Stephen Speicher

What's going on with Seattle?

24 posts in this topic

Previous reports indicated that about a million households and businesses lost power in the Northwest due to storms on the night of December 15th into the following day. Evidentally half of Seattle was affected. Three days later the Seattle Times reports that 400,00 customers are still without power, and now they are "dealing with a carbon-monoxide epidemic in Western Washington."

With so many still in dark, another threat emerges

By Jennifer Sullivan and Jonathan Martin

Seattle Times staff reporters

As 400,000 utility customers weathered another day without power, a new, lethal consequence of last week's windstorm emerged: carbon-monoxide poisoning.

A 26-year-old man was found dead in Kirkland on Saturday morning with a generator running in his living room. About 100 other people, including an 11-month-old baby, were treated at Seattle-area hospitals on Saturday after inhaling the fumes of generators and charcoal barbecues dragged indoors.

About a half-dozen were listed in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center. Virginia Mason treated about 55 patients in its hyperbaric chamber, which re-oxygenates the blood, and the medical center said it expected more. Some were still sick after the hyperbaric treatment and were admitted to Harborview.

"We're dealing with a carbon-monoxide epidemic in Western Washington," said Dr. Neil Hampson in the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at Virginia Mason. "This has the potential to be the worst case of carbon-monoxide poisoning in the country."

Among the patients treated at Harborview and Virginia Mason were 34 Kent residents, mostly Somali immigrants, who had been cooking and warming themselves over charcoal grills brought indoors, according to the Kent Fire Department.

The state Department of Health asked the federal Centers for Disease Control to immediately translate its poison-prevention worksheets into five African and Southeast Asian languages. Public Health-Seattle & King County also asked groups active in immigrant communities to caution against using heat sources with toxic byproducts.

Health officials emphasized that the poisoning was preventable with basic precautions, and that quick treatment could stave off long-term brain damage or reduced functioning.

But the patients treated on Saturday were largely low-income, non-English-speaking people who may not have known the risks, said Dr. Bob Kalus, Harborview's associate director of emergency care.

"I think this is a fairly dire circumstance, and I wonder tremendously about people who are desperate, cold and do not quite know where to turn."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been in touch with my sister-in-law, and nephews, who all live in the area. It's been rough. Thankfully, they are all doing okay. My sister-in-law said they had several days of severe wind storms. The damage to the lines have mostly been caused by downed trees, of which there are many. She lives in the country and is always prepared because her services are sometimes sporadic; she has a huge generator and fireplaces on all three stories of the house, though she limits everything to the first floor during power outages.

My nephew and his wife and two small children were stuck in their house, with no electricity, for three days. They couldn't get out of their neighborhood because of downed trees which blocked all exits. They were happy to finally get electricity early Sunday morning. Help from the city couldn't get to them, so he and the neighbors got together with what tools they could gather among them and cleared what trees they could to make a path. There was some danger due to downed lines, but they managed.

I feel badly for those with limited resources. It sounds like a lot of people are suffering.

Stephen, have you heard anything from Burgess?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stephen, have you heard anything from Burgess?

He posted a comment on Noodlefood yesterday @ 4:30, so I would assume he wasn't affected.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My nephew and his wife and two small children were stuck in their house, with no electricity, for three days....

Stephen, have you heard anything from Burgess?

No. I haven't. But I do wonder about Elle up on the 18th floor of her apartment building.

And now... now, just over two years later, I'm a college drop-out living in a big city, building my career and moving up quickly, fully engaged in what I am doing with a clear vision for the future, and making enough money to enjoy reading, art, the view from my 18th floor apartment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No. I haven't. But I do wonder about Elle up on the 18th floor of her apartment building.

Hopefully she had a flashlight to navigate the stairs (if necessary). Probably so since she's clearly very intelligent, and mentioned a boyfriend, so presumably she has local help.

