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Million Per Mile?!

The sound of freezing rain unnerves me. The ticking on the windows and the rhythmic beating on the deck are disconcerting. This morning as ice fell, I kept confusing the sounds with the dog being up to no good. The precipitation came down decisively, leaving our walkways and driveway frozen. Footprints left no indentations and the dog’s hind legs went in a different direction from the front legs.


Yup, we are properly frozen.


As I read the weather forecast, I was surprised to find out that sleet and freezing rain are not the same, even though I use them interchangeably! Sleet is frozen raindrops and happens when there is a thick layer of sub-zero air near the ground. Freezing rain, on the other hand, happens when raindrops go through a thin layer of freezing air high up and partially freeze.


Hail is another name for freezing rain. And sleet is "hell".


Technically, it's sleeting today, which is far easier to say than it is freezing raining.


The hidden cost of any kind of precipitation in abundance is enormous, starting with car accidents and falls which together amount to over 100,000 injuries annually. Then comes the cost of losing power.


Power companies generate energy in anticipation of use. When the temperature plummets drastically and power grids are taken offline by layers of ice or strong winds, demand outpaces supply and causes havoc. Right now, Texas and Oklahoma are reeling from an unexpected polar vortex which has added a heavy dose of misery to crazy pandemic woes.


Between 2003 and 2012, energy.gov estimates that weather-related outages cost an average of $18B to $33B per year. A more recent Congressional report pegged the numbers at $25B to 70B, including economic impacts such as lost wages, spoiled inventory, repairs, and delayed production.


Staggering is an understatement.


I've often wondered why utility companies don't bury overhead lines. Bite the bullet, swallow the bitter pill, be done with it, no? Here's the reason: the cost of burying cables is estimated to be $1M per mile. A study in North Carolina estimated that cost recovery would come in the form of a 125% jump in utility bills for 25 years!

Million per mile?! Power outages in winter will remain a fact of life for generations to come given the size of the country.


Several years ago, we lost power for four days in the middle of winter. Our fireplaces kept us warm until the thermostat fell to the low 40s. Then, our teeth wouldn't stop chattering.


My heart goes out to the residents in the south who are unaccustomed to this type of cold weather and winter precipitation. May warmth return soon to them. In the meantime, the surreal picture of the ceiling fan in Texas with icicles will continue to chill my bones!


This image of our backyard after a recent storm that delivered snow with a layer of freezing...er...sleet renders the majesty and wrath of winter.



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