atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

Stupid Power Lines

A few hours ago I was waiting for the rain to stop so I could do some more work on my Fiero.

The Fiero has been needing an oil change, and tire rotation, and some other miscellanious work, for a couple months now. This weekend was to be the weekend I got it done. So this afternoon I went out and put the car up on jack stands and got to work.

I put the rear end up first, so I could change the oil; with a Fiero, if you want to change the oil filter, you have to either get it up on a lift or jack up the rear so you can reach it. It's rather inconveniently located. The rear end of the Fiero is based on the front end of the GM X-body (Chevrolet Citation). In the X-body, the oil filter is up front, fairly accessible; but on the Fiero, that filter is by the firewall. You have to lay in front of the right rear wheel in order to get at it.

Once that was done, I put the front end up on jack stands...and then it started to rain. And O, did it rain. It was a real gullywasher.

Today is Memorial Day, but it has been a lot more like the 4th of July. *sigh*

And so I went inside to wait it out. I was surfing the internet when the lights and the AC and the fan all went off; and I heard the distinctive sound of a very high-current AC circuit opening abruptly--that 60-cycle FZZZZZZZZZZHHHT sound.

"Oh, that didn't sound good," I said to myself.

I closed the programs I was in and shut the computer down (anyone who has a computer should have it plugged into a UPS. No exceptions) and then looked around for a light source....

When the rain stopped I went outside and had a look, and saw flashing lights 'way down at the south end of the street. I went as far as the main street and had a gander, then went back to the house and continued my work on the Fiero. I had to drop each end off the jack stands to get the wheels off.

I had been intending to use the impact wrench with the air compressor, but--surprise!--the compressor requires electricity. So I had to get the tires on the ground in order to break the lug nuts free.

I swapped the tires around, and then decided to go have a look at the south end of the street. So off I went; I closed up shop and walked down to the other end of the street to see what was up.

Well, what was "down", actually: all three power lines. You see, AC is generated in three phases. Each phase is 60 Hz and 120 volts, and they are 120° out of phase with each other. This makes it easy to provide 240 to a house; any two of these lines can be run to a home. If you have an electric dryer and/or an electric stove, you probably have at least one 240 line in your home. You can tell by looking at the circuit breaker; it'll be a ganged pair of breakers.

All three of these lines were laying on the pavement and over someone's minivan. It looked to me as if this rather large pine tree had knocked them loose, and that would have made the ultra-loud FZZZZZZTTHh sound. Current wants to keep flowing, and when you break a power line, the current will actually ionize the air in the gap--and it will continue to flow through the ionized air, even as the gap gets larger. But since it's alternating current, it drops to zero sixty times per second, and that's what makes that characteristic buzzing noise.

Naturally that kind of event sets up all kinds of ruckus in the power lines. This is why I always recommend a UPS to everyone. They're not that damn expensive and they could save you a ton of headaches in the future; they are cheap insurance.

Anyway, with the power lines laying on the street, we weren't getting any power, naturally. So the sump pump wasn't working...and the emergency backup sump pump, the "Ace in the Hole", was not working either, even though it's supposed to have a battery backup.

I got the battery out of my Escort and hooked it up, and the pump started running, but it didn't actually seem to pump out much water. Argh etc. Well, the thing is at least a decade old, after all. So I scrambled to make sure that the really valuable stuff in the basement was up off the floor....

So Mom and I were going to go to Burger King (or somewhere) for dinner, and as I was in the van waiting for Mom to come out, the power went back on.

So here is the moral of my story: if you are me, don't ever plan on getting ANYTHING done in one day. Even relatively simple car maintenance.

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