Recent damage from a severe storm resulting in loss of power

Dealing with an aquarium during a power failure

Guess who was dealing with an aquarium during a power failure again within the last few weeks? Yup, this guy here with the keyboard and the blog. Surprised you didn’t guess that. Grab a beverage, I’ll tell you the story.

Wicked weather we’ve been having

We have had some strange storms here, in Pennsylvania, lately. Two weeks ago, there were tornado warnings in my town. The weather map showed a very severe thunderstorm opened up right over my house. After the fact, they confirmed that no tornado actually touched down, but there were really major winds. In the news, they were calling them…straight line winds…which, if you know anything about straight lines, it’s the shortest distance between two points.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of trees between those two points.

And a lot of power lines underneath those trees, on their way down to the ground. And my shed and property under those trees.

That meant we lost power again. From Wednesday until Saturday.Before I get too far off topic, let me just say, in a rant to you, weather people who name storms. If I’m going to be hit by weather so hard that it messes up the house, yard, cars, shed, etc., the least you could do is give it a better name than straight line winds. That has to be the worst name ever. So if anyone asks, it was a tornado (but it wasn’t).

Recent damage from a severe storm resulting in loss of power

Lost power in May 2019

Power failure

I’ve lost power before and written about it. At this point, my (small) disaster management system seemed to work.

The big difference between this storm and previous storms is that I didn’t rely on small AC inverters run from my car to power the tank. Instead, I used a generator. After the last debacle (read about my lack of preparedness here), I upgraded my emergency kit to include a power generator.

I bought this model here, from Amazon (affiliate link).

This was a dual fuel generator, meaning it can run on propane or gasoline. That came in handy because I have a propane grill and propane has a much longer shelf life than gasoline, which needs to be stabilized, or constantly refreshed.

So, if you have a significant investment in your tank, and you live somewhere you can run a big noisy generator, I can’t recommend it enough. It kept the life support on through the entire power outage, and the fish and corals in my tank didn’t notice a difference.

What went well

Having a dual source generator in the box and propane to run it meant that my tank was back up and online only an hour or so (I had to have a beer first to help my thinking muscles) after I got home from work. Life support systems ran most of the time.

Didn’t bother to feed them during the power failure days, just to keep water spoilage to a minimum. I’d do that the same way again. Although the water did get a little funky smelling, requiring water changes).

Not to be melodramatic here (me? No), but the storm also woke me up out of my aquarium and writing slump.

What didn’t go well

Haha…I include this just to troll myself and amuse you. Interestingly, I had pulled the ‘extra’ propane tank out of the shed a few days before (with the intention of connecting it to my grill). I left it out prior to the storm, not knowing there was going to be a major storm…so I left my fuel source and a combustible projectile out in the open. I guess you could say…that wasn’t so smart…and I’m lucky it didn’t become a projectile. The grill got nailed…but the tank remained (lower center of gravity?)

Also, without power running to the well…I couldn’t do a partial water change if I needed one. If desperate, I would have had to buy water from a store and water was in short supply (people needed it to drink…).

Nothing to report on the tank-front. Everything went fine there. The temperature was fine. Water quality was okay, I suppose.

What would I do differently?

One thing I would change–I would get a bigger generator. This was the first step towards our power independence. But I bought my generator after the last storm, when I was bummed out about all my losses, and I was sure that just spending a few hundred dollars on a generator was an insurance policy against power loss (not really, but in an unhealthy…the universe would conspire against it kind of way). In the future, I might go bigger, and my official advice/recap of the most recent events is that bigger would have been better.

Probably one like this:

11,000 Watts vs. 3800, but double the price.

My tank didn’t really need it, per se, (that’s a strange phrase isn’t it…per se…why did I use that?) but I could have been an energy hero and turned my entire (almost) house back on after the storm and then got to do the “I told you so” dance ;).

Also, if you don’t have one of those switches to run the electricity to the house, I recommend investing in a lot of extension cords. I didn’t have enough (to be convenient) and ended up purchasing another big one.

Given the water situation, it would also be good to have a water change backup plan, just in case.

What do you think?

Any advice, anecdotes or things to share from your side? How have you prepared your aquarium during a power failure?

Comments

  1. Biggest inverter I could find, F-150,full tank of gas, Two HD extension cords.

    Enough to run the return pump, 2 MP40’s, Neptune system, two wave pumps.
    We lost power for 20 hrs during a hurricane. This is the longest in 28 hrs that we have lost power. Really cannot justify a large generator.

    1. Author

      Thanks Frank. I hear you. That was my backup plan previously… worked for me a couple of times. Sounds like a pretty good plan. Thanks for sharing!

  2. When Irma hit Florida two years ago we lost power for a week. Unfortunately, we were in Europe at the time and got home after the power had been out for 3 days. All the fish in my 120 gal tank had died and the corals were on their way out too. My fish guy loaned us a battery operated aerator which saved my corals. I have since moved into a new house and a 180 gal tank. The house came with a whole house generator, which is one of the reasons we bought the house, that I hope will keep these incidents to a minimum in the future. I still have battery operated aerators on hand and I keep soda bottles in the freezer to chill the tank should temperatures get too high. Losing a couple thousand dollars in fish is a hard lesson but I am now prepared and I sympathize with anyone who has been through this.

    1. Author

      Hi Dale,

      Thanks for sharing your story. That stinks and is a reminder that even if you’re prepared (like you were) you can’t always stop it. Soda bottles in the freezer is a great idea to keep things cool in an emergency.

  3. Thanks for the story. Question, you said you didn’t feed them for a few days, can you discuss that more? I’ve often wondered what tolerance fish have to missing meals. I don’t have any plans to starve the guys but wondered what happens if I missed a day. I wouldn’t have ever thought to try to reduce feeding during a power outage, thanks.
    Second question, what kills them first without power? I would think temperature often comes into play first, then oxygenation, and way past a “normal” power outage an eventual water quality issue. My plan (until this article) was bc of the location of my tank I won’t face a significant temp issue, I have a battery backup which can run a single powerhead for probably 12 hours, so I’d use that intermittently for water agitation/oxygenation and I’d be good. Love to get your thoughts the order of risks the tank has without power.

    1. Author

      Erik,

      Thanks for the comment (and kind words!) Glad to have you here. When the power goes out, the most critical thing is oxygen/water flow. Stagnant water doesn’t have as much oxygen and there is no flow to help the corals and fish ‘breathe’. So first priority is to get water moving. Then, temperature slowly turns from reef temp to the temp of the outside air. That’s a slower killer. There isn’t much to the ‘no feeding’ thing, I just had lights out (everything then acts a little ‘slower’) and didn’t feed them at all until full power restored. With a well-fed tank, you can go a few days without feeding, no problem. While on week long vacations, in a pinch, I’ve left the tank (fed heavily before, then fasting for the week…not ideal). WHen possible, I have a tank-sitter feed at least twice while out. Not the same thing here as with the power failure, but just adding that a couple of days off from eating doesn’t cause problems usually, if your fish are otherwise healthy and fat.

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