September 9, 2011

Lights out

As you may have heard, San Diego county went dark yesterday. 1.4 million households and business went dark at 3:40 in the afternoon, affecting some 5 million people.

Sean and I were at work in the Rancho Bernardo area. We were installing a much needed shade structure in 100 degree heat. We had just finished making a cut with the miter saw when the homeowner came out and asked if we had lost power. The whole house was out, so it wasn't a tripped breaker. When the homeowner went to ask if his neighbor had power, we realized the radio was out (which is odd since it is battery powered). Then we realized it wasn't the radio, but the radio station that was down. Uh oh.

There had been a small fire on a nearby hillside earlier in the day, but it looked out so it was probably unrelated. Sean had just been talking about recent solar flares a minute before the power went out, so maybe that was what knocked transformers out. Then three military jets flew overhead. I didn't imagine terrorist attack, but with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just around the corner, it was lurking in the back of my mind.

We eventually found an operating radio station and realized how widespread the outage was. It went north to Orange County, south into Mexico, and east into Arizona, and it sounds like everyone went dark at once.  The airport shut down, trolleys stopped working, offices and schools emptied. Traffic signals went dark and gridlock ensued.

We had made our final cut with the miter saw seconds before the power went out, and the rest of the tools we needed operated on battery power, so we kept working. Stories on the radio about people trapped in elevators kept any concerns about dark homes and melting food in perspective. Phone lines were jammed, but a couple of texts were able to get through. We knew that Kristy and Marci were OK, so stayed to finish the job, and hoped that traffic would die down by the time we hit the road.

We left around 6:00, and my phone stopped working. My car had started to overheat on the way in to work, so I had stopped off for antifreeze. I topped it off again, and hoped that I wouldn't get stuck in gridlock. The gas stations I passed were jammed with cars, but with no electricity, no gas was flowing. People were parked there waiting for the power to come back on. The best guess was that it would not be on until the morning or later, so they were in for a long wait. I was really, really glad that my tank was half full.

Once on the freeway, traffic was not much worse than normal. Several cars were stopped on the shoulder, most likely out of gas. I saw one person parked under an overpass, sitting in a lawn chair, reading the paper waiting for some sort of help to arrive.

I made it home without incident. The sun hadn't set, so there was light to find candles, headlamps and flashlights for later. Matt had stopped at Albertsons to pick up food for the evening so we could leave the fridge closed to keep in the cold. Then he barricaded the door to make sure we didn't open it out of habit. We were set to hunker down for the night, but my phone still wasn't working, so I did feel a little cut off. Holly's phone was able to get a brief signal, so I was able to check in with Kristy. I was sure she was fine, but it was still nice to hear her voice.

The stove and water heater are gas powered, so we could cook and take showers. It was over 90 degrees in the house, so we ate and chatted on the deck until it was time to turn in. No tv, no distractions, flickering candlelight - not much to complain about. The only bummer was not having a fan going in the bedroom. It was another hot and sticky night, and Sierra had tough time of it.

Power and cell service came back on during the night, so most everything is back to normal this morning. There are logjams at the airport that will take a long time to work out, and I am wondering whether food at the store was properly chilled or thrown out. But schools are closed and kids have the day off. A San Diego "snow day" after 100 degree heat.

After of course September is "National Preparedness Month". Kristy had mentioned this earlier, but of course I didn't do anything to get 'ready'. Time to go over the checklist.


Holly Linden said...

I liked the candlit evening with no electronics. And I discovered the joys of the headlamp!

Jason D. Stange said...

Could totally picture YOU as the guy in the lawn chair reading the paper... "what are ya looking at? You idiots are still in the car; I'll just sit here n read." lol. Miss you and Sierra.