“Did it just get darker?” I wondered. It seemed for a moment as though a huge shadow had crept over the building, as if a huge bird had swooped down and somehow blocked all the windows. Then my computer burped pitifully, the image on the screen collapsing into itself. There was a stunned silence broken only by a chorus of chirping battery backups. The power had gone out.
Did we trip a breaker? I looked out the window. Nope. It turned out the power was out not just on our block, not just in our neighborhood, not just the city. The scope of the outage seemed to get more and more ridiculous as time went on. You name it, they were out, too. Up into Orange County, east past El Centro, all the way to Yuma, and even Baja California. (Whose electric grid, interestingly enough, is linked more strongly to the US, than to mainland Mexico.)
There was nothing to do but go home, and I suppose I was fortunate to be near a freeway entrance. I can tell you that if San Diego ever had to be evacuated, it would be a nightmare. I heard reports on the radio that surface streets in the business districts were virtual parking lots, and the freeways were not much better.
The people on the radio were basically taking reports from callers on the air. Nobody really knew anything, except for SDG&E, and they weren’t going to talk until they were sure what had happened. But they eventually talked.
The local electric grid has two main connections to other grids. One goes to Arizona, and the other, to the Los Angeles area. A worker at a switching station in Arizona somehow interrupted the circuit there and then tried to restore it. This apparently caused a reverberation throughout the grid, causing power plants, substations, and the northbound link to go offline in self defense.
I ate a salad by candlelight and contemplated my disaster preparedness situation. Candles and matches and flashlights I found. There was a jug of water in the fridge. Serendipitously, there was also lettuce in the fridge, otherwise I’d have had to somehow warm a can of beans on the grill. That is, if there was enough propane left to light the thing. I had trouble finding a radio with a matching set of batteries.
And what of all the other things you’re supposed to have in event of a natural (or unnatural) disaster? Heck if I could have produced any of them. First-aid kit? Peroxide and paper towels. Fire extinguisher? Downstairs, somewhere, maybe. And, how about this, a cell charger?
The only way I had to charge my phone during the outage was my car. (I suppose I could have charged it from my laptop, but it has a pretty short battery life, too.) The car was itself a limited resource, since no service stations had power to pump gas. I’d like to get a Minty Boost— it’s basically a USB battery pack. Or better still, there are wind-up radios that can also function as USB power sources and as flashlights.
Despite the revelation of my inadequate disaster preparedness, and my neighbors treating it like a party, and the guy down the street with the obnoxious diesel generator, something good did happen last night. When I stepped out to my car to charge up my phone, I saw something that neither I nor probably anyone else will see ever again. A San Diego sky utterly devoid of light pollution.
It’s hard to believe that the sky really isn’t orange at night, but I saw it with my own eyes.