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Hurricane Irene, 1 year later

By M Davies   /     Aug 31, 2012  /     NEPA, Wacky PA Weather  /     0 Comment


A year ago, I didn’t have electricity for an entire week.  Well technically 5 days, but it may as well have been an entire week.  Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal to me.  I live in the sticks, and my indoor plumbing (coming from a well) completely relies on electricity.  No electricity = No running water, no washing dishes or clothes, no flushing toilets, no drinking water, etc etc etc….  Maybe it wouldn’t have been as bad if we didn’t have 2 young children and pets, but we do.


You can read my posts about Irene here:  Post 1 | Post 2 | Preparing for the Next | Flickr Photoset


The local media had some good articles about Hurricane Irene this week.


The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recently released a report that contained some key findings I found of interest.


1.  It was soon apparent that there were major problems with the ability of the EDCs’ customer call centers to handle the high volume of calls on August 27 and 28, 2011.



2.  While over 93% of customers out of service at the peak of the outages were restored within 72 hours, the remaining customers were not fully restored for 4 or more days.  As compared to similar storms from the EDCs’ recent histories (see page 27, below), full restoration for Irene appeared to take longer. Even if a day or two is removed from the restoration time, given that the tropical storm force winds lasted through much of the full day on August 28, 2011, the full restoration for Irene appeared to be extended.



3.  All EDCs realized the potential of utilizing alternative communication methods such as text messaging, email, Twitter and Facebook to disseminate information and restoration estimates.

This one I have somewhat of a problem with.  How can Facebook, Twitter, Email, or Text Messaging be considered a primary form of communication when THERE IS NO ELECTRICITY?  The only way I was able to check any of those things was when I was at school, work or charging my cell phone from my car.  There needs to be another way.  I could not even try to buy a newspaper in the first few days because most local businesses were closed due to….YOU GUESSED IT….no electricity.  UGI’s answer was to have a public meeting nearly a week after the fact of the emergency.  Way to be timely, UGI.  I took this issue to their Facebook Wall.

(Click little picture for pop out)

I’d like to think that they understood what I was talking about, but I still sensed some thickness on their parts.


Anyway.  Here are the PUC’s recommendations:


Recommendation 1: EDCs need to improve their ability to handle high volume call periods during major outage events as well as implementing a procedure to prevent inaccurate or misleading restoration messaging during expected long-term outage events.

Recommendation 2: EDCs need to strengthen their relationships with local and county emergency management and elected officials.

Recommendation 3: The Commission and the industry should partner to study whether Pennsylvania is experiencing increased extreme/severe weather events. Particularly, more information is required on the recent long-term outages experienced by the EDCs: (1) Were the outages caused by the damage of the severe storms in more remote and hard-to-reach locations of circuits? or (2) Are these the same troublesome circuits that have experienced multiple long-term outages?

Recommendation 4: When performing major storm reviews, TUS should examine EDC crew movements not only for the external crews received, but also any internal crews moved outside of the affected EDCs service territories and whether it has a detrimental effect on restoration.


These are all common sense things.  I am particularly concerned about Recommendation #4, I seem to remember that several local crews were sent out of the area to help others further south with Irene.  I’m all for helping other areas, believe me, I am….however, don’t you think we could have used them, oh I don’t know, say locally?  Oh, if only I could have been a fly on the wall in that PUC meeting….


I also think that there should be a local radio channel that you could turn to for information in emergency situations.  I had the hand crank/battery operated going during the days with no electricity, and I could not find one channel with information that was remotely helpful to me.  TV or newspaper would have been helpful, but I had no access to either of those things.


One thing that did make me feel slightly better from reading the Citizen’s Voice article was the fact that the Back Mountain will be banding together in the event of another emergency.


“In the aftermath of Irene, Back Mountain Community Partnership members from Harveys Lake and Dallas, Jackson, Kingston, Lake and Lehman townships got together to form a regional emergency management agency, headquartered in the former Back Mountain Medical Center on Route 118 in Lehman Township. The goal is to provide a better response in the event of another tropical storm of Irene’s caliber.”


