August 4, 2020. Isaias due east of Delaware (NOAA)

Hurricanes are the big news weather events when it comes to power outages in the Southeast. Recently Tropical Storm Isaias made a big impression in New England’s power system. “New York and Connecticut officials chided electric utilities across the Northeast for a ‘wholly inadequate’ response as outages persisted in the aftermath of a storm that ravaged the coastal region.” (Source)

ECC notes the news report because tropical storms have created a muscle memory of sorts for utilities in the Southeast. (And there are a couple of storms now in the Atlantic or Gulf will help us remember.) The region has been through a lot of weather and learned how to handle the outages. No storm is routine, but there is a certain similarity to them that provides a lot of learning.

Is a change happening, though? “If you liked Isaias, you’ll love the decades to come because they’re only going to get worse and we need to prepare,” said the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. (Source)

Think about Isaias and also Hurricane Sandy hitting the Northeast. Both made real news.

Think about Texas in a couple differing scenarios. They have approached real tests in the heat recently – would they have the reserve margins needed to prevent blackouts? (Houston Chronicle, right) A couple years ago the media exploded when prices in Texas were off the charts, but it was in a winter cold snap, not in a heatwave.

Think about the heat and wildfires of California over the past few years. Big news.

In the Carolinas a few years ago record use of power was set not in the summer, but in a winter deep freeze. Utility companies were close to taking emergency measures to ensure that the grid held up.

In the latest round of bad weather: “You’ve got a really wide swath of some of the most populous parts of the United States with huge trees down, 27 tornadoes all across the region following the storm that impacted everything from Florida to Maine,” said a security expert at the Edison Electric Institute. (Source)

It is perhaps a new weather phenomena for you, a derecho, a major wind event. Check this CBS News story about the recent derecho in the Midwest. Mighty impressive.

Utilities have learned from outages. They stage emergency workers in the most logical locations based on past storms. Poles have been “hardened” (wood to concrete, for example) to be more resilient. Smart systems let companies know where there are breaks in the system rather than having line workers driving around to find problems.

Utilities have improved in many cases. Storms have become worse in some cases, too, adding to the importance of good utility planning.

The lesson for consumers is to be prepared because outages are not a seasonal thing.

Nature is changing. Says Yale Climate Connections, (right) “There’s now evidence that the unnatural effects of human-caused global warming are already making hurricanes stronger and more destructive. The latest research shows the trend is likely to continue as long as the climate continues to warm.”

Even if people are preparing well now for storms, are they prepared for repeated storms, longer outages, or more intense storms?

One organization that researches climate change found that severe weather caused 80% of power outages over nine years. Hurricanes, tornadoes, deep freeze, heat waves.

Here’s an interesting report about storm outage preparation, and some examples of preparation – see the report for full explanations:

  • Make sure your contact information is current with your utility.
  • Have properly operating carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Know how to open your garage door without the opener.
  • Make sure your gas tank is full. Service stations need power to pump gasoline.
  • Check your emergency kit to be sure its is complete.
  • Get apps for your phone that provide warnings – your power company, Red Cross, TV stations.