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A Week After the Storms, Not Out of the Dark

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Ever since last week's storms, something's been up -- which is to say, down -- with the power in our Northwest Dallas neighborhood. On Monday night, 'round midnight, a transformer behind the house blew -- a few crackles; a brief flicker; then, all dark and quiet for but a few uncomfortable moments. But last night was a whole other brand of what-the-what.

At a little past 10 p.m., on a calm and clear night, the power went out -- and, please, no spoiling last night's Top Chef Masters, I beg you. Again, a transformer went -- a big bang, a bright light, then no lights at all. The blackout was brief -- five minutes, tops, just long enough to break a sweat thinking about the night's long sweat ahead. But the reprieve was short-lived, as, yet again, the night sky was illuminated by the familiar blue-green glow accompanying imminent darkness.

I thought a transformer behind the house had blown, as the explosion seemed right on top of the house; but turned out, several had gone out all at once one block over, taking with them a transmission tower in an otherwise empty field down the street. A few minutes later, a fire truck was parked around the corner, as there had been a concern about the sparks setting the field ablaze, and neighbors and their kids flooded the street -- 'cause, look, what else was there to do but look at the pretty red lights? Pretty soon the street was packed with folks from all around the '229, where there were said to be multiple outages during the night.

Carol Peters, Oncor spokesperson, says our neighborhood's outage -- which lasted a little more than an hour the second go-round -- was caused by a downed tree; no one mentioned that last night -- not Dallas Fire Rescue, not the Oncor repairmen who showed up about half an hour after the second kaboom. But, sure, that's reasonable. Could have been something else too, she says: "Whenever there's a storm of that magnitude, there's damage we don't see. It's not always obvious at the time when you're working to restore power, and the stress of heat" exacerbates that previously undetected damage.

So, you've been warned. But the actually useful info? That's after the jump.

This morning, Peters asked for my address so she could pinpoint the problem. She could also inform me of the precise length of the outages -- "one for an hour, and another for 33 minutes," she said, which wasn't quite right, but, look, I'm no expert. She also wondered why I hadn't called it in.

"Because the fire department had," I told her.

No matter, she said. Every single time the power goes out, she told me, you're supposed to report it. Which I used to do all the time, till I could no longer stomach the idea of leaving my vitals with on what I was sure was a late '70s-model answering machine as befitting the antiquated infrastructure that allows for power outages on windless, cloudless nights. The missus always laughed whenever I went looking for the light bill to find the number to report an outage. Who needs that?

Besides, I told Peters, doesn't Oncor have, like, a grid or a warning system to alert the professionals whenever a block or neighborhood goes dark?

No. No it doesn't.

Apparently, that only happens in the movies.

"It's a common misconception," Peters said. "Until Oncor changes out all its smart meters, which automatically notify us when the power's out, we don't have that capability. You have to call us so we can pinpoint and isolate a problem. The reporting system people assume is there is not."

She also forwarded along the link to the Smart Meter site, which allows you to find out when you're getting your automatic alarm. Till then, make sure your cell phone's charged.

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