I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin’ in the wire…
I barely remember Glen Campbell, but I’ve been humming that tune this afternoon. The song “Wichita lineman”, written by master songwriter Jimmy Webb, was about telephone lines, but electrical power is another utility we all take for granted, and the people who ensure the delivery of power to our homes are virtually unknown to us. I still don’t know the names of the guys I waved to today, but I consider them true heroes.
On Sunday the forecast called for freezing rain and sleet Monday night and Tuesday morning, with accumulations of 1/10 to 1/4 inch. In north Georgia that kind of weather can be a problem, because the pines that cover the landscape can accumulate heavy coatings of ice, and their branches are fairly brittle. When they snap they can take down power lines. And these conditions happen fairly infrequently, so a lot of dead and brittle wood can build up in the trees (unlike the firs and spruce of northern forests that are pruned by severe storms every winter). A winter storm of any type causes a media frenzy around here (we never get the kind of winters they’re experiencing in New England), but I’m a skeptic, and after studying the weather maps and radar projections, I was sure rain was all we would get. We were on the southern edge of the area predicted to get a “wintry mix”, and by Sunday evening the Weather Service had lessened the severity of the forecast. For most of the day Monday it looked like a typical case of over-reaction, just temps in the 40s and rain. But the rain continued to fall as the temperatures dropped, and by evening we could see a glistening coat of ice on bushes and trees. We were reading in bed about 11pm when the first “BAM!” and flicker came, then another, and another, and then the power went off for good.
Amy and I live in a house built in 1897, and despite lots of money spent at Lowe’s and Home Depot it’s still poorly insulated and drafty. We have central natural gas heat, but the furnace requires electricity, and despite 6 fireplaces we have no wood stove or gas logs. So our heat was off, our electric blanket was off, and the temperature was dropping. At about 4am I woke up, realized the power was still off, and used my iphone to open an outage ticket with Georgia Power. By 8am it was a frosty 40 degrees in the bedroom, the power was still off, and we had no way to make coffee (we’ve got a gas stove, but whole beans and an electric grinder).
So we suffered for a while, but at its worst we were still able to cook oatmeal for breakfast and huddle together in bed with the cat trying to worm her way under the covers. In the meantime hundreds of Georgia Power employees had picked up their pagers, kissed their families goodbye, slipped on their heavy coats and rubber gloves, and drove out into the night, even as the freezing rain fell, to restore our power. They traced the lines, cutting up fallen limbs and trees, hoisting 7200 volt distribution lines back to the tops of poles, replacing blown transformers, and doing whatever needed to be done to get our power back on. Their work is dangerous (one slip can result in electrocution), they’re usually busiest during the worst weather, and yet you never hear kids say “I want to be a lineman when I grow up”. Truly unsung heroes.
Our power’s back on, the house is heating back up, and we’ll be able to cook dinner at home tonight. Our little storm was nothing compared to what others have seen, but it reminded us how much we all depend on the work of hundreds and thousands of dedicated professionals to maintain the services we take for granted. So next time you see a utility team working on the side of the road, how about giving them a wave, or offering to treat them to coffee. They deserve it.
Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/69658363@N07/14400138105/”>SaskPower – Powering the Future</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>