Lucky for us, we won’t be living through another Irene.  Her name was retired from the list of Atlantic Basin storm names back in April.   (Source:  NOAA)  She won’t be missed.



All that being said…..the generator arrives this week.

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We now interrupt this blog post, with a blog post

By M Davies   /     Feb 18, 2012  /     Hobby-ish, Wacky PA Weather  /     0 Comment

I haven't blogged in a few weeks, because I have been semi-busy.  I wouldn't say super crazy busy, like last semester, but busy none-the-less.  I am taking 2 classes at night this semester and I've determined that this semester is a "throw-away".  I did a quick calculation of the amount of classes I'll be missing vs. when I'll be present.  Yeahhhhhh….  When you miss 3-4 classes in a 16 week semester, you may as well call it a throw away – that's a whole month if the class meets once a week.

I will get back to the 2011 year in review, I promise, but I just wanted to share with you the amazing sunrise/fog and light from yesterday morning.  I started a new blog called "Sweet Valley Sunrises" where I upload a photo or two during sunrise if the weather cooperates.  This is the extended version of what was posted yesterday over at Sweet Valley Sunrises.  Enjoy!

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The Mentor Becomes the Mentee (or….a tale of Geocaching)

By M Davies   /     Nov 21, 2011  /     Hobby-ish, NEPA, Wacky PA Weather  /     0 Comment

**WARNING, this blog post is highly link intensive, but I promise you won't be disappointed if you follow them**

Back in the day, when I was knee high to a grasshopper and an awkward teenager just trying to fit in….my mentor was already hard at work changing the world around him.  I have to start out this story by giving a little background first, otherwise the story would only be a shell and not make much sense.  Yes.  I have a mentor.  His name is Frank "Mike" Burnside, although I've been known to call him Sparky and Sideburns.  I give everyone I like nicknames….I don't know why.  I just do it.  Consider it a form of endearment.  Anyway….back to the story…

With one question in a staff meeting, the computing world of Northeastern Pennsylvania was forever changed…

"And then I said, “What about the Internet?”

And soon thereafter, epix Internet Services, one of Northeastern PA's first Internet Service Providers was born.  "epix" by the way, was an acronym.  Eastern Pennsylvania Internet eXchange.  In Mike's words: "Yes, I know, you have to spell exchange as “eXchange” to get the nice acronym “EPIX.”  Every company, at least every Internet company, needs an acronym, and what the hell kind of an acronym is “EPIE”?"  You can read the rest of the story of how NEPA's first ISP came to be here.  That is some history right there, folks.

I started working at epix Internet Services in the spring of 2000, Mike retired/resigned from his post shortly thereafter.  At that time, we were ships passing in the night.  A few years later, after finding a "cache" of Agnes photos from both sets of my Grandparents (which can be viewed here), I decided to create www.agnesinnepa.org, a website all about Agnes and its effects on Northeastern PA.  I'll be honest with you, I haven't really done much with the website in quite a few years.  I'm frustrated because I lost a lot of my archived files from the last format the website was in, which was the PHPNuke CMS.  Anyway, I decided that I needed a "project advisor" of sorts to help me oversee this latest endeavor, and who better to tap then someone who had strong ties to the Luzerne County Historical Society.  I sent Mike an email and soon after had a response, he was interested in helping me!  We exchanged several emails back and forth and eventually exchanged IMs.  The "Spark-ster" was awesome.  He had taken a bunch of photos during the Agnes Flood which he allowed me to scan and use on my website.  I still have a copy of them here.  At the time, he was a VP over at WVIA and allowed me to use footage from the documentary "Remembering Agnes" on my website.  I have screen caps of the movie here. If it wasn't for my little website and Mike's help, I would have never met author Lou Orfanella, and had my poetry and ugly mug published in/on one of his books

A few weeks ago, Trish Hartman from WNEP contacted me about my website and was looking for an angle I couldn't give her.  She wanted to interview someone who had lived through Agnes and the September 2011 floods and talk about the differences between the two.  Sadly, I was born at the tail end of of 1980.  I pointed her in the direction of Dr. Anthony Mussari, who had published the book "Appointment with Disaster", which was all about the lessons learned from Agnes.  I actually found a copy of this book on … I think Ebay … and snagged it up.  You can't find it around any more because it was published in 1974.  From what I gather, Trish setup an interview with Dr. Mussari for her piece.  I didn't get to see it because SOMEONE recorded the WBRE news that night instead of the WNEP news on the DVR.  As an aside, Dr. Mussari had a local human interest show on WBRE/WVIA called "Windsor Park Theater".  You can still view some of the archived episodes here.  He's also involved with the Agnes 1972 Anniversary project here.