What comes to mind with this emergency though, is that the previously discussed M9+ quake previously discussed here that will likely hit near Seattle in the foreseeable future, would be many orders of magnitude worse, for comparison.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Previous reports indicated that about a million households and businesses lost power in the Northwest due to storms on the night of December 15th into the following day. Evidentally half of Seattle was affected. Three days later the Seattle Times reports that 400,00 customers are still without power, and now they are "dealing with a carbon-monoxide epidemic in Western Washington."

It's true. Lots of people are still without electricity around here. (Probably the outlying areas were hit worse than the city of Seattle though.)

My neighborhood lost power for 63 hours, the result of a large hemlock tree falling on the power lines and breaking them. That, combined with outdoor temperatures as low as the low 20's, wasn't fun. I was tired of lighting candles, burning wood, and dressing indoors with clothing one would normally wear outside in the winter. There were over 1,000,000 customers without electricity at first; last night (which would have been the fifth night) there were about 200,000 who still weren't hooked up. (That's customers - i.e. each house or dwelling unit with a meter would count as a customer - so the total number of people without power would be higher.)

The reason these storms can be so devastating up here is that there are many tall trees that can get blown over. This is made easier if it's been raining a lot, because then the ground is saturated with water and the tree roots are not very secure, so some of the more shallow-rooted trees are easily uprooted. And it only takes one tree falling on a power line to knock it out. And this past November was the wettest month on record in Seattle since they began recording in 1890. Lots of saturated ground.

When big storms like this happen, utilities start by fixing the bigger lines first; those that serve more customers and are nearer the source of the power. Get the substations running, then the progressively smaller branch lines. So it makes a big difference where the break is, in determining how fast your power will get turned back on. If the break was a long ways away from your house, chances are it affected a large area, so you'll be up soon. But if the break is right down the street and only affects a small area, it will be a longer time. The worst case would be a tree that has fallen on a line that only affects one or two houses - those people will be the last to be hooked up. I.e., the power grid is probably like a "tree" topologically: the breaks near the root will get fixed first; near the leaves, last.

There are many, many utility crews working here to restore power; some are even brought in from out-of-state. (For instance, I've heard of ones from Nevada, Colorado and Kansas this time.)

There are side effects too, that people don't always consider. Many businesses are without power. In particular, gas stations lose their power and cannot pump gasoline. The few gas stations that still have electricity end up with long lines of people, and have their supplies depleted. (Also, all of those gas powered generators need to be fed. They are pretty inefficient. Anyway, it is always good in winters around here to have some gas in the tank - particularly when a storm is predicted.) Also, there are many "dark" intersections, whose traffic lights are no longer powered. Properly, people should treat these as 4-way stops, and this slows traffic to a crawl, but sometimes - worse - people just go driving through these without stopping.

Several people were killed too from trees falling on their houses or cars; also one man stepped on a hidden downed power line that he apparently didn't notice.

As for downtown Seattle, my guess is that that was one of the first places fixed, if they lost their power at all - the population density is high, and there aren't as many tall trees in downtown as in outlying areas. (Though apparently there are still over 10,000 people without power in the city of Seattle.) I also do not believe Portland was affected in a big way by this storm, if at all.

So... depending on exactly where you live here, and the luck-of-the-tree-fall, this storm could have been a minor annoyance, to a major disruption of your life for a few days, to a tragedy for some people.

....

There's nothing like an extended power outage to make one appreciative of electric power! It's a truly wonderful invention of modern civilization - a product of man at his best. Having light at the flip of a switch; easily controllable heat; refrigeration as needed; easy use of all manner of appliances! How much richer our lives are because of this widely-available, cheap, convenient, and easily-controllable source of energy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm lucky enought that where I am we didn't suffer any power loss. A few blocks West of here people lost their power.

I have good hopes Elle is well. As far as I know, she lives downtown and therefore shouldn't be affected. Most people without power are in the Southern areas of the city, or outside of it. The Microsoft campus was shut down Friday...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My neighborhood lost power for 63 hours ...

