The Spectacle Blog

God Forbid: A Derecho!!

By on 7.1.12 | 11:20PM

Just so we all (a million or more) know -- that was no ordinary thunderstorm last Friday night. It was a "derecho" -- a meteorologist's fancy word for a line of storms. Fast-moving and violent, a line more than 240 miles long with gusts of 60 mph or more. By all accounts, more than a million customers in the D.C. area lost electric power and many at this writing are still waiting for Pepco or one of the other distributers to turn them back on.

Speaking of Pepco, and I seldom do, some years ago my neighborhood went 8 days powerless. A vice-president of the company came by, took a look at a tree that had sheered some powerlines, and declared there was nothing to be done, at least for the moment. Fortunately, a neighbor across the street had a guest who drove down a major thoroughfare and happened across a crew of linemen and their New Jersey truck. (It was bad enough for Pepco, then as now, to import repair crews from other states.) The visitors averred they had nothing to busy themselves, Pepco having told them the work was about finished. "Ah, no," said the visitor. "Just up the street is an entire neighborhood that's been powerless for more than a week."

Sure enough, the visitors drove up, saw the tree, fixed the wires, and the neighborhood lights went on! After eight days of darkness.

Power companies are now saying the remains of the derecho may be with some of the tens of thousands of victims for seven days or more. Much of the damage was done by uprooted trees and repairs have called for crews as far away as Oklahoma.

Of course, losing power in hundred degree heat is more than inconvenient; it is life-threatening.

There is a solution. It is seen (or unseen) in every new division or subdivision being established these days. The wiring is all underground. How expensive would it be to put all the wiring underground? Trees could then be decorative but not utility bearing and the next derecho that comes along would not have the disruptive power of this last one. Expensive? Darn right. Worth it? Right again. An expensive project that would put wires out of the jeopardy of willful winds and save millions from the sort of grief that stalks today.

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