Monday, November 7, 2011

Ruminations on the Northeast Power Outage

We were without power from 3:52pm on Saturday, 10/29 to 4:15pm Saturday of the next week -- seven full days. The power outage was due to a heavy snowfall that brought many tree limbs down on power lines. The snow collected on deciduous trees whose leaves had still not turned color and fallen. Since the trees were not accustomed to bearing that much weight, they broke. I have never seen such devastation up close in my entire 48 years.

Our home was not damaged. However the fixture atop the lamppost was partly smashed. But worse is that the nice wooded path I blazed many years ago is now blocked by dense tangle of heavy branches.

When we lose electricity, our furnace does not run, so we lose heat and hot water. Of course, we lose lighting, refrigeration and entertainment. Since we have well water, the electric pump would not run, so we also were limited to whatever water had collected in the tank just prior to the outage. We had to limit water use severely. Fortunately, I had prepared by filling the bath tub with water about halfway. This allowed us to fill buckets for flushing the toilets. I also did collect snow melt from a downspout for additional water for flushing. Initially, I hadn't planned to fill the bath tub until just before bedtime. But we lost power for a few minutes prior to the main outage, so I decided to do it earlier as a precaution.

Thank goodness for Chinese restaurants. The place that provided our supper on Sunday was able to cook with propane. We bought the food there and brought it over to the supermarket, which was powered with a generator. We lived like that for most of the remaining days. We were also fortunate that one of our daughter's close friends got power back early and invited us to shower and do laundry, as well as hang out and eat meals there.

This power outage was inevitable. New Englanders are proud and protective of their trees. Roads and power lines were after-thoughts in communities that were founded near Indian footpaths by early settlers. Couple this with a profit hungry power distribution company, and you have countless trees that overhang power lines that run parallel small roads. There are still broken limbs dangling above the restored lines (or lines that haven't been hit yet). Those limbs will come down during a wind storm or the next heavy snow fall.

In Spring, one of our trees broke from gusts of wind. The part that remained stood a few feet from the power lines in front of our house. I called the power company out to have a look at it. I was certain they'd be concerned that it could fall and take down the lines. The representative was tactful in that he himself did not laugh. Instead, he explained that if he were to call in a request to have it removed, they'd laugh at him. "There are a thousand other trees much worse than that one," he said.

But the limbs that fell appeared healthy. And there are dead limbs on our trees that are still intact. So even if the utility had made an effort to remove damaged trees, the power outage would have been just as widespread as it was.

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