Both a phrase from a Snap song and the tagline from an Energizer Bunny commercial, today this has more meaning with respect to the Ice Storm of 2008 last Thursday. A combination of heavy rain, strong wind, and rapidly freezing temperatures resulted in a record number of power outages across New Hampshire. PSNH, the state’s largest electric company, reported that at the height of the problem more than 350,000 of their 500,000 customers were in the dark. Most of the problems resulted from falling tree limbs pulling down power lines, but there were also the occasional direct causes of transformers icing over (and subsequently blowing — man, those light up the skies!), and even the random car knocking over a power pole. This morning, the report was that the lights were back on for all but 100,000 customers, and I’m pleased to say that as of 6:40am I had power.
In some parts of the world, I know, electric power is at best sporatic. Some places only have electricity for a limited number of hours per day, every day if they’re lucky. Even within the United States there are places were power is fragile, breaking down essentially at the drop of a hat. The first house I owned (~25 years ago) had regular power outages, every couple of weeks or so, although they usually lasted an hour or so. But over the 10 years I lived there, the situation improved to the point where even a momentary blackout was a rare occurance. Now in my second house (all of 2 miles away from the first, but curiously enough, on a different power grid), I’d say that we might have lost power for a moment just once a year over the past dozen years. The grid is remarkably robust, and I consider myself blessed.
Thursday’s storm made most of New Hampshire realize just how good we’ve got it. We lost the lights around 9:30pm, and they stayed off for a LONG time. For me, it was 141 hours of no heat, no lights, and (for a short time) no phone. Fortunately, the water supply stayed constant, and much to my relief our pilot light-based water heaters did their job with no electricity, so we our water remained hot as well. Having the better part of 500 gallons of propane in the tank meant that we could cook (stove-top only, the oven won’t turn on without AC power), and a fireplace meant we could keep reasonably comfortable even when the outside temperature was in the low teens (Fahrenheit, -10C). Not to say we weren’t caught off guard — we usually have a small supply of firewood stacked nearby, but this year we had to rely on a bunch of armfuls of wood from our neighbors. In the end, we had many candles and flashlights going in the evening; we blocked off passageways leading to the second floor (to cut the heat loss to places we weren’t using), and we slept in the living room most nights. And, yes, we did lose a lot of food in the frigerator and freezer.
Alternative power? Yeah, we should get ourselves a generator one of these days. I would love one that uses the propane in my tank, rather than gasoline, but I don’t know what they cost. Ours is one of the few houses on the block without a generator (although I did have to help one of my neighbors get his up and running … another story perhaps?), and the roar from various nearby houses was farily constant. There were a bunch of instances of carbon monoxide poisoning across the state, from people who (foolishly enough) thought they could run their generator or other heat source inside their house, but fortunately no one I know. Sometimes I wonder if Darwin should not only be taught but enforced …
For now, however, I’m glad to be going home to a (hopefully) warm house.