Seriously annoying

Ice coated branches
I had a post lined up to go Thursday night, and decided to wait a little, do a final check Friday morning before posting. The sleet had started Thursday at 5 pm, and while it soon turned into rain, the temperature hovered just above freezing, which has a curious effect. Things with a high ratio of surface area to mass – tree branches, wires, and so on – lose their heat quickly and can drop lower than the ambient air temperature, by only a few degrees at most. But that’s enough to give rain something to freeze onto.

By Friday morning, internet was out, and at noon, the electricity went, courtesy of poorly anchored wires and branches heavy with ice that came crashing down individually, when they didn’t carry the entire tree with them. North Carolina utility companies live in perpetual denial – every ice storm brings exactly the same effects, yet they cannot possibly figure out that keeping trees trimmed well back from electrical wires, much less burying the fucking cables to begin with, will prevent the repeat of these scenarios. Forever.

Natural tinselThe rain continued for perhaps 22 hours, and our county ended up declaring a state of incompetence emergency. Ice never formed on the roads, and there wasn’t even much accumulation on the ground, since that never got cold enough. This likely contributed to the mess, since it meant the soil became saturated quickly and tree roots were loosened. Throughout the morning Friday, we could hear limbs crashing down and trunks splitting under the weight of the ice, and our neighbor lost two sizable trees. The rain finally stopped in late afternoon, but by then the damage had been done. Predictions of when the power might return were far from encouraging, and emergency shelters were being set up. As the sun peeked out for a farewell appearance at sunset, we headed out to The Girlfriend’s Mother’s house in Raleigh to spend the night.

Returning Saturday, we found power still not back on, and the cats that we’d had to leave behind (because they would fare better snuggling up into the bedclothes than traveling for 45 minutes each way in the car,) were seriously disturbed – they’ve never dealt with the cold, and while none the worse for wear, their mental state was a little unstable for a while. Just to make things totally surreal, the temperature hit 22°c (72°f) Saturday, the nicest spring day you could ask for, as long as you didn’t want a cold drink from the fridge. By evening the power had yet to be restored, and Duke Power was hedging their bets and only promising by 11 pm Sunday, so we returned to Raleigh.

The electricity was on once we returned late this morning, but the internet router had been fried somehow, so we had to get another and make it play nice with the VOIP phone, which took longer than it should have. I also had a major camera issue to repair before I could even get at the images you see here, taken during the height of the storm. By late afternoon I was finally back to full functions, but no longer inclined to take advantage of it, having reached a visible level of irritability.

BudIceIt must be said, this was just an ice storm, and certainly not all that rare around here – we see them at least every two years, and usually with the same results. There are countless preventive measures that would reduce the impact of these to trivial, among them trimming trees away from wires, cutting back the ridiculous number of unstable longneedle pines along the roads, and burying the utility cables. Most likely, the extremely shortsighted (or fucking lazy) powers-that-be think that the cost of doing these is much more than hiring emergency crews from several states away to try and handle the inevitable problems, but this has to be weighed against not just the immediate costs, but the dangerous crippling of services when power is lost, as well as the huge reduction in routine maintenance over the next decades – while it’s hard to dig up cables to make repairs, they also don’t need repairs every time there’s a fierce storm or some drunken bastard goes off the road. Lightning strikes have far fewer targets to hit and propagate along, construction crews don’t have to worry about overhead wires, and there’s even the serious improvement over appearance. These aren’t just speculation – residential areas not hopelessly mired in backwardness and feeble excuses have implemented these successfully, long ago, and can document their benefits. Even when I lived for 17 years in New York, with ten times the winter weather seen around here, we never went without power for more than a couple of hours – damyankees know how to handle winter. But this is the south, and its trademark is being proud of not learning a goddamn thing.

Okay, I feel better now, at least until the next routine winter storm makes southerners look dumber than shit. Again. We return to our regular programming.

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