not far from us.) Well, the funnel stayed about a mile west of
us, but what a mess. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but our friends were really shaken. Buildings down along with trees.
It was duly noted by me how fierce the wind was because the bark was stripped off branches and 200-year-old trees twisted
and shorn of their branches. Electricity was out because poles were down and the lines were broken.
“I called the electric company to report no electricity on Solaridge. The gentleman asked me my location which I told him. Then he
told me there had been a tornado, the crews were on their way and it would be a few hours before everything was back online.
“Because (at the time) Channel 13 didn’t seem to know for sure if it was a tornado, I called the National Weather Bureau to let them know what I had seen. I love the weather and clouds and have been a weather spotter for years since taking a weather class at CVCC. Anyway, Ben at NWB told me the investigators would be coming to Kelso Mill Road and Sharp Mountain Road to check the damage and make an assessment tomorrow which would be on the news Saturday night. I asked him to call me and let us know what their findings are.
“Well, that’s all the excitement for today. Like I said two ugly storms in one week is enough all ready.”
My daily labyrinth walk on Wednesday, January 30, 2019, in the middle of the Polar Vortex coughed up several lessons.
In spite of the bitterly cold morning, the snowshoes strap that slipped off and glasses that fogged up, it was a great walk! Nothing I want to repeat, though.
Here are some lessons:
(Think ahead.) Just like a little kid is reminded, it is better to use the bathroom before donning the multiple layers of clothes.
(Before starting out, make sure your equipment is ready and working. Think ahead number two.) Pulling the snowshoes down from the hooks in the unheated garage, I realized the straps were frozen. “Oh well, I can make this work.” Ha! At -25 degrees? Not. Gloves were too bulky to fix on the straps, so I took them off. Within seconds my fingers were numb.
(Be ready for consequences. Think ahead number three.) Not only were my fingers numb but also because I hurried putting the snowshoes on, one strap slipped off partway through the walk causing me to stumble. Additionally, when I wrapped my scarf around my nose and breathed out, my glasses fogged up. Between the two, I pitched off the packed trail into the deep snow. I regained balance and came back on the path. It was kind of scary even though I knew my husband was monitoring my adventure from the house.
(Have a back-up plan. Think ahead number four.) Oh, I could have done the finger labyrinth, or “walked” the outdoor labyrinth from the upstairs window. I also love a challenge. Yet, how much was just showing off for those who live in warmer climates and marvel at how the northerners survive?
(Turning back is OK!) A few times I thought about cutting off the path back to the beginning and just coming inside. That would have been OK.
(Persevering is also OK.) So, “keeping on keeping on” is valuable. Just be aware and safe in our pursuits. When a situation is hard, ask, “Why?” And, then make decisions from there. Move into a growth attitude of “I can do this.”
(Be of Growth Mindset) Learn from missteps. Just like my shortcut crossing on the industrial pipe above the dam and jagged rocks as a little kid, this adventure was good to do. Maybe not one to repeat. Get back on the path.
(Be grateful.) Always a valuable lesson. From small to large gratitudes express them many times each day. This changes everything.
Note: Our comments are personal observations. We have not been paid by any company to review their products.
Wildfires in California. Hurricanes along the coast. Blizzards and tornadoes everywhere. In this era of climate change every household should prepare for long stretches without electrical power or even the possibility of evacuating at short notice. And the recent earthquake in Alaska reminds us of the importance of being prepared especially in cold months when food, water, and shelter are critical.
Fortunately, many families have assembled emergency kits that include a mix of essential items useful when the lights go out. For detail see the Winding Pathways article on important items to stock in the kit. Emergency kits can be quickly grabbed if evacuation is needed and the contents help make life more comfortable should there be no need to leave but the house has no electricity.
Two items often are forgotten but become critically important during a widespread emergency. Be sure to keep these on hand:
When the power goes out credit and debit cards probably won’t work. Cash always works. Keeping a couple of hundred dollars in small bills makes buying necessary items during a power outage possible. It’s a good idea to hide money somewhere in the emergency preparedness kit.
When Hurricane Sandy left millions of people without electrical power for weeks a critical problem was the inability to charge cell phones and other electronic devices. The cell network was operating since companies have backup generators. But most people’s phone batteries discharged, and they had no ready way to recharge them. Fortunately, there are several options for charging. Here are two that work well:
Solar chargers help keep people connected when the power goes out.
Solar chargers:Small inexpensive solar powered devices charge phones when placed in the sun. These are sold in camping and electronic stores. They will work on cloudy days, although charging will be slower than when the sun shines.
Battery chargers: For many years we’ve used Milwaukee brand drills and saws for projects around the house. The company recently sent us an ideal product to solve two problems posed by power failures. It is a light powered by the same lithium-ion batteries that run power tools. The light has a port enabling connection with cell phones. It charges them up quickly. We always keep four batteries fully charged, and each battery will run the light for many hours and recharge a phone several times. The light is surprisingly bright, and we’ll bring it on future camping trips instead of our old gasoline lantern. This device fills two emergency needs-light and charging.
The lantern throws excellent light after dark.
When buying cordless power tools and other accessories it’s a good idea to purchase ones that can both run the tools and charge a phone.
There is a third item that’s also often forgotten. That’s drinking water. We keep in storage 25 gallons of clean water in five-gallon containers. Should that run out we have two backpacker style filters that remove bacteria and viruses from water. If we need even more water, we keep a few tiny jars of water purification pills in our emergency bin. Water filters and purification tablets are sold in camping stores and are usually marketed to backpackers. These enable purifying water from nearby ponds and streams.
Hopefully, the power won’t ever go out, but the reality is that storms are increasing. Along with them comes higher odds that the power will go out. It’s best to be ready.