With controversies swirling around the DC Public Schools system, including Chancellor Antwan Wilson's daughter being able to bypass the lottery system to transfer schools, what is next for education in the District?
Guest Host: Jim Asendio
Strong winds and heavy rains battered the Washington region this weekend, as Hurricane Irene passed along the Atlantic coast. We talk with local leaders and first-responders, and get a view from the areas most affected by the storm.
- Jonathan Wilson Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Bryan Russo Coastal Reporter, WAMU 88.5; Host, Coastal Connection, 88.3 (Ocean City)
- Richard Meehan Mayor, Town of Ocean City, MD
- Jack Williams Former USA TODAY Weather Editor; freelance writer; and author, "The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide To America's Weather" (Univ. of Chicago Press)
- Phillip Sandino Director of Customer Solutions, Dominion Virginia Power
- Terry Bellamy Director, D.C. Department of Transportation
- Thomas Graham President, Pepco Region
Numbers to Call If Your Power is Out
BGE 1.800.685.0123 or 410.685.0123
Dominion Virginia – 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357)
MR. JIM ASENDIOFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm News Director Jim Asendio sitting in for Kojo. Strong winds and heavy rains battered the Washington region this weekend as Hurricane Irene slowly passed along the Atlantic coast. For the most part, our region was spared the doomsday scenarios we heard in the lead-up to the storm.
MR. JIM ASENDIOBut today, more than 200,000 households still have no electricity. Some schools across Maryland, Virginia and D.C. have canceled classes. And many neighborhoods are still picking up debris and trying to figure out just how to deal with the fallen trees. Still, some people are complaining that the threat of Irene was overhyped by the media and some public officials. This hour, we'll get updates from Pepco and Dominion Power.
MR. JIM ASENDIOWe'll also explore the science of hurricanes, why the path and intensity of this storm was so hard to predict. To help along with that, joining us in the studio is reporter Jonathan Wilson, a WAMU 88.5 reporter from Virginia, also, Jack Williams, the former USA Today weather editor, freelance writer and author of "The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide To America's Weather."
MR. JIM ASENDIOAlso on the telephone is Bryan Russo, our coastal reporter. He's also the host of "Coastal Connection" on our sister station 88.3 in Ocean City. And, also on the phone, Richard "Rick" Meehan, the mayor of the town of Ocean City, Md. Welcome, all of you.
MAYOR RICHARD MEEHANThank you, Jim.
MR. JONATHAN WILSONJim, thank you.
MR. BRYAN RUSSOThank you.
ASENDIOLet's go first out to Jack Williams, right here across the counter here in the studio. Overall, Hurricane Irene, where does Irene fall in -- from the lambs and the lions?
MR. JACK WILLIAMSWell, obviously, it turned out to be somewhat of a lamb, although I'm sure if you're in Vermont now sitting on the top of your wave -- roof waiting for a helicopter rescue, you're not going to agree with that. It -- we can very rapidly -- one interesting thing, the track forecasts were very, very good.
MR. JACK WILLIAMSI went back in the National Hurricane Center archives and looked at the forecasts that had been made on Tuesday. And it had the eye almost at New York City, I think, on Sunday or Monday. They were off a little bit, but the track was almost perfect. Obviously, the intensity forecasting was not on, but that's the big bear for people trying to understand a hurricanes' intensity. It's still very hard to forecast. The track forecast, getting better and better.
ASENDIONow, let's first go out to Ocean City, again, to Bryan Russo. Bryan, throughout the weekend, leading up to the weekend and throughout the weekend, you were reporting on what was going on at Ocean City and along the coast. And that seemed to be the major area of concern leading up to Irene coming past. What are we looking at right now in terms of cleanup, getting back to normal?
RUSSOWell, you know, I had my family out on the boardwalk yesterday as Ocean City opened back the town to not only residents and property owners but also the general public. By noon yesterday, the town was opened back up for business. There was certainly sand on the boardwalk, which was quickly kind of pushed back, and there really was nothing but cosmetic damage to some boardwalk shops.
RUSSOActually, it almost felt like a normal day after a storm. There was really, you know, kind of the sense of, you know, nothing really happened at all.
ASENDIONow, it's ironic you say you had your family out on the boardwalk. I remember, a day before that, you were saying everybody was ordered to clear out by 5 o'clock on Saturday from Ocean City and then the very next day to be in the sunshine, walking along the boardwalk, as though nothing happened.
RUSSOYeah, it was really quite surreal because, you know, I was in and out of Ocean City all through the weekend after the evacuation. And, you know, it was a ghost town. It was something that I'd never really experienced before, you know, driving through the streets, you know, through coastal highway and not seeing a soul and just being pelted with this increasingly, you know, rapid moving storm.
RUSSOAnd then just, you know, less than 24 hours later, to be -- watch my toddler, you know, kind of just skipping down the boardwalk in the sunshine was really quite surreal.
