by Tom Purkey, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
If you live in West Tennessee, you probably didn’t experience it this year. And if you live in East Tennessee, you may not have experienced it either. But the folks in Middle Tennessee sure got an earful of it this spring. It was irritable but quite interesting. It made you want to stay in your car or your house, but it was one of nature’s spectacular events. If you were like me, you might have even occasionally cracked your car window just to hear the unusual sound. So what was it? It was the return of the 13-year cicadas. Their last visit came in 1998.
I read an article in the local paper that said you might expect to find about 1.5 million of the invading insects over an acre of land. If you’ve ever heard one cicada making its noise, then you can understand that a million or so could almost be unbearable. Experts estimate the noise level around 85 to 90 decibels, loud enough to overpower conversation.
The South is “blessed” with 13- year cicadas while the north is visited by a different group that returns every 17 years. Tennessee, near the middle, actually “enjoys” both groups. No matter what variety you hear during its periodic life rituals, I’m amazed and impressed by the long-term cycle that makes them return exactly 13 (or 17) years later. Just like clockwork.
I can’t recall another living thing that has such a long, predicted cycle. We humans are quite familiar with the one-year cycle of fall to winter to spring to summer. So as noisy as cicadas are, I have to smile when I think about nature allowing them to return — but only after more than a decade of dormancy.
It is interesting to think back 13 years ago. A gallon of gas was $1.22. We were talking about Enron and Y2K computer problems. Cell phones were available, but no smart phones, and our Tvs were fat, not flat. In the last 13 years, the number of appliances, gadgets and electronics in our homes has grown, along with our use of energy. The average family uses about 2.8 percent more energy now than we did in 1998.
I enjoyed the early-summer conversations (that I could hear) of the “cicada event,” especially with my grandchildren. It was quite thoughtprovoking to discuss what we would be doing the next time the cyclical cicadas again arise from the ground. Gracie, the 7-year-old, said, “Papa, I’ll be in college!” And Sarah, 5, added, “… and I’ll be driving!”
It was both exciting and scary. Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their counterparts across the country are working now to prepare for future growth in energy consumption. Though it may be both exciting and scary to think about the future, you can be confident that safe and reliable energy will be available the next time the cicadas come to visit.
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