Thanks for the detailed update, Jay. Glad your own power has been restored.

I get the impression from your description that these sort of storms wreak their havoc on Seattle periodically, though perhaps usually not as bad as this current one. Is that the case?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm lucky enought that where I am we didn't suffer any power loss. A few blocks West of here people lost their power.

Lucky guy. :D

The Microsoft campus was shut down Friday...

Was that due to loss of power, or just lack of employees, or ... ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...

I get the impression from your description that these sort of storms wreak their havoc on Seattle periodically, though perhaps usually not as bad as this current one. Is that the case?

Yes, though it's more in the suburbs and more outlying areas than in the city of Seattle itself. For instance, in this storm, there were over 1,000,000 customers without power, but I think less than 200,000 of those were ones served by the Seattle utility. (Very early on, I heard that Seattle City Light only had 174,000 customers without power.)

The last one this big was the "Inauguration Day storm", in 1993. (Yes, it was Clinton's inauguration. Appropriate, eh? :D) Weatherwise, it was about of the same magnitude (i.e., wind speed), but it did not cause as much damage. One reason was that the month prior to it was fairly dry, so the ground was not so saturated; also, there were fewer people living here. I remember being at work when the worst of it hit and a live power line came down across the exit to our parking lot, so we could not drive out; also, there was the same problem then with buying gasoline, since most stations could not pump gas.

So storms of this magnitude seem to be about once-a-decade events. Apparently there was a really bad one back in 1962 which was worse, weatherwise.

But every year, it seems like there is some lesser storm that causes some damage, including power outages that will last several days for the people who are last to get re-connected. These aren't as much of a problem, because the utility crews don't get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the damage. And also, people who live in really vulnerable, outlying areas probably are prepared to sit it out for a week without electricity coming in.

The other weather event that has a big effect here is a snowstorm. But this is not because we get lots of snow; rather its because, since we don't get heavy snowfalls all that often, 1) cities and counties do not have much snow-removal equipment, therefore many roads do not get plowed and 2) most people here do not know how to drive in snow and ice - especially, it often seems, some people with 4-wheel-drive vehicles, who find out that the laws of physics still apply to them, when they try to stop. So for example, schools get shut down here if there's 4 inches of snow, and much commerce grinds to a halt.

Now, if this windstorm had come with snow, or been followed by it, that would really have been a mess. Because in that case, the utility crews just wouldn't have been able to get around as well to fix line breaks.

As weather disasters go, however, I don't think the Pacific Northwest has it as bad as areas of the country that are subject to tornadoes and hurricanes, because I think our storms (even this one) are much less powerful. In terms of wind speed, the highest number I heard for this storm was 80 or 90 mph gusts, which was out on the coast. The highest recorded at the airport was 64 mph. The danger isn't the wind itself wrecking structures, or even wind-driven debris so much, it's those big trees falling down.

(And compared to an area that's been hit by a tornado or hurricane, this area doesn't look very devastated at all - at least where I live. One doesn't see collapsed buildings all over - only the rare one that got struck by a falling tree. There are branches, twigs and other debris all over that haven't been cleaned up yet, but most of this did not cause any property damage; it's just a mess.)

Also, I've heard that other parts of the country get ice storms, where lots of rain comes and freezes to power lines and trees, causing them to fall under the added weight. That usually isn't a problem here, but in other places, those can cause power outages just as bad as what we saw here the past few days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There are many, many utility crews working here to restore power; some are even brought in from out-of-state. (For instance, I've heard of ones from Nevada, Colorado and Kansas this time.)

According to this story in our local paper, you can add California to the list.

"I don't know when we're coming home to be exact, but it looks like it might be past Christmas for sure," Blaylock, 28, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Once you get here and you see what's going on, how many people are still without power, and the damage, I'd be willing to bet that we won't be home for Christmas."

