POCBS: Power Outages Caused by Squirrels

Are squirrels causing an uprising? Will the world end in fire or ice? The author of this delightful op-ed piece, Jon Mooallem (the author of Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America), thinks it could end with the lowly squirrel:

Power outages caused by squirrels are a new hobby of mine, a persnickety and constantly updating data set that hums along behind the rest of my life the way baseball statistics or celebrity-birthing news might for other people. It started in April, after I read about a squirrel that electrocuted itself on a power line in Tampa, Fla., cutting electricity to 700 customers and delaying statewide achievement tests at three nearby schools. I was curious, just enough to set up a Google news alert: squirrel power. But as the summer progressed, and the local news reports of power outages caused by squirrels piled up in my in-box, my interest in power outages caused by squirrels became more obsessive and profound.

I know: it’s hard to accept that a single squirrel can disrupt and frustrate thousands of people at a time, switching off our electrified lives for hours. But since Memorial Day, I’ve cataloged reports of 50 power outages caused by squirrels in 24 states. (And these, of course, are only those power outages severe enough to make the news.) Fifteen hundred customers lost power in Mason City, Iowa; 1,500 customers in Roanoke, Va.; 5,000 customers in Clackamas County, Ore.; and 10,000 customers in Wichita, Kan. — and that was just during two particularly busy days in June. A month later, there were two separate P.O.C.B.S., as I’ve come to call power outages caused by squirrels, around the small town of Evergreen, Mont., on a single day.

All this is quite fascinating! I had no idea that the NASDAQ was affected by squirrel:

Squirrels have been causing power outages since long before I started cataloging power outages caused by squirrels. (In 1987, a squirrel shut down the Nasdaq for 82 minutes and another squirrel shut down the Nasdaq again in 1994 — a seminal bit of P.O.C.B.S. history that was sometimes noted in coverage of the power outage at the Nasdaq in August, which was a power outage not caused by squirrels. “This is a terrible pain in the neck,” the president of one brokerage firm told The Wall Street Journal in 1994 — which, I’ve found, is still a typical reaction to power outages caused by squirrels.)

Here’s the juicy explanation on why squirrels are so dangerous for power lines:

Squirrels chew through electrical wiring because the animals are constantly teething. An adult squirrel’s incisors never stop growing — they can grow as much as 10 inches per year — and the animals must chew constantly to keep them worn down. Squirrels gnaw or burrow their way into transformers for the same reason they enter rotting cavities of aging trees: hollow spaces offer them den sites and safety from predators. Squirrels break into equipment at substations because the seeds and insects they eat get sucked into that machinery by cooling fans, or are pooled inside by the wind

A must-read in entirety here. What’s stopping us from building out infrastructure for underground wiring?

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