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How squirrels are screwing with America's power grid

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The next time your Internet goes out, skip the screaming phone calls to the utility company. Chances are, they're busy trying to extract a charred squirrel carcass lodged somewhere in an electrical grid.

According to journalist Jon Mooallem, who used a Google Alert to track power outages caused by squirrel interference, the saboteurs are culpable for a surprising number of blackouts across the country. Since Memorial Day of this year, Mooallem has catalogued reports of 50 outages in 24 different states — all of them because of squirrels. Some of these outages were severe: thousands of residents of Portland, for example, lost power on three separate occasions in the month of July.

Unfortunately, as Mooallem notes in a fascinating New York Times essay, utility companies have yet to figure out how to thwart the pests. Perhaps if the squirrels were aware of the gristly fate that awaits them following an innocent scamper across electrical equipment? In the words of one witness to a squirrel-triggered outage: "It looked like something out of C.S.I."