No Power on Our Peninsula

10:12 A.M. May 14, 1996


Yesterday morning at 10:12 AM all the electrical power went out at our school. Then we got word (carrier pigeon) that the power was out across nearly all of our Delmarva peninsula including parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Seven hours later power was restored to just about everyone. It made us all sit back and think... Classes continued because authorities felt it was better to have the children in school than it was to send them to homes that might be empty or locked. There was no way to announce an early dismissal since radio, TV and phones were not available.

We wondered how life would change for Dave and Matt in Antarctica if they lost power for 7 hours. Our cafeteria ladies put candles in the serving area. Students needed flashlights in the bathrooms. Our visually impaired students felt no differences! Some classes took their books outside.

The kids wrote their questions... today - now that we have electricity. ;-)


Dear Mr. Dave and Mr. Matt,

Yesterday we lost power at our school. It was not fun to lose the power because it was dark in the lunch room and it was not fun to go to the bathroom in the dark either. You could open the blinds so the light could shine through. Here are some questions for you to anwser if your power goes out in Antarctica:

1. What would it be like if your power goes out? How do you get power?
2. Would you see at all in your house?
3. Would you like the power going out?
4. Is it pitch black morning through afternoon now that it is winter where you are?
5. If so tell me about it.
6. Do you like it dark?
7. How cold can it get?
8. What is the wind chill there?

Could you please answer these questions and would you please write back to me?

your friend,
Jennifer white

Hi Jennifer,

We get our power from a plant located in McMurdo. We call it Penguin Power and Light, but it is just part of the town. They have several diesel generators that make the electricity. It would be very bad if the electricity went out for 7 hours. Without power, we would not have heat. Most of the buildings are heated with fuel oil, but the heating systems need electricity. The worst problem would be water. Our water is created by a reverse osmosis plant, that turns sea water into potable water. The water pipes are run above ground here from building to building. The pipes are heated and insulated. Without power the pipes would start to freeze. I would not like to see the power go out for 7 hours like you saw, but we could loose it for a few minutes without problems. Most buildings have emergency lights in the halls and larger rooms. We would have to use flashlights, because candles are not allowed here.

We are getting some light on the horizon about noon every day. It allows enough gray light to see the mountains. The light is getting less every day. Right now, it is -14F with a wind chill of -58F. Yesterday, it got to -17F with a wind chill of -71F. The wind is stronger on the hill where the station is located than the weather office in town. The station is on top of a hill, and there is nothing to block the wind.

Thanks for writing,

Dear Mr. Dave and Mr. Matt,

How are you doing? We had a blackout. There was no electricity for about four hours. What would you do if you had a blackout? Do you have a back up system? If your electricity went out how long would it take for people to be in danger? It would be so dark in the winter time if you had a blackout wouldn't it? We got to walk through the hallways in the dark. We also had to eat lunch in the dark. Have you ever had a blackout in Antarctica while you are there?

Your friend,
Holly Ly

P.S. Please write back....................... Soon!

Hi Holly,

We had a short power outage several months ago, but it was only for a few minutes. If we had a 7 hour outage, it would be a big problem. The power plant has about six generators, but uses about 3 at a time. This gives them some room in case of problems. I am not sure how it would take to be a dangerous situation, but there are ways to keep things going without power. We would have to use portable heaters, and melt snow for water. The management here has plans for just such disasters. I imagine they would have to start working on getting people out of here, until they could get things working again. It definitely would be dark if the power went out.

Thanks for writing,

Dear Mr. Dave and Mr. Matt,

Hi. My name is Dawn Lynn Toomey. I go to Delmar Elementary School. We just had a terrible blackout. It covered all the way to Delaware and Virginia. Mrs. Weeg told us that you don't have light there because it is winter and the sun set in April. If you don't have light or anything then how do you survive? Our blackout lasted for four hours. Gotta go,bye.....

Your Friend,
Dawn Lynn Toomey

Hi Dawn,

The sun set in April, and will not rise again until August 19. That certainly is a long night. Even though we do not have sun, we do have electric lights. In downtown McMurdo, we even have street lights so we can see to walk around town. I do carry a flashlight with me all the time now. I walked out of the station the other day, which is outside of town, and there was no moon light, because we are close to the new moon. It was so dark, I could not see anything. I now carry a little flashlight with me for just such occasions. We also carry an emergency bag in our truck, that has sleeping bags, a tent, a stove, and food in case we get stuck somewhere. We have radios in the trucks, so when we go to the station, we call the firehouse and tell them where we are going, and how long we will be. If we do not call back by the time given, they come out looking for us.

The radios come in handy. Matt already had to call and get a rescue. We mark the roads here with flags so we can see where the road edges are located when the snow is blowing. Matt went off the road and got stuck. He called on the radio, and someone came out and pulled him back onto the road. He got a little teasing about having to call the AAA.

Thanks for writing,
David Hess NK3T
Presently living in beautiful downtown McMurdo, Antarctica.

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