ASENDIOYou're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," and you can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can get in touch through Facebook or tweet us, @kojoshow. The effects of the hurricane seemed to be happenstance. It really depended on where you were. Some people are saying, oh, what was the big deal?
ASENDIOBut in parts of Virginia, I know Jonathan Wilson, our Virginia reporter, you went to Culpeper, and it was hit pretty badly.
WILSONActually, that was the earthquake you're thinking of.
WILSONYou're thinking of two different disasters, which, I guess...
ASENDIOOh, that's right.
WILSON...is indicative of what we've experienced in the area. But in Northern Virginia, we were really quite lucky. A lot of people were saying that this was not the impact that a lot of people were expecting. In Prince William County, I talked to officials that morning when the hurricane was really hitting. They had no roads flood, and this is an area where if we have a spring storm, sometimes they have road closures due to flooding.
WILSONIn Alexandria -- and I wanted to ask Jack about this -- I walked down to the water after the storm passed through, and I talked to some city officials who were telling me this, anecdotally, that the water level had actually gone down. Is that possible? Why is that?
WILLIAMSVery much so. The winds were coming from the west, so, in effect, they were getting -- well, you can almost call it a reverse storm surge. In other words, instead of the winds pushing the water up the river, they were pushing them down the river. And, of course, the Potomac is tidal. I don't know what the range is, but that could have been involved.
WILLIAMSBut the river is going to be a little bit higher now because of all the rain that fell on our area. And that will be rainwater coming down. I don't think we got too much in the mountains, though. So that will probably drain out fairly quickly.
ASENDIONow, let's call in, right now, Richard "Rick" Meehan. He's the mayor of the town of Ocean City, Md. Thank you for joining us, Mayor.
ASENDIONow, in 1985, the last time Ocean City really got hit by a hurricane, you were, I guess, in your first term as a councilman. And now, this time around, some -- a few decades later, you're the mayor. Can you compare the experience, councilman in that hurricane and mayor in this one?
MEEHANWell, that was a long time ago, 1985. I was actually a rookie councilman, and the mayor at that time was Fish Powell. And Fish had a lot of experiences with storms at that time, you know, in the Ocean City area, having grown up here. So I really had an excellent opportunity to learn an awful lot by being there with Fish during the Hurricane Gloria. Gloria was a little different.
MEEHANWe were a little more vulnerable back then to the effects, particularly from the ocean, at that time. That was prior to us building our beach replenishment project, which now consists of a seawall along the boardwalk and a dune system that runs north of the boardwalk all the way to the Delaware line.
MEEHANIn 1985, our boardwalk was completely destroyed by Hurricane Gloria, and that, again, was what really precipitated us moving forward with the project. That storm moved a lot faster through Ocean City, didn't seem to be lingering here in this area as long, came through during the same hours of the late -- early morning, late morning, as did Irene.
MEEHANIn intensity, it was probably a little bit stronger in some ways, although Irene was predicted to surpass the effects that we received from Hurricane Gloria.
ASENDIONow, you had a mandatory -- excuse me -- evacuation for 5 p.m. on Saturday. Monday morning quarterbacking, would you have done the same thing if you had known different information? Or were you -- would you rather be safe than sorry?
MEEHANWell, we're always going to lean towards the side of public safety, and based on the information we've received. And I think the one thing about the information that might have been different, and was different than Gloria, was that the hurricane force winds were predicted to extend 100 miles out from the center of the storm. And tropical force winds were predicted to extend as far as 220 miles to 240 miles out from the center of the storm.
MEEHANSo this meant, if the intensity of the storm remained pretty much as it was predicted to do, even if that storm went a little bit further east, it wasn't going to make significant difference as far as the amount of winds we were going to get. Based on that information, based on the size of the storm, where it was at the time and what we saw was happening, we made the right decision. And, yes, I would make the same decision again.
ASENDIOLet's bring in some of our listeners. Mark, from Herndon, Va., you're on the air. Go ahead.
MARKHi. I'd just like to comment that, you know, I thought the reporting on the storm was good. I'm a sailor. I have a boat down in St. Mary's County. In preparation for the storm, which was obviously a very large storm, I drove five-plus hours down and back from Herndon to take the sails off the boat, batten down the hatches, ensure everything was good, secure the mooring, et cetera.
MARKAnd I did that because a large storm was coming. Now, it didn't hit as bad as it could have. However, I'd rather have the information, be prepared, do what I need to do. If I dodge a bullet -- and, especially as a sailor and a boater, I'm happy to dodge that bullet. I'm happy. But people need to take their own responsibility to decide what they will and won't do based upon what's coming and not gripe afterwards if it doesn't hit that badly.
MARKThey should just really be happy. So I thought the storm reporting was good. People had the information, and they just got to do what they will. But I'd love to have that kind of information and know when a big storm is coming to make my own preparations.
