Sunday, August 03, 2008

Power

This is the thunderstorm time of the year, the time the afternoon heat creates big thermals that come crashing down on the State of Georgia as thunderstorms, occasionally generating tornadoes.

We had a typical episode late yesterday afternoon/early evening. I was actually working on a post to this blog at the time, a long tirade about shooting deaths and our national fixation with handguns, when the thunder started rumbling and the wind began blowing. Power flickered on and off and I had to postpone working on the post so that I could unplug the computer to protect it from power surges. After the worst of the storm blew over (they rarely last for more than 30 minutes) and the rain had stopped, I went out to pick up a pizza before finishing the blog entry.

There were branches and leaves all over the road, typical for after a summer thunderstorm, but nothing big had come down. So imagine my surprise when I got back home and found that my power was out. Usually, if the lights go out, it's during the storm, not after the fact. But I made the best of it, lit some candles, enjoyed a few slices of pizza, and waited for the power to come back on.

I waited quite a while before deciding to go out for a while and wait it out at the friendly, neighborhood tavern, where at least I could at least enjoy the company of strangers, watch the ballgame on tv, and pass the time. I was able to shower before I left, as the water pressure is not dependant on electricity and my water is heated by gas, neither of which were interrupted by the storm. Which made me wonder - why aren't homes equipped with gas-powered back-up generators for situations just like this? It seems an easy enough feat to design a generator that can burn natural gas for its energy, and since the gas still runs when the electricity is out, it would make a good fall-back power source. If any inventors come up with something like this, please consider donating a portion of your profits to Water Dissolves Water.

Hours later, when I got back home, the lights were still out but I just went straight to bed, where I experienced a series of lucid dreams, imagining that I was waking up to the power coming back on even while I knew that I was still in bed, dreaming.

In the morning the power was still out, but at least it was light enough in the bedroom that I could read (early morning reading while lounging in bed is one of my favorite vices). I couldn't brew my usual cup of coffee, but I made the best of it, until I heard the familiar cracking sound of a tree trunk splintering, and the rustle of leaves as the tree fell down.

My house is surrounded by many tall trees and one of my fears is that I will get crushed some day by falling timber. A few years back, a man died in his sleep here in Atlanta when a tree fall on his bedroom, and a couple over in the nearby Virginia Highlands neighborhood died in their car when a tree fell on it. Every time I hear the wind whipping the trees around and see the branches swaying in the breeze, my appreciation of the beauty of nature is tempered by a realization that life is brief and impermanence is swift and sudden.

Laying in bed this morning, reading my book, and hearing the falling tree, I braced myself for the impact. Nothing. Relieved, I quickly got dressed and went outside to investigate. Looking down the road, I saw that a big tree had fallen in a neighbor's yard, blocking the street.

I went to take some pictures but realized the batteries in my camera were dead. I hurried to the Ace Hardware next to the nearest Starbucks (killing two birds with one stone as it were) to get some replacement double-As, but as it turned out, there was no need to hurry - the tree was still there when I got back, and is still there now, hours later.

The tree had actually fallen across the side street, very close to where a tree had fallen a couple of years ago following Hurricane Dennis (an early storm likely forgotten back in the Katrina-Rita dominated summer of 2005), pretty much blocking off both my street and the side street.

Worse yet, the tree still hadn't completely fallen to the ground, but was precariously held up by a few power lines on a utility pole in its path. The tension on the lines was also pulling on other poles, including the one in front of my house, and it appeared that at any moment, either the tree might finish its crash down to the earth, or more damage to the lines may occur.

But the worst part of all was that it had knocked a power transformer off of its pole, and the transformer was now dangling in the air by the power lines it had fed. Power transformers can be loaded with toxic PCBs, and even so-called "PCB-free" transformers can still contain up to 50 ppm of PCBs.

The good news: the tree had bizarrely fallen in two directions in my neighbor's yard, fortuitously missing both their car and their house with both trajectories.

The bad news: it appears that restoring power is now more than just flipping a circuit breaker somewhere in the system, but will require chain-sawing the fallen tree, and replacing at least one pole and one transformer (if not more). I was resigned to being without power for a long, long time.

But even as that realization had sunken in, suddenly, unexpectedly, the power came back on, along with cable and Internet access (that's how I'm posting this now). It will likely come back on and off as the power company, the City, and whomever else deals with the tree, the pole and the transformer, but for now, I'm back in the 21st Century.

The long tirade about handguns will have to continue on another day.

(No raccoons were hurt in the posting of this blog entry.)

1 comment:

Mettai Cherry said...

Sorry Shokai - they already make natural gas standby generators (we have one). It wasn't cheap, but when you need power to charge your wheelchair batteries, it makes sense.