Posted by: reformedmusings | August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene First-hand in Northern Virginia

Well, it’s been an interesting week in NoVA. First we had the 5.8 earthquake, followed the interesting 4.5 aftershock amongst others. This didn’t produce much damage here, but it did crack the top of the Washington Monument and drop some spire tops from the National Cathedral and crack some flying buttresses there.

So, literally days later, Hurricane Irene comes to visit. That’s a once-in-a-century strength earthquake and the biggest damage-producing hurricane since Isabel in 2003. Interesting week here in the DC area.

The big story with Irene was rain. Lots of rain. Steady, heavy and unrelenting as Irene crawled along at 15 knots or so. We’d already had a few major thunderstorms recently, so the ground was pretty saturated at the start. Then we received about 4″ of rain from Irene according to the Reagan National Airport data. The other side of I-95 towards the ocean received much more. With that came winds gusting to over 50 mph for about 8 hours here. Saturated ground + high winds = down trees = massive electrical power losses. That was the same formula as Isabel in 2003 when we lost power for 2 weeks.

Providentially, we prepared well this time. We had enough batteries to launch a Saturn V, a bunch of candles, and more working flashlights than an expedition to the dark side of the moon. We prepositioned the flashlights around the house so there would always be one close by whenever the power inevitably failed. I added more weatherstripping to the bottom of the garage door – a perpetual water leak area. We filled the bathtub with water to fill the toilet tank in case the water pressure disappeared. Washed all the dirty clothes to maximize our range in that regard.

So, we lost power about 2 a.m. (much later than I expected), accompanied by an explosive failure on the pole right in front of the house as well as a large but duller crash. I went around the house shutting down computers to preserve the UPS batteries for things like charging cell phones, which worked throughout the outage. Slept through the rest of the wind pounding rain against the house. Irene produced more rain but didn’t seem to be as windy as Isabel, plus I hoped that all the weak trees were culled during Isabel and the previous weeks’ thunderstorms.

Power mercifully returned around noon, making our outage just about 10 hours. Others weren’t that blessed. The equation of saturated ground + high winds = downed trees and  power lines looked a lot like this:

The tree plus downed power lines block travel in two directions in the intersection. Here you can vividly see the power lines pulled down:

What I didn’t photograph was the destroyed power pole just off of the right side of the picture. Why did the tree fall? Per the formula, its roots system pulled free of the soggy ground:

You can see the root ball pulled right out of the ground. Notice that the large tree took out a chunk of the smaller one on the way down. Imagine if it had fallen the other direction. Providence showed great mercy to those folks. Still, crew worked this one issue most of today.

This scene repeated all around the area (check out the slide show). Net result? Dominion Power’s outage map from 8:20 p.m. as I type this:

The loss dots basically follow the pattern of the densest populated areas. Dominion prepositioned tree removers and power repair teams around the area, being as ready as possible for this outcome. Yet as of tonight, they still haven’t fully assessed the magnitude of the outages. The current estimate stands at 5 million without power so far, with over 50,000 in our area. And we’re not out of the woods yet as far as storm affects go. Once again we see that the illusion of human control is deceitful.

UPDATE: Here’s the impact across Virginia and part of North Carolina:

According to Gov McDonnell, 75% of Richmond and 50% of Hampton Roads is without power today. Dominion says that only Isabel caused greater loss of electrical service than Irene.

I’ve seen headlines that say Irene was over-hyped. I think that the forecasters did the best with what they had, and the preparation certainly saved lives and perhaps some property damage. No, we didn’t get clobbered by a Category 3 monster. I, for one, am not disappointed, but rather grateful to God for His mercy expressed in His superintending providence. Once again we see that the illusion of human control is deceitful.

Continue to pray for those without power, some who may not receive electrical power for a week or two as happened here after Isabel.



  1. The sheer fury of these storms is amazing. Here in Florida we are taught to expect and prepare for hurricanes every season. But we have been very blessed in recent years to have had only minor damage, except during that one summer when a whole parade of storms ran through our part of the state (North central) and left us without power for almost 2 weeks. We “camped” in our house! Other than the extreme heat (air conditioning has spoiled us), it was fun. May God keep those in danger now, though, in Irene’s wake,

    • Hi Robin,

      I moved here from FL the year before the 4 hurricanes smacked FL. I visited the area after the first one and was impressed with the level of destruction. The next one hit the week after I visited. Ouch.

      However, Isabel hit shortly after I moved here in 2003. Just couldn’t get away! As you say, we camped out in the house for 2 weeks, but at least the temperature was pretty good.

  2. […] so far this year we’ve had a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and now an October snow storm. The record for October snow has already been tied at Reagan […]

  3. […] overall impact was far less than the Armageddon anticipated. I’m thinking that Irene last year and the super deracho 6  months ago culled most of the weaker trees. Our immediate area […]

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