WILLIAMSI have a comment on that. Back in the 1980s, you know, Frank was director of the National Hurricane Center. I'm sure if you're of a certain age you have certainly heard of him and remember him. I heard him say once that, okay, we make our predictions. The officials order an evacuation. You evacuate and come back. And if you find out that your house hasn't been washed away, I'm not going to listen to your complaint.
ASENDIOWell, that's interesting. Mark brought up that boat. I lived for several years in Texas. And when a neighbor wouldn't take his boat out, it was always the storm that took the boat out of the sling and smashed it up against the bulkhead. When he did take it out, he would say, oh, I took it out, and nothing happened. I'd say, yeah, but remember two storms ago you just had to replace your boat.
ASENDIOKaren from Fairfield, Conn., you're on the air. I understand you have a different perspective on this.
KARENWell, slightly different. You know, the thing is, is that we got a lot of notification. In fact, we did prepare. We actually cut down all of the limbs on the tress in our yard that might even potentially hit the neighbor's yard. So we actually did prepare, and I felt -- you know, took the lawn furniture in. I mean, I took it pretty seriously.
KARENBut what we saw was -- we started getting phone calls. And, specifically, the phone call that we got that really kind of upset me was we got a phone call that compared what they were expecting to happen to a flood that had happened in 1992 from a similar storm. And, literally, the tone started to get very aggressive, and it ended with something like, you know, if you flooded then, you're going to flood now.
KARENAnd the problem was the majority of the people in our neighborhood had no idea what happened in 1992. And so what happened was people were out in the street, going, did you know what happened in 1992? Are we going to be affected? And it's not that the warning wasn't valuable. It just had no reference point. So what ended up happening was people ended up getting more upset because there was no reference point.
KARENNow, what was interesting was the next town up actually had -- actually, the -- Westport had a map on their website that gave you an idea if you were in an area that probably would be effective. That probably would have been a better tactic. What ended up happening was people ended up getting more upset.
ASENDIOAnd that's what we always tell our reporters, content and context.
ASENDIOWe have an email from Peter in Arlington. "Despite the loss of life, it appears that much of the East Coast was spared the worst possible damage. As the storm approached, the authorities and news outlets, including WAMU, characterized this as historic, massive and powerful. Its path did have New York City in its crosshairs, and its course followed nearly the entire mid-Atlantic coastline. The potential was -- for a widespread disaster was there.
ASENDIO"I understand exercising an abundance of caution. However, since this hurricane arrived as a Category 1 and weakened from there, its potential to cause massive damage diminished. Now that we know what happens when the storm this size hits us, is there a risk that people will not heed warnings when another storm targets us? Emergency planners know that sounding the alarm prematurely tends to make citizens complacent."
ASENDIO"People may not take action to protect themselves when really necessary." Let's go out to Bryan Russo, our coastal reporter. What do you think, Bryan? Is this a sort of Chicken Little, and now people won't respond next time?
RUSSOWell, it's interesting in this region because, you know, hurricane season is an annual thing. And if you've lived here long enough, you kind of almost become desensitized to, I guess, the risk of storms hitting our region. And, you know, I've talked to some business owners over the weekend that said, oh, it's just going to be a nor'easter, and everybody, all of a sudden, becomes a meteorologist because they've lived down here for a few years.
RUSSOAnd I think that there are some people that, you know, really -- because it's a seasonal resort and there's only that 100 days to really make your living, some business owners really -- you know, not even a hurricane could stop the machine of tourism in their eyes. So I think, though, that the city understands that, and they certainly, you know, erred to the side of caution and made the right decision to evacuate almost 200,000 people, including another 4,000 students that were here from all over the globe.
RUSSOAnd that's the first time that the international students were evacuated off the island. And there actually was a plan in place to get them to safety because they have no transportation to get themselves off the island if, in case, this storm was as, you know, intense as it was projected to be. So, certainly, the city is kind of in between a hard -- a rock and a hard place.
RUSSOYou know, they -- you know, they're either going to, you know, keep public safety in mind, but in doing so and in evacuating the town, they hurt the businesses. The most interesting...
RUSSOThe most interesting thing was, is that I was on the boardwalk yesterday night, and I talked to a gentleman who's owned a boardwalk shop for about 30 years. And I asked him, you know, if he thought that he could rebound from the amount of days that he lost from the storm. And he said, really, you know, Friday was a nice day for the most part when they evacuated.
RUSSOBut Saturday, nobody would have been there anyway because there was a hurricane. And Sunday was back open. So, you know, in his mind, he really only lost one day of business.
ASENDIOLet's go to Mayor Meehan. Rick, you're the mayor of the town of Ocean City. What are you telling people now? I know you had to face the music when you had the evacuation. I know, from talking to college students, a lot of them were planning to go down because it was one of the last weekends before classes start. What are you telling people right now?
MEEHANWhat do you mean? I'm not sure I follow your question.
ASENDIOIn terms of coming to Ocean City, are some people expecting damage or not to be back in business? And from what Bryan has been telling us, it's -- you're ready, willing and able.
