A Passion That Leaves Us Powerless

Jan. 23, 2011
An incisive electric utility outsider’s view of how a tropical storm like Isabel, that at Reagan National Airport saw winds peak at 45 mph, could plunge the Washington area into “18th-century-style dusk-to -dawn darkness."Read more...

As windbags go, Isabel was a weenie. And weenies shouldn't put our lights out. Yet five days after the storm roared into our lives, 2 million residents of the mid-Atlantic region remained without electric power. Pepco and other utility linemen were taking the fall, but if you ask me, everyone was missing -- and dismissing -- the major culprit: an aging arboreal jungle that we have willingly cultivated in and around our cities but neglected to tend.

Isabel's winds really weren't that impressive. By the time she got here, she surely wasn't a hurricane, which is defined as a tropical cyclone with sustained winds (not mere gusts) of 74 mph or higher. Her maximum sustained winds at onshore stations in tidewater Virginia averaged in the mid-50s (with the one exception of Norfolk Naval Station, where they registered 69 mph). At Reagan National Airport, they topped out at 45. In Richmond, where the percentage of residents without power was almost twice that in Northern Virginia, sustained winds never even made the minimum criterion for a tropical storm -- just 39 mph....

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