Many people ask me what my fascination is with the Agnes floods and weather in general is.  I honestly don't know.  I've been a weather channel addict for as long as I can remember.  I would watch it 24×7 whenever I had the opportunity.  You literally had to pry me away from the TV.  My Grandmother had several books from the flood that she flipped through with me.  I was instantly amazed with the books and eventually found copies of both books that she had online…through EBay.  I have several books and a record from WILK about the flood and the river.  My stupid crappy website was actually mentioned in one of the books, if you can believe that.  [EDIT:  After making approximately 25 trips up and down the steps this evening to my bookshelves, I found the name of this book…it's called  "A Story Runs Through It; Wyoming Valley Levee System".  The Agnes In NEPA reference appears on page 6 in a foreward written by F. Charles Petrillo.]

Wow.  I didn't mean to really go that far off track with this blog post.  I really wanted to discuss Geocaching and how I accidentally introduced Mike to it.  I wish there was a more prolific story behind this.  "Mike, you introduced me to the Internet….now allow me to introduce you to geocaching….", but it didn't happen like that.  It was probably more like "Hey, check this out" as I spammed half of my AIM buddy list with the URL to the website.  Mike read up on it heavily and went to purchase a GPS.  Rich & I already owned a GPS and could easily go anytime we wanted.  What is Geocaching?  Well, the concept behind Geocaching is pretty simple, really.  Its basically an outdoor scavenger hunt in which you use a GPS to encode clues and hide and seek out containers called "caches" or "geocaches".  The cache is usually in a waterproof container, which contains a log book, and toys or other chotchkies.  You sign the logbook, take an item out of the cache and leave one behind.  Another thing I loved about it was the "cache in, trash out" concept.  Basically, as you look for the Geocache, you bring a garbage bag with you to collect any trash that may have accumulated in the wooded area that it is hidden.  Did I ever mention I was an environmental club nerd?  I highly recommend this as a hobby for anyone who is an outdoor enthusiast. 

What made me start to think about writing a blog post about this topic was actually Cheri Sundra's blog post about the Kirby Zoo ruins.  There's actually is (was???) a Geocache hidden there that I wanted to find.  After the flooding in September, I'm not sure that it would still be hidden…it may have been swept away as that area would have been completely inundated with water.  I've tried to seek out only 3 other caches.  I know….call me a slacker if you must.  One was located at the Tubs recreational area along 115.  That one was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  I think Mike may have located it though.  Also, I've located a Geocache on Public Square with Mike and another in Francis Slocum park with Mike & Rich.  Here's a picture of us after finding it…

This was taken in my blonde hair days, ick poo.

There are two cemeteries that are located pretty close to my house that have Geocaches hidden.  I would love to take some time and try to find them.  One of these days when work and school aren't in the way, I'll try my hand at them.  I know Mike has already found the one in the Bronson cemetery….as a matter of fact, I think Mike has pretty much found every Geocache in this entire valley.  I think he's Geocache obsessed, and its all thanks to me.  I also introduced him to the Tubs and took part in a covert exchange (I still cannot remember the details around this, but I do still have the "IT" magic 8 ball that he gave to me that day). 

Switching gears back to meteorology for the moment….tomorrow I'm attending a SKYWARN Severe Weather Spotter training class somewhere in Lackawanna county.  I'm very excited about this.  I'm all geeked up and ready to go.  I really believe that I was not meant to sit at a cubicle troubleshooting stupid Microsoft Windows crap all day long.  I think that my calling was to become one in tune with the earth sciences…meteorology specifically, I hope its not too late and I haven't missed it. 

I wonder what good ole Sparky would have to say about it?

