Thursday, November 3, 2011


  One reason -- the main reason, really -- I haven't posted anything since last Saturday is that I, like many people in the Northeast, suffered an "infrastructure crash" due to the crazy October snowstorm which hit last Saturday. I can't remember ever seeing snow, and CERTAINLY not the volume that we received, at Hallowe'en.

   This is a photo I took as I was driving home on Route 91 as the storm started to intensify…

  … and by the time I got home about twenty minutes later, this was what our driveway looked like.

  It began in mid-afternoon, and piled up quickly -- I think where we live there was an accumulation of about eight inches, though other areas got more (or less).

   And then things started breaking.

  So much heavy, wet snow, coming so quickly, was too much for a lot of trees, most of which had not yet fully shed their foliage. Without the leaves to catch the falling snow and build up unsustainable weight on their branches, a lot of the trees probably would not have gotten as damaged as they were.

  (I took a few shots of the damage -- but these are a TINY fraction of the actual number of trees that were mangled by this storm. I was tempted to stop and get out of my truck to take shots of even more dramatic downed trees, with their torn-off branches and splintered wood and loops of downed cables, but it felt a little ghoulish. Suffice it to say, it was hard to travel down any street or road in this are without running into scenes like this.)

  Sorry this next one is so blurry, but I am including it because this is right in downtown Northampton, in front of the courthouse. Those green lumps you can see behind the black metal fence are all branches which came down from that huge old tree on the courthouse lawn.

  It was pretty surreal, seeing bright fall foliage-colored leaves -- and a lot of green leaves, which had not yet turned their autumnal hues -- peeking out from lumps of bright white snow. But appreciation for the unusual visuals quickly turned to dismay as thousands of branches -- and in some cases whole trees -- started bending or snapping or getting uprooted, very often falling on power lines, cable lines, and phone lines.
  Our generator -- which we'd installed almost twenty years ago when we built our house, after going through power outages every year since we'd moved to this town -- kicked on as it is designed to do, providing us electric power, so we had lights and heat.

  I say "us", but in actual fact it was just me -- Jeannine was missing all the fun, being out in California visiting with our daughter Emily. No snowstorms out there, but she had to deal with it when she got home on Monday. I drove down to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut to pick her up, and it was a little eerie to see all the lights -- including all of the traffic lights -- out around the airport. And cell phone coverage was spotty, so we weren't able to do our usual thing of exchanging text messages to coordinate the pick-up. 

   There were literally millions of people in New England who were without power, some getting it back within a couple of days, others still waiting. We joined the "no power" brigade when -- for reasons I am not sure of -- our generator stopped running yesterday morning at 4AM. Fortunately, I was able to get it going again later in the afternoon, and then main power was restored a few hours later. What a relief!

   As bad as it was, it could have been a lot worse -- at least it was relatively early in the year and temperatures were not, generally, below freezing. In fact, most days during this crisis (at least in this area) it was in the mid-forties, so freezing pipes (one MAJOR hassle of power outages in this area)  or simply freezing to death were not as big a worry as they otherwise might have been.)

  It is sobering to see, once again, the relative vulnerability of as infrastructure which we take for granted and use every day without thinking much about it. Maybe my father has the right idea, one he brings up to me every time something like this happens -- bury all the exposed power lines and such instead of having them strung up high, just waiting for to be smashed down by overhanging limbs weakened by a storm. It would be be an enormous undertaking, involving lots of planning and digging and so forth… but if it could keep millions of people from suffering the effects of losing such a vital resource, even if temporarily, it would be worth it. -- PL


Miserable Dreamer said...

The "why don't they bury the power lines?" question comes up here in Florida all the time. New housing developments are always built with buried utilities, but the older areas - like where I live - are built around exposed power lines. Like you mentioned, it would be a seriously expensive undertaking, and a difficult one to convince citizens of these areas to buy into, given the tax increases that would be necessary - heck, here, we can barely afford to keep the grass cut in medians and clean up trash, let alone tear up streets, install new power infrastructure, tear down the old stuff, re-pave the street...

You guys got hit hard up in that area. I spoke to someone today who has been without power for a week now. Hope things get up and working again soon.

Mark H said...

Hey Pete,
It is good to hear you fared well through the storm, and power outage. I'm located in Worcester County. We where hit pretty hard here too. It was a very bad week. I woke up Sunday morning to a freezing house and, limbs across the driveway. I was out all morning with a handsaw cutting the downed limbs so we could get our vehicles out. We had a small generator to run our pellet stove but, after a couple nights it developed a leak in the gas tank. It became far to dangerous to run it. We had to just tough it out. The days where not to bad, but the night where frigid. There is something surreal about sitting on my couch watching the condensation from each breath I exhaled. It was not a very pleasant experience. Yesterday we did have the power restored. The first thing I did was crank the pellet stove and take a nice warm shower. We managed to get through it. On most days the average temp in the house was just less than 50 degrees. It was uncomfortable but, I knew we would be ok. My main concern was my pet turtles (yes turtles, don't ask) getting to cold. If their body temp gets to low their metabolism slows down. Once that happens they stop eating and, can easily get sick. They did not move for a couple days but, now that we have the heat restored they are being more active. So, that is positive.
This was such a crazy experience. It makes me have more appreciation for hot running water, heat, my coffee pot, internet access, and all the small comforts that I have been taking for granted. I will not soon forget October 31 2011. It has truly been a scary Halloween! Now things are getting back to normal. I just need to clear the fallen trees from my yard. I lost an apple tree in the back yard. What a bummer. Your Dad has the right idea. We should bury the lines. Yes it would be a costly undertaking up front but, with all the bad weather we have been having it would probably save us a lot of money in the future. I can't imagine it was cheap to clear up the trees from the power lines after this storm, Hurricane Irean or, the tornado we had that devastated Sturbridge, Brimfield, and Springfield. Burying the lines could be an investment.
I'm glad to hear that you and yours stayed safe and warm during the storm. Lets hope the rest of the winter will be more mild.

Neil Vitale said...

We decided to drive out to go see one Carol Spinney (Big Bird, Oscar) and Brian Tochi (Leonardo) at Chiller Theater.

The snow started when we got halfway there...On the way back, we where lucky to get back unscathed. First it was 2 mph on 287 from exit 39B to 59. About 2 hours, normal time 30 minutes. Once we got passed that, it was trying to find an available back road that was still open to the house after risking picking up a late lunch.

First a huge oak tree blocked the road. A UTurn takes us down a side street that's even more dangerous. Weaving in and out of trees, getting stuck on a rock while avoiding a low hanging power line. Finding the road we want blocked by a downed LIVE power line that I almost didn't see.

Doing a uturn, heading back to where we almost got stuck on on the rock, only to have a huge ass branch fall right on top of us. Finally bypass area with low hanging line, go back on 208, come up by cedar hill ave...and get stuck waiting for people without 4WD to get out of our way. 3 people, all impatient and not paying attention, spinning out, around and down..and one spanish lady nearly hitting our car as she backed up to get out of a skid while talking on her cell phone.

After THAT, we had to drive under two more power lines, avoid two trees, and finally made it home. 7 hours later, we lost power for three days and had the fun of listening to the woods around us cracking down everywhere.

Most exciting moment I've had in the last few months ;o)...