Irene Compromises Power: Phones, Transit at Risk

By By Alex Sosnowski, expert senior meteorologist.
August 30, 2011, 6:44:46 AM EDT

What will happen when the power goes out from Irene's winds and flooding? Not only do the lights go out and gas pumps won't work, but cell towers may shut down, and internet access may not be available.

As of 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, there are reports of more than four million customers without power from the Carolinas to southern New England. More outages are expected as Irene pushes north along the East Coast.

Saturated ground, waterlogged limbs and strong winds will have more trees coming down and taking power lines with them into tonight.

Not only may people without generators have to face no lights, refrigeration, air conditioning and cold showers for hours, but some folks may have to do without these essentials for days.

Even if your neighborhood has underground utilities, power outages elsewhere can lead to a failure at your home.

BGE photo taken on Aug 25, 2011. Trucks and out-of-state workers are standing by to repair damage from hurricane Irene.

In a press release Maryland Electric Supplier BGE said, in anticipation of power outages from hurricane Irene they have had out-of-state contractors arriving since Wednesday. They expected to have more than 850 contract linesmen, tree personnel and support staff in place Friday and 200 additional overhead linesmen arrived Saturday.

BGE has been loading their trucks with power poles, transformers and other electrical equipment in advance to quicken their response time when the power is interrupted.

There are about 3,700 electric company personnel on standby to restore power throughout the state as quickly as possible.

"While BGE has proactively requested and obtained out-of-state resources to assist in the restoration effort, it also reminds customers that certain types of work, such as repairs requiring the use of bucket trucks, cannot be safely performed when the wind exceeds 25 mph," said A. Christopher Burton, senior vice president of the the gas and electric operations and planning for BGE.

Cell Phones, Computers

What many don't realize is that when the power goes out, your cell phone charge won't last long, and that cell towers also require electricity to run. Not every cell tower has a generator that will hold the fort. Some only have a spare battery charge that lasts for a couple of hours.


If the power is out, your modem/router will not work, or will not work for long if on a battery back-up.

So even though your cell phone is fully charged, some customers may have trouble getting a signal or successful two-way communication.

Improving Mobile Phone Networks in Emergencies

Several years ago, a plan to beef-up cell tower reserve power was turned down by the government, according to PCWorld and IDG News.


No doubt utility crews will be scrambling to repair downed utility lines in the wake of Irene. However, they will not get to every neighborhood on the double.

Make sure you have a full tank of gas in your car, as the pumps need electrical power to run. Otherwise, you may be driving considerable distance to find a gas station that has its pumps running, and you could be facing long lines.

Several refineries in the region are planning to shut down services until the danger of flooding and high winds from Irene has passed.


Many folks in the larger cities don't have automobiles to get where they need to go. The shutdown of mass transit will prove to be a serious problem. It may be more like mass chaos.

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Taxicab services will be busy this weekend. However, that could be a challenge and very costly, especially with up to a foot of rain forecast for the region that will flood streets and intersections.

Irene already began to impact flights along the East Coast earlier this week, and a slew of cancellations are likely this weekend as Irene directly impacts several major airports. Over 6,000 flights have already been cancelled for this weekend.

Saturday, JFK in N.Y. announced there will be no inbound or outbound flights on Sunday. U.S. and International Airlines are canceling all flights along the Eastern Seaboard until after Irene passes.

Some airlines even move their planes out of airports and keep them out until the danger has passed. It could take some time getting planes back to where people are in the wake of Irene.

As a result, Irene will not only impact air travel along the I-95 Northeast, but on an international basis. Many international flights depart from New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, which endured a pounding from Irene. Staff Writer Vickie Frantz contributed to this story.

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