Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Night Arc Lights

In the 1960s, when I was a kid, we lived along Hatton Canyon behind Carmel High School. One night when I was about 7 I went to bed, and a few minutes later I saw a blue ball of light form on the curtains. It faded after a couple of seconds, then came back several seconds later. I thought my dad was playing with a flashlight from the hall, so I said "Daddy...." The next thing I knew the room was filled with a blinding flash of blue light that scared me out of my skin, and out of bed to my parents.

Meanwhile
my parents were in the family room. My dad was at his desk facing the window. My mom said she saw my dad's jaw drop and he began staring out the window in silence. When she got up to see what he was looking at she saw that same blinding flash that frightened me.

We learned the next day
that there was a PG&E substation in the canyon partially concealed from our view. Evidently some equipment failure caused massive arcing resulting in the flashes of blue light.

Now we live in Seaside. About 5:00 this morning I was getting back into bed. The curtains were closed, and my back was to the window. I saw a flash of blue light on the bed and over my shoulder. At first I thought it was light from a passing vehicle, but there was no sound. As I turned towards the window I saw another blue flash. Lightning perhaps? I parted the curtains and suddenly the entire southwestern sky lit up with a deep blue light that lasted two or three seconds. Its source was obviously below my field of view, as it was brightest behind nearby rooftops. Then it was over.

My first thought was an explosion,
but again there was almost no sound, just a faint weird humming. Then my mind flashed back to that night 47 years ago. Of course! There's a PG&E substation near the Del Rey Oaks Safeway in the exact same direction the light appeared to be coming from. I verified that on a map.

I turned on the police scanner and Monterey fire department was dispatched to the Casanova area to investigate a reported "transformer explosion" and power outage.

I still don't know exactly what happened,
but the Herald is reporting that a tree took down a power line. The similarity to the 1960s incident intrigues me. Evidently, when something fails spectacularly at a substation, it goes out in threes.

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