In all, about 150 personnel, including 90 working for SCE contractors, and 100 vehicles and pieces of equipment traveled to the Pacific Northwest to help with the repairs, a company spokesman said.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stephen, the campus wasn't closed, but it didn't have power. The campus never really closes down...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Meh...Interesting topic. I live in Issaquah, WA. I just got my power back barely two hours ago. (Luckily I was granted another problem as my alternator on my car died on the way home tonight leaving me in a mud patch - I'm starting to feel like one of those "bad luck people"! hee hee) Issaquah itself got its power back on Monday. Our apartment complex was unlucky enough to a "pocket outage". That means when they are done with the big stuff, they'll get to you eventually.

I've lived in Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon and Arizona (that equals: blizzards, tornados, flash floods, monsoons, dust storms, and torrential rain - never lost power). What's up with Seattle? I wonder...but, sit in traffic for a day there and you'll get an idea.

I spent $400 on firelogs keeping my living room somewhat livable and roaming around with a flashlight. Garbage piled up though as I couldn't see most of it and there was the problem of disposal.

I almost went over the edge with this as I was powerless to begin with, and to add to that the circumstances causes my wife to have a migraine (the real brain exploding kind that very few people experience) that caused her to weep. I could kill during that time.

Me myself, I wouldn't think much of it. I see red when it touches those I value.

On a brighter note, I think we should have two subcatagories in The Good catagory; one for Thomas Edison, and one for Nicholas Tesla. Two men, without whom, our lives would be little what they are.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

PhilO - I know that they have some sort of emergency power supply, maybe generators. However, in a case like that, maybe they felt it was more cost effective to have employees simply not come in. I don't think the emergency power is meant to provide long term power for the 35,000 employees on Redmond Campus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Meh...Interesting topic. I live in Issaquah, WA. I just got my power back barely two hours ago. [...]

I've lived in Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon and Arizona (that equals: blizzards, tornados, flash floods, monsoons, dust storms, and torrential rain - never lost power). [...]

Wow. I've been busy and missed this thread. I wonder what else I've missed. That's a long time without power. I don't know about Oregon and Arizona, but I think the explanation for cold areas not losing power as much is that power companies in those areas more often bury the power lines. Although this is quite expensive, mass death-by-freezing would be such an enormous disaster, that I'll presume this is the justification for the expense.

I almost went over the edge with this as I was powerless to begin with, and to add to that the circumstances causes my wife to have a migraine (the real brain exploding kind that very few people experience) that caused her to weep. [...]

I sympathize. My husband gets this kind of migraine every once in a while. It's really terrible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Meh...Interesting topic. I live in Issaquah, WA. I just got my power back barely two hours ago. (Luckily I was granted another problem as my alternator on my car died on the way home tonight leaving me in a mud patch - I'm starting to feel like one of those "bad luck people"! hee hee) Issaquah itself got its power back on Monday. Our apartment complex was unlucky enough to a "pocket outage". That means when they are done with the big stuff, they'll get to you eventually.

I've lived in Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon and Arizona (that equals: blizzards, tornados, flash floods, monsoons, dust storms, and torrential rain - never lost power). What's up with Seattle? I wonder...but, sit in traffic for a day there and you'll get an idea.

I spent $400 on firelogs keeping my living room somewhat livable and roaming around with a flashlight. Garbage piled up though as I couldn't see most of it and there was the problem of disposal.

I almost went over the edge with this as I was powerless to begin with, and to add to that the circumstances causes my wife to have a migraine (the real brain exploding kind that very few people experience) that caused her to weep. I could kill during that time.

Me myself, I wouldn't think much of it. I see red when it touches those I value.

On a brighter note, I think we should have two subcatagories in The Good catagory; one for Thomas Edison, and one for Nicholas Tesla. Two men, without whom, our lives would be little what they are.

Ouch. I just hate it when problems come in bunches like that. You have my sympathy. Your wife really has my empathy, though. I get migraines like that. I've begged my husband to just cut off my head

PLEASE, but he never listens to me when I'm out of my head. Seriously, I hope it clears in time for her to recover for Christmas. In hope all your troubles clear before Christmas.