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Preparing for the next [_________] (insert natural disaster here)

By M Davies   /     Oct 05, 2011  /     NEPA, Wacky PA Weather  /     2 Comments

In the last 2 months NEPA has experienced the following:

  • An Earthquake
  • A Tropical Storm (Irene)
  • Major River Flooding (from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee)
  • Flash Flooding from Creeks and Streams

That being said, I’m waiting for the infestation of locusts to start at any moment.  All of these natural disasters combined at one time have changed my outlook on the outdoors.  I no longer look at trees and say “Wow, what beautiful, majestic tree!”  Its more along the lines of “Hey, look at how tall that tree is…I bet could probably land on my house and kill me in my sleep.”  Ok, maybe I am overreacting a bit with this….but then again, you probably haven’t driven through the Back Mountain a few hours after Tropical Storm Irene’s winds died down either.

Living without electricity unwillingly in your own house for five days is what I like to describe as “forced, domesticated Survivorman” or “camping, but less fun”.  Don’t get me wrong, things could be a LOT worse.  We could have lost everything in the flood as some of the folks throughout our region have…but it didn’t make it any more of a walk in the park.

Now, I will post the 10 valuable lessons I learned from surviving a natural disaster.  These many not be applicable to every person reading this blog post, I realize, but it should give you a general idea of what you need to do to prepare.


I think this is pretty much a common sense thing, but it was one of the first preparation steps I took when I heard how bad the winds might be.  My yard is a complete open field, with no trees protecting a good portion of it.  If it gets windy, there is nothing to shelter the wind from blowing through.  An awesome example of this is (as embarrassing as it is for me to admit) we bought a trampoline a few years ago for the kids.  It was not secured to the ground…and the directions specifically stated that it did not need to be secured to the ground.  However, I STRONGLY felt like we should.  This caused a fight between me & the hubs.  He felt that the directions knew what was best.  Guess who won this fight?  Mother nature, when she sent a gust of wind across our yard lifting the trampoline up in the air and tossing it several hundred feet in the opposite direction.  $200 is an expensive lesson to learn.  Anyway, before Irene blew through, all of our garbage cans, lawn furniture and deck stuff was put away/secured.  The only thing that blew away was a lid of an old sandbox that my kids no longer use.  There was no way to easily move that before the storm set in.


This is especially important if the weather predictions are specifically stating that power outages are likely and/or you have a well.  We have an electric well pump, so basically when the electricity goes off, we can use the remaining water in the tank, but after that runs out we’re screwed.  Oh how I wish I did this before the power went out.  We were water-less for 5 days.  I feel though, that even if we did save water (in the bathtub, garbage cans, buckets…whatever) we still would have eventually ran out.  Saving water is usually an “in case of”.  No one expected that we’d be without power for 5 days.  I could have taken every necessary precaution and we probably still would have run out of the saved water reserve by day 3.


I have a terrible habit of never carrying any money on my person.  I usually get by paying for everything with my debit card.  In the event of a major natural disaster with an electrical power outage, ATMs are not available for you to use.  Even after the power came back on in many areas, the phone lines were still out.  If you didn’t know, when you use a credit/debit card the POS terminal is basically like a small computer.  It will dial out using a modem and verify that the funds are available at your bank and respond with either “yes” the transaction is good or “hell no” you are broke as fuck.  I can’t say how much to take out.  That’s up to you.  If I had a choice, I’d probably say about 100 dollars or so would be a good start.


This kind of goes hand in hand with the last item…I heard that a lot of gas stations were unable to pump gas when the electricity went out….and those that were up and running were unable to accept credit/debit card.  Whether you are going to need to evacuate, run a generator or simply get to work, its best to make sure you have filled up your tank well in advance of the storm.


This is probably another obvious preparation step, but make sure you are stocked up ahead of the storm.  I’ve pretty much used every single candle that I had in my house during the week without power. I will need to stock up again soon, just in case.  Another helpful thing that I did before the storm was round up all of the candles, matches, lighters and flashlights in a container so they would be easy to locate when/if the power went out.  That way no one broke a limb trying to fumble around for them.  Also, make sure you have advil/tylenol on hand.  Burning all of those perfumy candles all at once can give you a headache!