MEEHANAbsolutely. When we reopened the town officially at 12 o'clock yesterday, I told everybody the sun would be out shortly and you're going to see people starting to come back in town. And that's exactly what happened. The ironical thing is I ran into Bryan and his family on the boardwalk yesterday afternoon. And we were both up there talking about how fast all the businesses were getting opened, how fast the boardwalk had been cleared.
MEEHANAs Bryan mentioned, there had been some sand on the boardwalk. Really, that was about it. The businesses that didn't get open yesterday afternoon got open this morning. If you came to town now by -- you'd look around, and you would not really even know that any storm of any type of major consequence had been through Ocean City. So we're geared up. We're ready to go. You know, we're letting everybody know that everybody is open.
MEEHANThe hotels, the restaurants are open. And we're expecting a big crowd as the week progresses in -- on into Labor Day weekend.
ASENDIOMayor Rick Meehan, the mayor of the town of Ocean City, Md., thanks for joining us. And, Jonathan Wilson, our reporter from Virginia, thanks for joining us as well. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm WAMU News Director Jim Asendio, sitting in today for Kojo. We'll continue our conversation about Hurricane Irene and the aftermath in a moment. Stay with us.
ASENDIOWelcome back. I'm WAMU News Director Jim Asendio, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm speaking about Hurricane Irene and the aftermath. Joining me in the studio is Jack Williams, the former USA Today weather editor, freelance writer and author of "The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America's Weather."
ASENDIOAlso on the lines now, Phillip Sandino, the director of customer solutions at Dominion Virginia Power, and also, Thomas Graham, the president of Pepco. Let's first go to Phillip Sandino, director of customer solutions at Dominion Virginia Power. What's -- where do we stand right now, Mr. Sandino, in terms of customers, businesses out of power, still with no electricity?
MR. PHILLIP SANDINOHey, Jim, I can break it down in a couple of ways, Northern Virginia and then system-wide. Right now in Northern Virginia, there are 17,000 customers remaining without power. That's down from 173,000 at the peak. And we're saying that we're going to have 97 percent or so of our customers back on in Northern Virginia by the end of the day, and then the remaining in the worst part hits -- or worst-hit parts of the territory, which is Alex, Arlington, Springfield, on Tuesday night, and then Fredericksburg, which is also -- we consider Northern, had a different type of damage.
MR. PHILLIP SANDINOIt was more extensive, and the -- probably the last remaining customers there, it's looking like Friday night. System-wide, we have 615,000 customers without power, and that's down from 1.2 million at the peak for the entire system.
ASENDIOWhen you look at the kind of damage, was it the water, the wind, or the wind knocking over trees onto power lines? What was it?
SANDINOWind and trees. The damage that we saw -- we consider for Northern Virginia was widespread, moderate damage. And for the system overall, we have different type of damage in Northern Virginia than we did in Central and Eastern. And in Central and Eastern, we considered pretty extensive significant damage with pockets of catastrophic damage.
ASENDIOIf you have any questions for Virginia Dominion or for Pepco -- both companies are accustomed to dealing with bad weather and also dealing with some of the bad press afterwards -- please, call us at 1-800-433-8850. You can send an email to email@example.com. You can follow us on Twitter and on Facebook as well. You can send us a tweet on Twitter, @kojoshow.
ASENDIOLet's go to Thomas Graham, the president of Pepco. Same kind of scenario, what was causing the most damage? And where do we stand right now?
MR. THOMAS GRAHAMRight now, we have about 51,000 customers out of service. That's down from 220,000 at the peak. Clearly, the major cause are large trees coming down on power lines, snapping poles, so that's really been our challenge to this point.
ASENDIOAnd in terms of the extent of it, are we talking mostly in Montgomery County or throughout the region?
GRAHAMActually, Prince George's County was hardest hit. Currently, we have about 28,000 customers out of service in Prince George's County. And at one time, I believe, we were very close to about 100,000. In Montgomery County, that number is around 12,000 right now. In the District of Columbia, about 10,000 customers are out of service.
ASENDIOHow do you prioritize? I know many schools are still -- they've canceled classes today because they don't have power. Do they go to the top of the list or hospitals? How do you prioritize?
GRAHAMPrioritization would be based on safety, health facilities, let's say a water treatment plant, things of that nature. Then we try to restore service to our large infrastructure. In this particular case, I believe we had about six substations that were shut down due to tree strikes. So much of yesterday was spent on trying to restore the subtransmission system. We've been successful.
GRAHAMWe've been able to restore service, operations to all those substations now. And, as a result of that, we've been able to bring back tens of thousands of customers.
ASENDIONow, on Friday, Pepco sent out a robocall to customers that warned of power outages. And some people felt that this was sort of a cop out, intentionally lowering the bar. Can you explain why Pepco put out that call?
GRAHAMActually, it was a service that we were providing our customers, to let them know that we are prepared and also to let them know that they should be prepared as well. I believe other utilities also provided that same type of message. But it's something new. We made it to 640,000 customers. We thought it would be a service to them, a benefit to them.
GRAHAMAnd I believe if this situation occurred again, you know, certainly, we will consider the same action.
ASENDIONow, I know you -- power companies, utilities take a lot of action before a storm, but many times we don't hear about that. I noticed that the days leading up to the hurricane coming here, that on the highways I saw many more private contractors, you know, tree trimming services, you know, dump trucks, those kinds of things. Did you have to stage a lot of people, expecting the worst?
GRAHAMAbsolutely. We had a staging area in Montgomery County in the fairgrounds. We also set up operations in District of Columbia and also operations in Prince George's County. We -- we've had crews that had been in town from Ohio, crews from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana coming to support us. We have more crews that are coming in today. Our planning process began on Monday.
GRAHAMWe started seeking legal assistance around Tuesday, and those resources started to come on the system around Wednesday. So, at this point, we have several hundred mutual systems crews. And our total workforce is well over 1,000, probably in the neighborhood of, you know, over 1,500. And then when you include that to other support personnel, we're over 2,400 individuals, contractors, employees that are dedicated to restore service for our customers.
ASENDIOAnd, Phillip Sandino, director of customer solutions at Dominion Virginia Power, same question, did you have to stage people? And, you know, how did you tell customers beforehand what they needed to do?
SANDINORight. Yeah, we -- our preparations -- we have a team of meteorologists that were watching the storm as it was developing over -- across the, you know, coast of Africa. And within that time, the meteorologists were guiding us, telling us what we should expect, and we started building models. So our planning started, you know, a week before. We started to order additional materials. We started to stage personnel -- pre-stage personnel, I should say.
SANDINOAnd then we started daily meetings or conference calls with everybody who was going to be on the storm team and start, you know, to review our action plans and get people who had storm roles to start clearing their schedules out to know that they had to -- needed to react.
ASENDIONow, we have a couple of emails here, one from Ernie in Arlington, Va. He says, "Having spent a lot of time in Europe, where there is extensive underground burial of power lines, I wonder why we have not gone that route here in the U.S., especially here in Virginia where I live. Not only does that approach get rid of the unsightly poles and lines, but it also protects the system from weather.
ASENDIO"Expense is not an acceptable answer because other countries have done it." Your answer to that, let's go to Tom Graham of -- the president of Pepco. Why can't we put everything underground?
GRAHAMWe've actually looked at that a number of times. The cost is anywhere between about $3- to $11 million per mile. That is cost-prohibitive. There are a number of utilities across the country have done similar studies. In every case, it was determined that to underground all facilities, the benefits weren't there.
GRAHAMTo do selective undergrounding, there were some benefits there that at a cost $3- to $11 million per mile, when you consider we have about 14,000 aerial miles of wire, you get into the billions of dollars.
GRAHAMAnd that cost would be incurred by our customers.
ASENDIOAnd, Phillip Sandino of Dominion Virginia Power, is that the same situation in Virginia?
SANDINOWell, there are areas where undergrounding is very common in the Dominion system. And, you know, we work with localities to decide what their preference is and also what certain types of customer classes that require it. But, eventually, power lines come above ground. As far as the example goes, you know, there's different safety standards for underground transmission in different countries.
SANDINOSo not that it's not safe -- I mean, we believe in the technology. We believe in doing it, but it does -- cost benefit has to be taken into consideration when you're doing that. It's just the system is, you know, for, like, the state of Virginia's so large it -- the expense itself would not be -- would not offset the benefits.
ASENDIOWhen you talk about the federal government talking in billions and in trillions and all, it's hard to wrap your head around even $3- to $11 million per mile. On a customer basis, could you give me an indication, that if I'm spending $50 a month for electricity service, how would that change my bill if you started a program to put everything underground?
SANDINOI really haven't looked at that number myself per customer cost. I just know that the -- there was a group. I believe it was called Shaw Consultants, and they did a study recently in the District of Columbia. And that was kind of the feedback we received.
SANDINOAlthough, you know, we are open to undergrounding, we have our liability enhancement plan that we've been executing over the last year, which also explains why we have so many contractors on our system now. We have several hundred that have been working on improving reliability for our customers. And part of that plan is to look at select undergrounding, again, where it make sense.
ASENDIOLet's go to Mark on the line from Fredericksburg, Va. Mark, are you there?
MARKYes, I am. Thank you. Thank you for letting ask a question. I'm a Dominion customer. And this morning when I called to find out the status of the line improvements in my area, where my power is out -- I live in Dahlgren, Va., which is about 50 miles south of Washington. We're still on your broadcast area for WAMU.
MARKBut when I called the power company to get the update, they told me I was in a region with 17,000 customers with no power, which sounds like Northern Virginia, and that they expect to turn the power on today, probably by one o'clock. But then I heard your Dominion representative say that he was anticipating that customers in the neighborhood of Fredericksburg, which I don't know whether that includes me or not, might have to wait until Friday to get our power on.
MARKAnd I guess I'm a little confused and wondering whether the Dominion man would like to expand a little bit on what he said and maybe help out some of these outlying listeners to find out whether we're in trouble or not and just how much anticipation we have to pause here on before we get our power turned back.
ASENDIOOkay. Phillip Sandino from Dominion Virginia Power, you're on.
SANDINOYes. First of all, I'm sorry for your power being out. It's a great problem when people's power are out. And we're working hard to get it back on. Now, I would say to that, you know, I'm giving generalities here. The best thing to do or the best information you will get is, you know, you have your account number. You call in to 866-DOM-HELP, and they give you a number for your return of service. That's your number. That's your estimate.
SANDINOThat is -- our people who are doing the work of putting those estimates into a system, and that number's being given to you. So nothing I'm saying here is going to overrule that number. You're getting a more accurate -- I'm just -- as far as the last customer, I guess, where the line has the worst problem, that's a general estimate we're giving. So I'm glad to hear that you'll be on sooner.
ASENDIOOkay. I want one more question about this, particularly for the representatives from the power companies. And we see this every now and then when we have a power outage. This is a email from B. Willet. (sp?) He says, "I'm still without power, but the synagogue next door to me never loses power. What's up with that? Aren't we on the same grid? Am I a second class customer?"
ASENDIONow, I've experienced that myself in my apartment building, that our building will stay on, but the houses right next door will be without power. Is there a different grid for big buildings or religious institutions?
SANDINOCircuits can come close to each other, so, in those particular situations where if there's an outage across the street from an area that's energized, they're literally on a different circuit.
ASENDIOAnd is that the same situation with Pepco?
GRAHAMYes, I would agree with that.
ASENDIOOkay. Thank you very much for joining us. That's Thomas Graham, the president of Pepco and also Philip Sandino the director of customer solutions with Dominion Virginia Power. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm WAMU News Director Jim Asendio, sitting in for Kojo. We'll continue with our conversation in a moment, so, please, stay with us.
ASENDIOAnd welcome back. I'm WAMU News Director Jim Asendio, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about Hurricane Irene and the aftermath. If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or a tweet, @kojoshow. And you can follow us through the Facebook page as well.
ASENDIOJoining me in studio, Jack Williams, a former USA Today weather editor, freelance writer and author of "The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America's Weather." Also, on the telephone is Bryan Russo, our coastal reporter and the host of "Coastal Connection" on our sister station 88.3 in Ocean City. Now, Bryan, you've been riding shotgun with emergency officials for the past several days.
ASENDIOHave you noticed new technology that they have been using, either the way they communicate or to follow the storm?
RUSSOWell, certainly, they've been working hand-in-hand with the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as NOAA. And they track this thing, you know, minute by minute. But, I mean, there is still a sense of, you know, almost predicting the future with trying to track these storms and how quickly they can move, you know, and change course.
RUSSOAll week long, people were very concerned, more concerned than I've ever really seen them in, you know, eight or nine years of living here and six or seven years in covering this region. People were very concerned, and the public was concerned, too. And, you know, on Sunday, after the press conference, I was talking to City Manager Dennis Dare, and he says, you know, we really got lucky.
RUSSOBut as far as the information being disseminated, I think the one thing that they were surprised the most about was that the public was able to get the information much quicker. And they noted that social medias, like Facebook and Twitter, got that information out much quicker than 1985 when Hurricane Gloria hit.
ASENDIOYou know, Jack Williams, the professionals, have thing -- we hear about Doppler radar and all these kind of things. Is it still science and art? Or is it all science now?
WILLIAMSThere's still quite a bit of art to it, especially when it comes to forecasting intensity changes. And -- but even in track forecasting -- you know, the basic forecasting is done. There's a lot of data's fed into the computers. The computers grind out the models. These have been steadily improving. And they use a whole suite of models to predict hurricanes.
WILLIAMSBut then the human element comes in, adding that little bit of extra human knowledge and especially experience to do it. The technology has been steadily improving, going back to the first weather satellites in the 1950s. They're getting better. The next big thing on the horizon, NASA, NOAA and several other institutions are going to be running a big experiment next year's hurricane season, flying Global Hawk unmanned aircraft in the hurricanes.
WILLIAMSAnd these guys can hang around over the top of a hurricane for hours and hours and watch what's going on all the time close up. Satellites are, you know, pretty far away. Airplanes that fly in the hurricanes, NOAA P3s and the Air Force C-130s, they fly in and out the hurricane. But they stay above about 10,000 feet when it's a strong storm, and there are a lot of things going on down at the bottom of the storm that are very important.
WILLIAMSBut -- and weather radar is improving. There will be -- you will start hearing about polarized weather radar that's working now in some parts of the country, and also phased array radar, which was developed by the Navy to be able to watch for incoming missiles skimming over the ocean. And it directs the beam electronically instead of having your big tower spinning it around.
WILLIAMSAnd that's being adapted for use for weather forecasting, so radar will get quicker snapshots. The problem with hurricanes is that, until they get close to shore, radar can't see them. Radar waves don't follow the curve of the earth.
ASENDIOYou know, it's interesting as you talked about the Orion P-3s and the C130s. I've ridden in a couple of those into storms. And when you talk about the unmanned vehicles, I can still see the people from the agencies going, oh, you're a reporter. You want to go up and want to -- 'cause they get a kick out of, you know, us turning green in the back.
WILLIAMSRight. You know, see, I think I've done of those flights over the years. Last one was Rita, the day before it hit New Orleans. And I have a theory about weakening hurricanes. Put me on a NOAA airplane going into it. Rita was beginning to weaken when my plane went in. Fran, which hit North Carolina back in the early 2000s, we came into it, and the eye wall on the southeast side was disappearing.
WILLIAMSThe storm was this -- so, you know, hey, just put me on one of those NOAA planes, and we'll stop the hurricanes.
ASENDIOThat's part of the art. Joining us on the phone now is Terry Bellamy, the director of D.C.'s Department of Transportation. Thanks for joining us, Terry.
MR. TERRY BELLAMYThank you very much for having me.
ASENDIONow, throughout the lead up to the hurricane coming to the D.C. region and afterwards, I kept getting alert -- D.C. alerts talking about different roads closing. What did you learn this time? It seemed like you were pretty much on the ball and on the case as soon as you had to shut down a road, particularly through Rock Creek Park or areas where you had some tree down.
ASENDIOYou seemed to be pretty fast about doing it. How did you stay in contact with all of your crews out on the street?
BELLAMYWhat happened is that they deployed -- the mayor deployed the emergency center. And so we all sit in to -- we all sit in a center. And so we have police, fire, representatives of federal agencies. And when a closure occurs, they let us know in the center, and then it's dispatched to the crews.
ASENDIONow, do you have any issues with either private homeowners, private property owners or the power companies with maintenance of the trees? It seems that -- you go throughout D.C. and the region -- there are areas that -- the medians in the highways, they have not been trimmed. So, instead of a little bush growing between (word?), there's a tree or branches covering signs and those kinds of things.
ASENDIOAnd you drive throughout the streets of the District, it seems the same way. Who's responsible? Is it the power company, the property owner? You have to deal with all of this.
BELLAMYWell, some of the right-of-way, we're responsible for. In some cases, it's maybe National Park Service. It all depends on what road you're on. And in some, it's private property. So the District, as you know, we've got about 140,000, 150,000 trees. And we work with our power partners. They do do trimming throughout the year. And so, from time to time, it's all about coordination, who's working where.
BELLAMYAnd if it's blocking a sign, we try to put it on our schedule and go and trim it back, so the signs can be seen.
ASENDIONow, take, for instance, right now, if someone calls in, they're a D.C. resident. There's a tree down across the street. Walk us through the process. Who do they contact? And what should they expect?
BELLAMYIf they have a tree down, they contact 311. 311 is the citywide call center. The call center would then dispatch that service request to DDOT. We would then contact our field crews. If it's some wires in it, in many cases, we'll contact Fire Emergency Services just to make sure that the resident is safe. And then upon seeing -- if there is wires in the trees, we then contact Pepco because first responders cannot work on a tree if there's wires in the tree.
BELLAMYIf there's no wires in the tree, we then contact our contractor and put that tree on our list for removal.
ASENDIOSo you're definitely advising that I don't get my ladder out and cut my -- cut the tree, try to trim it myself?
BELLAMYCorrect. And a lot of people, they look at the wires and think that they're safe just because it's down. But we really have asked people do not try to trim back those trees with those wires. First responders, the first thing we have taught, if there's wires around, you need to stay at least two-pole lengths away from those wires.
ASENDIOThank you very much. That's Terry Bellamy, the director of D.C.'s Department of Transportation. Let's go to a tweet from Randy LaManda. (sp?) He says, "I think the hurricane warnings are used to sell stuff and stimulate the economy," with an exclamation point there. Here's a -- Justin from Virginia. "I'm surprised that people are upset at the response to Irene. The national media only seemed to hype up the storm because it was not as bad as it was appearing to be.
ASENDIO"Besides, the national media tends to play up stories, for example, the earthquake. Are we next going to be surprised at water flowing downhill or trees casting shade? Also, why be upset at taking safety measures, which turned out that they were not necessary? Yes, it is convenient, but not as inconvenient as not taking any precautions and getting caught with our pants down." Let's go to Richard from Fort Washington, Md. Richard, you're on the air.
RICHARDThank you very much for taking my call. This is for the Pepco representative. I'm a resident of Fort Washington, Md. I have been calling the Pepco lines -- phone lines continuously since Saturday at 8 p.m., and all I get I is a voicemail or the automated system. Is there a command center? Where can I call to get a real person that would tell me the status, or even if you are aware that I have a power failure?
ASENDIOOkay. Thomas Graham from Pepco is now off the line, but we will take your telephone number and information off air and get that information to Pepco. Jack Williams, as we begin to wrap up, were there any things that the forecasters can learn from Irene, either tracking it, the intensity, the path, anything?
WILLIAMSI'm sure there will be. And, of course, the airplanes that fly into the hurricane collected a lot of data. All the satellite and radar data is available for scientific study. I'm positive this is going to be looked at very closely. For instance, hurricanes go through what they call an eye wall replacement cycle. You have a small eye wall. The winds are going very fast. And a second eye wall forms around this main eye wall.
WILLIAMSAnd that begins to rob the inflowing warm humid air that's feeding the eye wall, so the small eye wall dies. The winds drop. It's just like an ice skater spinning real fast, and then she raises her arms. And she slows down. Then that new eye wall begins to contract. Well, at one stage, Irene was starting this eye wall replacement cycle. But, for some reason or another, she said, no, I don't think I'll bother with that this time.
WILLIAMSAnd so that's one of the reasons that it weakened. You know, it was starting a cycle that would weaken it and then make it stronger, and it just never finished that. And I'm sure that's one of the particular things that they'll be looking at in Irene. There might be some lessons there for the future.
ASENDIOWhen we read these emails and tweets and these kinds of things from people who are upset, either that their power is not back on or that they took precautions that weren't necessary, what do you tell them?
WILLIAMSWell, what can you tell them? I mean, you know, Mother Nature really doesn't care about you. And so it's a good idea to be ready for the worst. And if the worst doesn't happen, you know, hey, let's celebrate it because that's life.
ASENDIOWell, it seems that, you know, particularly the caller that we had from Connecticut, she was saying that people didn't have historical knowledge, that we move around as a society so much that when you say, back in '92, this happened, well, in '92, I was in Ohio. It seems to beg the question that you should find out the weather history in any area that you plan to move to.
WILLIAMSRight. And if you're living anywhere near the coast -- over the years, the National Hurricane Center and, I think, the Army Corps of Engineers have run the models -- they use forecast storm surge, and they run theoretical for every possible storm in every area of the coast, from Maine down to Brownsville, Texas, and also Puerto Rico. And they use these to complete maps.
WILLIAMSAnd every county emergency management office should have these maps available. So you move somewhere near the coast. Ask around because someone should have those maps for your area. And then you say, okay, I'm in a flood zone. And then you'll know the next time. As the woman from Connecticut said, apparently the people in the next town over had that information.
WILLIAMSAnd, you know, maybe, in her case, local emergency officials should do more to publicize. Hey, we have these maps. Look at them, and then you'll know next time.
ASENDIOLet's go to Pete from Solomons Island, Md. Pete, you're on the line.
PETEYeah, I just wanted to let people know that -- I hear a lot of people saying that the storm was overhyped. But I can tell you that, in Howard County and St. Mary's County, it was anything but. It looks like a war zone in places through here, with trees through houses, trees on the road, trees all over the power lines. And it was good to have a good, solid warning of what was to come, at least for the people here.
PETEPerhaps the damage was localized to these two counties in Southern Maryland, but I did want people to know that we really got hit very hard down here. So it wasn't blown out of proportion by what we've seen.
ASENDIOThank you very much. That's Pete from Solomons Island, Md. Bryan Russo, our coastal reporter, does that echo what you saw throughout the past couple of days, particularly in the aftermath, that it really depends where you were and how hard you got hit?
RUSSOCertainly. I mean, this was not a weak storm. I mean, it affected and damaged a lot of things up and down the coast. You know, it just seems that Ocean City was, for the most part, very much spared. But just north in Delaware, along Route 1, Delaware was hit very hard, inland in Delaware. Even inland in Worcester and Wicomico counties were hit pretty hard.
RUSSOSo, you know, there may be some people, you know, as you said, playing Monday morning armchair quarterback and saying that maybe the town overreacted. But I think, you know, there's more of a sense of just how lucky, you know, the town of Ocean City, you know, was from this hurricane. And they should be very thankful that they're going to be one of the few resorts on the East Coast that are going to be open and ready to go for Labor Day weekend.
RUSSOSo I think that that information, you know, did need to get out there because I was in it and getting blown around and things rocking off of my house and watching things in my town, you know, being battered by trees and heavy winds and, you know, stinging rains. And this was not a light storm. It just may have not been the behemoth that they were forecasting.
ASENDIOCoastal reporter Bryan Russo, thanks for joining us. Also, thanks to Jack Williams, the former USA Today weather editor, freelance writer and author of the book "The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America's Weather." "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Taylor Burnie, with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein.
ASENDIODiane Vogel is the managing producer. A.C. Valdez is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archive, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. You're also invited to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm WAMU News Director Jim Asendio, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for listening.
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