EYE ON THE GRID BLOG

Sandy was everything they said she would be

By Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
This morning while watching news footage of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, for some reason I thought of "Jurassic Park."

On CNN, I could see just about every prediction meteorologists made the day before come true, one by one. It made me think of the chaos theory-obsessed mathematician Ian Malcolm who predicted Jurassic Park's dinosaurs would be impossible to contain.

Later on, with a full-grown tyrannosaurus broken loose and stomping around, Malcolm says regretfully, "Boy, do I hate being right all the time."

The day the storm made landfall, I called into a webinar hosted by Earth Networks, a weather forecasting firm that makes the WeatherBug iPhone app that I use myself just about every morning.

The company's meteorologist, Mark Hoekzema, predicted storm surges around Long Island, flooding in New York, heavy rains in Maryland and Virginia, wind gusts throughout New England and blizzards in Appalachia.

If you want to see how accurate those predictions turned out to be, I recommend reading the story I wrote yesterday and comparing them with today's headlines .

All we have to go on in times of severe weather are the predictions of scientists and the mass media's transcription of those predictions. Sometimes predictions fall short of coming true — call it chaos theory. Sometimes this leads to people getting a little blase about how severe the storm could be — even if they live in or near its predicted path.

Sometimes the media over-hypes what the scientists are trying to say. Many people felt the warnings about Hurricane Irene in 2011 were exaggerated, even though the storm was the fifth costliest storm in U.S. history.

One group who can never assume that the worst won't happen, however, is electric utilities. It's a scary thing to lose power in the middle of a disaster — especially with frightening news stories coming in and people tweeting some pretty awful pictures of storm damage. And if utilities aren't completely on point with their recovery efforts — or even if the public merely doesn't think the lights are coming back on fast enough — they have to face an angry public.

This particular storm was everything they said it would be. Some 7.5 million people were left without electricity, multiple billions will have to be spent on repairs, thousands are likely homeless, hundreds of thousands are cut off from transportation and almost 40 Americans are now dead. And that's just what we know about now. There will certainly be stories in the coming days and weeks of other kinds of damage. Whether you're in a utility, working for the media or just some a bystander hunkering down and hoping for the best, pays to be careful.

NOTE: The Red Cross is seeking donations, preferably money, blood or volunteer time. Click here for more information.

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