I pay most of my bills online these days and receive my statements in PDF format through email or the website.  This is completely useless in a power outage.  Write down account numbers & phone numbers and keep it on your fridge, or keep a phone book handy (as much as I despise them…they are handy in a situation like this).


We were hearing reports on TV of people who’s electrical appliances were being fried by the current coming through the house when power was being restored to the area.  Why take the chance of frying a couple hundred dollars of appliances?  “But how will I know when the power comes back on, Michelle?”  Easy.  Listen for when your neighbors stop running their generators.


We were able to get a lot of our information this way.  Obviously, TV was out of the question with no electricity.  And the local stores were closed for at least the first 48 hours after the storm due to no power…therefore…no newspapers, unless we wanted to drive into Dallas to get one which is at least a 20 minute drive.


There has to be a friend, family member, or disaster center close to your area.  Don’t be too proud to ask for help.  Whether its getting a hot shower, washing your clothes, or just getting out of the house to talk to someone.  People are very warm and welcoming during times of need.  Chances are they will be happy to help you….and no, you won’t be burdening them, so don’t feel that way.  During Hurricane Irene, my MIL was our “buddy”.  She was able to take the kids off of our hand for a week until the power returned.  We also showered and washed clothes there.  It was our charging station for cell phones, laptops and the like. BTW, I should note, that my kids were scheduled to go back to school on the Monday after Hurricane Irene was scheduled to hit.  The opening of school was delayed a full week due to flooding and power issues.  I’m thankful for this, because I don’t know how we would have accomplished getting them to school with no utilities.


Things that helped me get through the week:

  • Having a propane gas grill w/ a burner.  We have an electric stove, so cooking indoors was out of the question.  We were able to cook meals on the grill, also the burner on the side was awesome because we made coffee in the morning with it.  I’m sure that burner uses a good portion of the gas in the tank, but hey…its an emergency what do you want.
  • Having a chainsaw.  I bought one for Rich for Father’s day, and it turns out we needed to use it as a tree fell in the yard NARROWLY missing Gabrielle’s bedroom.  You’d be surprised how quickly we were able to get all of the wood and branches chopped up.  Although, I think some of this stems from being bored to death living like an Amish person all week long.
  • Cell phone car charger.  I have AT&T iPhone.  This was my only form of communication for at least 48 hours.  When the power went out, it took the phone line out with it.  Luckily I was able to charge my phone from my car…in fact this became a morning ritual for those 5 days.  I think the first few days, there may have been something going on with the cell tower in the area.  Normally, I’m able to pick up 3G at my house….I was only getting the Edge network for a few days with 1-2 bars of service.  The 3G network eventually returned, as did the rest of the bars…but sheesh, the first few days of communication were tricky.  I had to stand on one foot holding the cell phone while balancing an antenna on my head.  Oh well, at least the neighbors had a good laugh at my expense.
  • Having awesome neighbors.  I have an “I Hate My Neighbors” Category on my blog, and for those of you who have been reading it since the beginning know that I hated my neighbors in Lee Park.  This is no longer the case.  My Sweet Valley neighbors are mostly awesome (with the exception of Drunken Redneck Volleyball….more on them here and here).  We passed information back and forth amongst each other and offered help when needed.
  • Coolers.  We have a large food service type cooler and also a smaller igloo cooler.  We managed to save some stuff out of the fridge from spoiling.  Somethings you just have to accept will be casualties to the natural disaster.  For me, this turned out to be most of the dairy and meat products in the fridge.  We have a deep freezer and were able to save most of the frozen stuff…thankfully.

