Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene v. Isabel

The power outages in the DC area are piling up quickly now, for one main reason:  old trees (often with root systems compromised by sidewalks and pavements) are allowed to stand near power lines and, worse, near houses and apartments, where they can crash in and, in one case in Tidewater VA today, kill. It takes a lot of thought and expense to make an infrastructure robust – in a time when a part of our political establishment didn’t want to let our government pay all its bills.

I live in Arlington VA and grew up here, and I don’t recall a lot of power outages when growing up. I remember Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and don’t think “we” had many problems.  We lost power for a day in 9th grade after a wet-snow blizzard in March. But outages were rare.

It’s changed. Since Hurricane Isabel, all utilities in the DC area have had a lot of trouble with even average storms.  It has gotten better in 2011.  But I recently had a generator installed.

I haven’t needed it yet in this storm, but I’m afraid to go to bed. And this was not a night to go clubbing. 
During Hurricane Isabel in September2003, the gentle rain bands started around noon Wednesday, and by 3 PM the power was flickering and went off.  We got it back in about 14 hours, but friends (who used our freezer) were out nine days because Dominion Power couldn’t get enough transformrs.  This is stupid.  Large storms occur on the East Coast, an infrastructure should be ready for them.

Isabel went west of us, and the weather actually seemed less severe; during much of the storm, the air was relatively calm with little rain. Today, since about 4 PM the heavy rain has been relentless. Around 5 PM, there was a severe thunderstorm, with the sound of a transformer (power stayed on) going out, and a whirlwind of rain (like an F-minus-1 spindown tornado with maybe 70 mph gusts) going down the street, not hitting anything.

And, yes, Irene is taking Amtrak to New York City:

 

Here's a story by National Geographic on the danger of a hurricane like Irene to the power grid.

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