August 16, 2018

Hurricane Ike status report

Many people have been emailing me to send their best wishes. I thought it would be helpful to post a brief note on what happened and where we’re all at.

As you know, Hurricane Ike hit shore early Saturday morning. The wind, combined with a massive storm surge, caused staggering devastation along the Texas coast. Houston is further inland, so the big issue for us was and still is fallen trees and downed power lines. Rice University, as a result of what must have been a huge amount of advance effort, came through with flying colors. They had power and a working network pretty much the whole time. They didn’t have any water pressure for a while, but that came online Monday. Our main data center, built recently with an explicit goal of surviving events like this, apparently lost power for a while, at least in part. (I don’t have the full story yet. I do know that a failed DNS server caused our email server to experience problems.)

Our own house had no particular damage, although the back fence came down. We still have no power, but we’ve had water pressure (initially low, now fine) and natural gas the whole time. The hardwired telephone had a few outages, but continues to work reliably. Cellular phones were initially dicey but are now working great.

Luckily, the weather has been unseasonably cool, so we and all our neighbors have been leaving windows open. Over the weekend, the highs are in the mid 80’s (28-30C), with cooler weather at night, so we’ll do okay on that front. At this point, many restaurants are open, so the lack of power doesn’t mean living off canned food. Likewise, some gas stations and supermarkets are coming online again. Life, at least in this part of the city, is starting to resemble normality.

A looming concern is mosquitos. After Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 (see my photos), the big issue was clearly mosquitos. Lots of rain means lots of standing water, and that means mosquitos are on their way. Back then, few people lost power. This time, it’s going to get ugly.

Rice had a full faculty meeting on Tuesday morning. Our president announced that we would be resuming classes on Tuesday afternoon, but we could not have any assignments due or exams given this week. Last night, we got an email saying that everybody has made assignments due Monday next week, and that we needed do something else (without saying what). Apparently, there’s been an outpouring, among our students, of interest in volunteering to help the community (a good thing!), and I’d certainly like our students to get out and help. But if we’re supposed to get back to teaching, then that means work. I’m not sure how we’ll ultimately resolve this.

Unscientific data: our president asked for a show of hands at the meeting. How many faculty had no power? Maybe 90%. How many faculty had no daycare for their kids? Maybe 80%. How many faculty had significant damage to their homes? Maybe 20%.

For any of you who want to see what I saw, I took a bunch of pictures.

Meanwhile, I need to get back to work myself. We’ve got a research paper due Friday. Life goes on.

Comments

  1. There’s been news that the traditional press have been blocked from visiting (no fly lists, roadblocks, that kind of stuff). Presumably officialdom wants to be the only source of information for curious citizens wondering whether FEMA et al are doing a good job out there. This could be one up for the bloggers, it’s hard to block the Internet and everyone has a digital camera these days. One more well deserved nail in the coffin of our newspaper empires. Go Internet!

    Interesting pictures. Looks a bit rough but not as bad as I was expecting. I suspect it gets worse closer to the shoreline.

    As for mosquitos, sleeping under nets is normal in Sydney city. Ultimo had a big open pit full of stagnant slime for about 5 years before the council finally pulled finger, pushed dirt and made it into a park. The drains and sewers in that area were designed for a handful of worker cottages and dockside warehouses. Now they are coping with rows and rows of apartment blocks with everyone scratching their heads about how to do retrospective infrastructure upgrades. Having said that, if you don’t have the mosquito nets, and you can’t get hold of them then yeah, burn incense I guess. Keep a GPS coord list of all the areas that don’t drain so you can pester the council about sorting that out for the next one.

    They way the oceans are warming, there WILL be a next one 🙂

  2. If it comes to that, we’ll just stay with a friend who has power or at a hotel. Our neighbors across the street just got power, most likely because they share a circuit with a 24-hour pharmacy around the corner, which is also now powered. Otherwise, I didn’t see any work trucks in our neighborhood this morning. For contrast, the area where I took some of the latter photos (the “free beer” one, in particular) had several trucks this morning.

    Obviously, coastal areas are a different issue entirely. I imagine it’s not pretty.

  3. From following the comments of folks in LA after Gustav, figuring out who has power has been a major frustration for residents determining if they should return. I could see that it would be possible to put online schematics of the transmission/distribution system, at least down to say 15 KV lines. This way you would know that at least your local substation was powered or not. But I can see that infrastructure security issues might be seen from making too much data available (though in my city the local utility has mapped-out their system as part of EIS developed for proposed new transmission lines).

    The other problem I see is what happens when everyone has their own wind/solar generation. Assuming these generators are somehow interconnected, if not on the grid, who is going to volunteer to be a lineman to work on downed lines when there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to determine what may be hot? It’s one thing when a few, staffed, locations have standby diesels which use automated bus transfers to ensure they don’t power the grid, but when generation becomes widespread look out.

  4. Glad it all been sorted out now. I never want to witness any thing like that again in my entire life.

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