I often wonder just how those people, like Gore, who call for us to end our "addiction" to oil ever actually think what it would mean, not just to the power industries, but to all the petroleum based industries. There's nothing like doing without something so critical to modern life as electricity to make one think about these things.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I often wonder just how those people, like Gore, who call for us to end our "addiction" to oil ever actually think what it would mean, not just to the power industries, but to all the petroleum based industries. There's nothing like doing without something so critical to modern life as electricity to make one think about these things.
What goes through their heads is not thought. It's probably something like this (to paraphrase a pointed passage in Atlas Shrugged):

Al Gore swore as the lights flickered and went out in the auditorium. He slumped forward, his elbows on the podium, and said: "God damn these power companies! What's the matter with their generators? You'd think with all the money they've got they'd disgorge a little, so we wouldn't have to squint like blind mice in the dark! ... They're doing it on purpose. They want to ruin my speaking tour. I can't miss that rally! For Christ's sake, Hillary, do something!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hopefully she had a flashlight to navigate the stairs (if necessary). Probably so since she's clearly very intelligent, and mentioned a boyfriend, so presumably she has local help.

What comes to mind with this emergency though, is that the previously discussed M9+ quake previously discussed here that will likely hit near Seattle in the foreseeable future, would be many orders of magnitude worse, for comparison.

I'm lucky enought that where I am we didn't suffer any power loss. A few blocks West of here people lost their power.

I have good hopes Elle is well. As far as I know, she lives downtown and therefore shouldn't be affected. Most people without power are in the Southern areas of the city, or outside of it. The Microsoft campus was shut down Friday...

Thank you Stephen and Joss. You are right, I did not lose power downtown. I have also moved out of that (death trap) building and in with my boyfriend. On the day of the storm in question my work closed down and I went Christmas shopping, so clearly I didn't suffer. However, my boyfriend's mother came to stay with us on her 4th night without power because it was in the upper 20s and it was as cold inside as it was outside of her 4,000 square foot house in the woods.

Nevertheless, I find the long restoration period very ominous and I am thinking of Katrina and how prepared Seattle is (or is not) to face a natural disaster of the epic proporations of (in order of probability, to the best of my knowledge).

a) Major catastrophic earthquake (7 point magnitude or greater)

:D Mount Rainer erupting

c) Tsunami (reaching inland 150+ miles)

The thing about Seattle is that you don't have to be right in the local Seattle area to be affected by these events - our whole state can become pretty isolated pretty quickly. It's actually kind of scary if you think about it - how fast we would starve in Seattle in the face of a natural disaster (it is nothing like New York City, mind you, we just don't have that kind of population density). We are supplied things like food, gasoline, etc. from around the United States via the BNSF and UP rail lines and via trucks I90 (east/west) and I5/I405(north/south). The closest major city to the East of us is Minneapolis (and the next industrial city East is Chicago). To the South we don't get a whole lot until Los Angeles, since most of the goods we buy are imported if they are sourced from the West Coast. I have definitely thought about what I would do in the case of a natural disaster in Seattle. Probably go to my parents house, get my horse and my gun, pack up and ride south.

We are safe and sound.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We are safe and sound.

My sister-in-law lives in Black Diamond--actually, she lives out in the woods outside of Black Diamond--and she was 3 days without power. She's prepared, however, with a large generator, so she does well enough as long as the fuel holds out.

I'm glad we finally heard from you, though! And very happy to hear that you are safe and sound. I hope you had a great Christmas, to boot. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I have definitely thought about what I would do in the case of a natural disaster in Seattle. Probably go to my parents house, get my horse and my gun, pack up and ride south.

I do not wish to see this scenario occur in real life, but the image of a lovely young woman on her strong horse, gun at her side and saddlebags full, riding defiantly against a disaster in the background, would make for a really lovely painting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites