Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lessons learned: About predictions, frequency and strength of hurricanes every year.

UPDATE: Briefly, before we get to hurricane predictions (later in this blog post) there is new news to report. . . 

Palm Beach Post reporter Joe Capozzi has a front page article today in the Sunday print edition (excerpt below) that just might be what the editorial board at the Post has been waiting for.

Hard to believe but today marks three hundred and eighty-four days since the editor(s) at the Post have editorialized about this City of Lake Worth. That’s right, 384 days, one year and nineteen days.

And for those of you here during Hurricane Irma last year you may recall it was Capozzi who hunkered down and helped this City get out information to the public via Twitter. A few days prior to Irma all the staff and reporters were taken by surprise when they were told they couldn’t use the Post headquarters on S. Dixie Hwy. as shelter during the storm. That’s when almost everyone at the Post scooted and/or hauled ass out of town. And shortly thereafter the story made the news by Marc Caputo at Politico and all over Florida.

But anyhow, Capozzi’s news hit the print edition today on page A1 above the fold with a terrible headline. Open-ended questions in headlines should always be avoided by headline editors. Here is the original headline in the online edition:

Did gunman open fire on Lake Worth transformer, blacking out city?

Now today’s headline, another open-ended question:

Could power outages have been sabotage?

Here are the opening two paragraphs from Capozzi’s story:

LAKE WORTH — It was disturbing enough that a transformer in the city’s main electrical substation exploded in a fireball on a calm April night, knocking out power for seven hours to all of Lake Worth.

But after the fire was out, crews inspecting the damaged device saw something sinister — a jagged hole that looked like it was intentionally made by a projectile, perhaps even a bullet. They also noticed holes and nicks in other nearby equipment.

And also cited in Capozzi’s article is the “ZOMBIE ALERT”, the breaking news by former Post reporter McKenna Ross on May 21st:

 In a Sun Sentinel news report was this line: “The alert had a resident, Wes Blackman, asking: ‘Was the system hacked or just a dumb joke?’ ”

To order your “ZOMBIE ALERT” T-shirt
use this link.

Now on to hurricane predictions and other lessons learned over the years. . .

Below in this blog post, once again, is “The lesson from Hurricane Wilma” and why this lesson is so important for residents of this City and all customers of the Lake Worth Electric Utility (LWEU).

Projections and predictions receive a lot of social media ‘clicks’ which the press and media follow frantically every single hour, they sell more newspapers and they make for really cool 10-second spots promoting the 6:00 and 11:00 o’clock news.

But other than that those predictions and projections don’t matter a hill of beans. Why? It doesn’t matter if it’s predicted to be a slow Season or a high Season for hurricanes. Because it only takes one, take for example what happened in August 1992. That terrible storm forever changed the building and construction codes here in the State of Florida.

In 1992 the first storm didn’t form until April, a subtropical storm, and it just fell apart. In June there was a topical depression that was quite significant, dropping a lot of rain on Florida. In late July another tropical depression formed and later became a ”fish storm” in the Atlantic. Then another tropical depression formed. A small, tightly-formed storm that weakened into a minimal storm. That minimal storm a little later was given a name: on August 23rd Hurricane Andrew hit the Bahamas with 165 mph winds and shortly thereafter at Category 5, Andrew hit Homestead.

At Biscayne National Park there is a plaque that reads,
“On Monday, August 24,1992, at 4:30 a.m., the eye wall of Hurricane Andrew passed over this point before striking Homestead and southern Miami-Dade County.”

Now to another hurricane. . .

The lesson from Hurricane Irma was:

Prepare for the 2018 Hurricane Season.
Get your trees ready for the next hurricane!

Do you remember this video?
Outage Update following Hurricane Irma.
September 12th, 2017.

Delivering the information above is LWEU Dir. Ed Liberty. Here is another important message:

“Planting the right tree in the
right place is the single most important thing [electric
utility] customers can do.”
—Bud Fraga

Below is more about this quote from Bud Fraga along with more information as reported in the Post by reporter Susan Salisbury post-Hurricane Irma. Also below is an excellently written and composed Letter to the Editor published in the Post on this important topic.

