Blame the crow

Friday, June 14, 2019

Crow's wingspread
Photo by Wayne Pridemore
By Diane Hettrick

Around 2pm on Thursday, June 13, 2019, households in Shoreline and Lake Forest Park experienced a brief power outage.

It was enough to make the lights flicker. In some cases the power was fully out but for only for a few seconds.

Comcast cable services were disrupted. Some people's cable boxes spontaneously reset themselves, while others continued to have problems for a while.

Some people heard an explosion. Others heard a strange whipping noise from the power lines.

Julie Atwood and her husband got a close up view.

We were outside at the time and whatever it was was VERY powerful - the telephone pole was shaking back and forth and the wires actually touched each other, causing some really scary noises.

Shaila Austria, in Richmond Highlands, actually witnessed the cause.

The bang and power outage can be attributed to a crow (RIP) landing on the lines right in front of our house at 185th and 1st Ave NW. The power lines moved like crazy. 

I checked with Scott Thomson at Seattle City Light. Could a crow really cause all that noise and activity? His response:

If a bird lands on a single power line, it doesn’t cause a problem. There is more resistance in the bird's body than the wire so the electricity continues to flow down the wire. Problems happen when a bird touches a wire and something else that creates a shorter path for the electricity to get home, like a second wire. 

At that point, the electricity uses the bird as a short circuit. If that touch was short – say an wing touched a second wire and the surge of electricity knocks the bird clear of the wire, a customer might see a flicker. The release of that energy would make noise and that scenario could make the wire move.

So the crow did it. And it doesn't appear that he survived the experience.

As for the flickering, except for a few blocks at the very end of the City Light power "tree" - mostly in Lake Forest Park - everyone has what is called either "redundancy" or "self-healing lines". This means that you have alternate power sources. When one goes, after a very brief pause the other takes over.

And if you are still having trouble with your Comcast cable, call their automated system at 877-824-2288.


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