Miscellaneous Ramblings

Weathering Hurricane Bill in Atlantic Canada

Charles Moore - 2009.08.24 - Tip Jar

We had plenty of warning about Hurricane Bill here in Atlantic Canada - from the time it first started gathering strength at the doorstep of the Caribbean over a week ago. All week obsessive storm-watchers like me tracked Bill's progress on its way north, with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in its crosshairs, the forecasters told us.

It's very early in the season for a major tropical depression to find its way into our waters - a whole month earlier than the last really bad one - Hurricane Juan on September 29, 2003. However, global warming seems to be having an effect, and with our ocean waters off the east coast several degrees warmer than normal for the time of year, plus a record-setting warm, humid air mass that has been sitting over us for the past 10 days or so, there were not many dynamics in play to take the vinegar out of Bill before he arrived, so it was nail-biting time.

Nova Scotia
Charles Moore lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Funny about hurricanes: My wife's relatives in Bermuda were actually hoping Bill would pass close enough (but not too close of course) to them to dump some significant rainfall, since the island, which depends heavily on roof catches and storage tanks for its water supply, has been suffering through a prolonged dry spell. Bill obliged the Bermudians on both counts, but how would he treat us farther north?

I spent a fair bit of Friday and Saturday battening down and preparing, while Bill remained pretty consistently on the track that the NOAA and Environment Canada had projected all week, which would bring the storm very close to the Nova Scotia Atlantic coast (which is where I happen to live, within sight of the ocean). I filled empty space in the freezer with water containers to provide more cold mass in case of a prolonged power outage, made sure my power pack and other 12 volt batteries were fully charged, as well as all laptop batteries, and that we had plenty of spare flashlight batteries on hand.

With up to 6" (150 mm) of rain forecast, I made sure the road culvert at the foot of our driveway that clogged with debris and caused a washout in a big rainstorm a couple of years back, was clear, and last evening spent an hour or so with a shovel and shears clearing vegetation and sediment from other drainage pathways before hunkering down for the night in anticipation of Bill's arrival Sunday morning.

We have had only one relatively brief power outage here since I bought my Unibody MacBook last winter, and it occurred to me that if we did experience a prolonged power interruption, I wouldn't be able to run the MagSafe connector equipped MacBook from my old but trusty Kensington 70 Watt Auto-Air power adapter and a 12 volt car battery as I have done in the past with my Pismos and aluminum PowerBook G4, so I made sure I had a fresh global file backup done on the PowerBook in case I had to revert to it temporarily.

I do have a 300 watt power converter, but I find they're an inefficient mode of running computers off 12V battery power, since the inverter itself uses a significant amount of juice just to run itself, and the conversion back down to laptop voltage using the AC power adapter adds another layer of energy-conversion wastage.

Apple does make a MagSafe Airline adapter, but it's limited to only powering your MacBook in airlines and does not work in automobile cigarette-lighter type sockets. "Dog-in-the-manger-ish," Apple has so far refused to license its proprietary MagSafe AC adapter technology to any third parties, such as Kensington, who might supply an auto=compatible adapter for Intel MacBooks. An independent firm called Mikegyver does offer a Kensington 120 Watt AC/DC car/airline adapter converted with a MagSafe unit, but it sells for $160, which is a bit steep (they will also convert your existing MagSafe adapter for $55), and also a Refurbished Kensington 70w AC/DC adapter with MagSafe conversion for MacBook Air, but these workarounds are a bit on the expensive side and not an authorized MagSafe solution.

What's wrong with Apple? Do they not imagine that lots of folks would like to be able to power their MacBooks from auto or boat power? The lack of availability certainly does negate a fair bit of a laptop advantage in power blackouts.

As for Hurricane Bill, his arrival turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax, about which I am not complaining in the slightest. The storm passed us as a strong category one hurricane packing winds of 75 knots but not making landfall, and while we did get several hours of pretty heavy wind and torrential rain, by late Sunday afternoon the sun was peeking through, winds had diminished to stiff breezes, and it was nice enough that my wife and I decided to hike to the beach to check out the wave action, which was as spectacular as I'd ever seen it there, with the wind having swung around to the northwest and blowing the tops off of incoming wave commerce in explosions of spindrift.

The wind did pick up again for a couple of hours in the evening as the eye of the storm left our longitude headed for Newfoundland, still as a Category One hurricane, and at one point Sunday afternoon the provincial power utility reported that some 30,000 service addresses were without power - but ours didn't go off, and never even flickered. There was some shoreline damage from wave action and washouts and some flooding in certain areas, but damage-wise we got off rather lightly compared with our encounter with the much smaller but more powerful Juan six years ago, which came ashore and caused eight deaths as well as leaving a great deal of destruction in its path.

Happily, they also fared well in Newfoundland today.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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