Things that I have purchased, or will be purchasing for the next time:  (let’s face it, it is only a matter of time until something like this happens again)

  • A battery powered alarm clock.  Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who uses their cell phone as an alarm clock.  I tried to conserve battery power as much as possible with my phone, but still ended up with the battery dying left and right.  If you plan on making it to work or school in the morning, you better have a battery powered something to wake your ass out of bed!
  • A generator.  Obviously, THIS GOES WITHOUT SAYING.  I’m sure as hell not going through this ordeal again if I don’t have to.  Every homeowner usually has a wishlist of things they want to purchase for their house.  A GENERATOR suddenly flew to the top of mine.
  • A camping coffee pot.  I know this sounds ridiculous…but I really need that jolt of caffeine in the morning to get me moving.  I purchased a camping coffee pot from Wal-Mart for 14 dollars.  This can be used if we actually ever go camping and in the next natural disaster.
  • A propane tank?  Maybe we could have at least dried clothes or had food that wasn’t grilled if we had another utility other than electricity.

I’m sure I could think of more, but you get the idea.

Next time around will be different….do you know why?


Suck it, mother nature.

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Hurricane Irene – Post #2

By M Davies   /     Sep 02, 2011  /     Annoyances, Events, NEPA, Wacky PA Weather  /     2 Comments

Well, I'm back online….and it only took 5 days.  We lost power several times throughout the night Saturday into Sunday morning, each time the power would go off, it would come back on just as quickly which was a good thing.  Until about 9am Sunday morning when the lights started flickering.  Around 9:50am (right around the same time that Wilkes-Barre City was having people evacuate from around Solomon's Creek) we lost power.  It did not come right back on as it did during the night.  It was O-U-T, out.  My husband called his brother who lives about 3ish miles away from us up Rte 29 towards Harveys Lake and they were out of power since 3am Sunday morning. 

Fast forward to Sunday night…no power.

Fast forward to Monday….no power.

Fast forward to Tuesday…NO POWER.

Fast forward to Wednesday…NO POWER. 

Fast forward to Thursday morning…No POWER.

I left my house yesterday at around 11am after returning from school and there was no power as of then.  My husband then also left for work and attempted to get a shower elsewhere, and then went out for dinner as all of our food here has spoiled (save for what was in the deep freezer).  At some point yesterday, the power came back on.  It wasn't noticed at first because we were prompted to shut off the power at the breaker.  Several people in the Back Mountain Area (which includes Dallas, Dallas Twp, Kingston Twp maybe?, Lehman, Jackson, Ross and Lake Townships) were reporting that appliances were being fried with the currents running through the house after the power was turned back on in their areas. 

Rich had noticed that several of our neighbors had electricity, and we didn't hear the generators running anymore, so he took his chances and flipped the breaker, and sure enough everything came back on.  Yay!  I came home to a house full of running water and electricity and …. INTERNET.  None of which I have had for the past 5 DAYS. 

I'm still adjusting to things being back to normal….and still trying to collect my thoughts about what I want to say about this disaster, but from what I'm reading this morning, there are still some of my friends that have no power as of this morning.  God, I can only imagine what kind of hell that is right now.  I was ready to snap yesterday on day 5…I can't imagine going into day 6.  I really really really hope power returns to those folks soon.  Also, the TL has an article about Page Ave in Kingston still not having power yesterday.  I'm not sure if they were able to get it back soon, but I hope so.  Also, if you take a gander at the comments below the article, you can read everyone's sentiment.  Basically anyone who hasn't had power for 5 days should suck it up and not complain and be thankful we didn't live through Hurricane Katrina, because those people didn't have anything for months. 

Let me just cut you off right there, asshole arm chair quarterbacks without a clue.  Try to UNWILLINGLY (i.e. not going camping) live with electric for 1 day, let alone 5.  And here's a big fucking news flash for you too.  I don't live in the city.  So I do not have the following utilities:  City Sewer, City Water and Natural Gas or Propane.  I have Electric and Phone.  Those are my only 2 utilities.  I have an electric well pump, which means NO RUNNING WATER, NO SHOWERS, NO FLUSHING TOILETS, no drinking water, no ability to make ice, no way of washing dishes, etc.  Some of my neighbors who have propane were lucky enough to at least have the ability to maybe dry clothes or run their stove, but not I.  And do I need to remind you I have 2 young children as well? 

Anyway, before I get too fired up here, the bottom line is that I am happy that the power is back on and hope that it comes back on for the rest soon.  If there is anything I am able to help anyone locally within the area, let me and I will.  As that is the right thing to do with the hell we've all been through last week.

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