As contractors know, weather plays a major role in this business. The forces of Mother Nature can be a boon or a problem for the industry, but they aren't the only source of trouble. Contractors in New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario experienced the results of a man-made disaster this summer. Within three minutes, starting at 4:10 p.m. on August 14, 21 power plants in the United States inexplicably shut down, leaving some 50 million North Americans without power and forcing thousands of businesses to abruptly close down operations. When the sun set, darkness stretched from Detroit to the East Coast. The "Great Blackout of 2003" covered much of Ontario, Michigan, northern Ohio, and extended all the way east to New York City.

A search for answers as to what happened, and, more importantly, what can be done to strengthen the reliability of our electric system to prevent such an event from recurring was immediately set in motion. With over 6 million residents out of power for up to two days and hundreds of businesses shut down, some for several days, officials in Michigan elected to commence an investigation to examine the blackout from their vantage point.

This air conditioning unit was completely submerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, which damaged property from Maryland to North Carolina before proceeding inland as a tropical storm.
Without power to operate appliances and air conditioners, contractors and suppliers throughout the "Erie Loop" (geographic areas served by utilities that are linked together in the loop around Lake Erie) struggled with an onslaught of emergency calls related to the blackout, typically from power surges or losses.

Not that Mother Nature was calm and cool in 2003. CMP Corp., a manufacturer of compressor replacement parts, suffered damage to its corporate offices and facilities during a tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City on May 8. On September 19, Hurricane Isabel demolished property in North Carolina, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Between warranty and insurance work, there were a lot of equipment replacements. Debbie Risher, owner of Belair Engineering and Service Co Inc., Upper Marlboro, Md., had one word for the experience: "Wow!"

A crew member from a Maryland propane company shuts down leaking propane tanks that had been tossed off their pads during the storm. The tank on the left was still leaking when this photo was taken. (Photos courtesy of Robin Boyd.)
She continued, "We prepared, we duct taped the windows, sand bagged the bays and front foyer windows, purchased a generator and waited, but never did I think a Category 2 hurricane would do the damage it did to our area hundreds of miles away."

Meanwhile, southern California experienced raging wildfires in October, burning more than 650 homes and killing more than 20 people. The state's deadliest blazes in more than a decade raged through areas as far north as Simi Valley in Ventura County, east to San Bernardino County, and south to San Diego County - scorching more than 300,000 acres. President Bush declared Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura counties major disaster areas, opening the way for federal dollars for governments, businesses, and people affected by the fires.

In the end, the fires destroyed more than 1,000 homes and left tens of thousands in houses without electricity.

Publication date: 12/29/2003