Here in the City of Lake Worth, Hurricane Irma provided us a very important lesson without as much pain inflicted like the storms of lore: Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and then Wilma in 2005. The fewest days I was without power was after Frances, ten days. After Hurricane Matthew in 2016 went one day without power and then five days sans electricity following “monster storm” Irma last year.

Every hurricane is different and each
one teaches us a lesson.

The lesson from Irma was as clear as can be. Prepare for the next hurricane: get your trees and vegetation clear of the power lines on both public and private property.

The City of Lake Worth is unique in that we have our own Electric Utility, a Tree Board, and there are many educational opportunities like the annual Tree Festival each February and places to visit such as the popular Grey Mockingbird Community Garden, to name just one of many. So we have the tools in place to get the word out. But the problem is, will it?

It’s not like we weren’t warned repeatedly post-Hurricane Irma by many reporters, the Post’s Susan Salisbury is just one, “After Irma: Why planting the right tree in the right place matters”.

Frances, Jeanne and Wilma taught us how important hardening and fortifying the electrical grid is. We learned that lesson well. Matthew taught us how important it is for a city to be well prepared ahead of time. Another lesson learned. Only time will tell if we learn the lesson from Irma.

A Letter to the Editor by Mr. Lippman of Boynton Beach published in the Post:

“It appeared to me that most of the damage during the recent storm [Hurricane Irma] was done by falling trees and tree branches. But with few exceptions, palms were not the problem. Hardwood trees were.
     In my community, the standard set by Palm Beach County for a typical 5,000 square-foot property is followed, and that calls for one palm tree and two hardwood trees. Whatever the reason for county regulations requiring the planting of hardwood trees, it should be modified so they are kept at a safe distance from the roofs of homes and other structures, from roadways and, most importantly, from power lines. [emphasis added]
     It is not enough to require Florida Power & Light [Lake Worth has its own Electric Utility service area] to properly prune hardwoods near power lines. They [hardwood trees] shouldn’t be there in the first place. And planting them on grass medians in the middle of roadways is asking for trouble.
     If a certain number of hardwood trees is environmentally desirable, perhaps they should be clustered on golf courses, on very large properties and in parks where they can do little harm when the winds attack them.”

Going forward, it’s not as if there isn’t enough source material to educate the public. Some of this information has been out there for many years now:

Right Tree Right Place is all about
Trees and Power Lines”:

  • Find the right tree. “Before selecting your tree, make sure you know how tall, wide and deep it will be at maturity, and whether it’s a problem tree.”
  • Choose the right spot. “At maturity, will your trees’ canopy reach the overhead lines?”
  • Work safely. “Whether you’re planting a tree, preparing your property for storm season or picking fruit, remember to stay safe and stay far away from power lines at all times.”

And this too, Trees under and near power lines from the University of Florida.

Here are two excerpts from Salisbury’s article cited above:

     The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission began requiring utilities to manage vegetation growth along the path of their larger power transmission lines after shoddy tree-trimming around major power lines by Ohio Utility First Energy Corp. was found to be the root cause of an Aug. 14, 2003 blackout that cut power to 50 million people in the U.S. and Canada.

and. . .

     In Florida, a law that took effect in 2010 prohibits trees that will grow taller than 14 feet from being planted in utility rights-of-way. That law also requires utilities to conduct trimming in rights-of-way and prohibits municipalities from requiring utilities to obtain a permit to cut trees and vegetation.
     But utilities have no control over vegetation outside their rights-of-way. [emphasis added]
     That, FPL says, is where homeowners come in.
     Customers can do their part by planting the right tree in the right place — away from power lines — and by keeping trees trimmed before hurricane season each year, FPL says.
     “Planting the right tree in the right place is the single most important thing customers can do,” Fraga [FPL spokesman Bud Fraga] said.

And once again, this is very important, the City of Lake Worth has its own electric utility and is responsible for maintaining its own right-of-ways to deliver electricity, not the responsibility of FPL.