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Research Report – Power Outages from Extreme Weather are Rising in the U.S.

Research Report – Power Outages from Extreme Weather are Rising in the U.S.

Created: Tuesday, May 14, 2024 - 15:10
General Security and Resilience, Natural Disasters, Research

Since the start of the twenty-first century, the U.S. has experienced an increasing number of power outages caused by extreme weather events, according to a new report from the research group Climate Central. As major power outages continue to rise, water and wastewater utilities are encouraged to re-assess their current preparedness efforts and work to enhance their power resilience.

The U.S. power grid is under increasing strain as climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves or wildfires. Power outages impact communities across the country costing billions of dollars annually and can cause cascading impacts to other infrastructure sectors, including water and wastewater systems. As part of its research, Climate Central examined power outage data in the U.S. between 2000 and 2023, as reported by utility companies. Major outages are categorized as events that affect at least 50,000 customers (homes or businesses) or interrupt service of 300 megawatts or more.

Of all major U.S. power outages reported from 2000 to 2023, 80% (1,755) were due to weather-related events. Most weather-related outages were caused by severe weather – such as such as high winds, rain, and thunderstorms – (58%), winter storms (23%), and tropical cyclones including hurricanes (14%). Weather-related power outages are not only the chief cause of electric disruptions in the U.S., but they are also on the rise. The U.S. experienced about two times more weather-related outages during the last 10 years (2014-2023) than during the first 10 years analyzed in the report (2000-2009). Additionally, the states with the most reported weather-related power outages (2000-2023) were Texas (210), Michigan (157), California (145), North Carolina (111), and Ohio (88). And finally, the Southeast (360), South (352), Northeast (350), and Ohio Valley (301) experienced the most weather-related outages from 2000 to 2023. Read the full report at Climate Central or read a related news article here.

Preparedness and Resilience Information:

With extreme weather events forecast to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change, utilities are encouraged to reassess their electricity needs and take steps to enhance their operational resilience.

To start, members can review EPA’s “Power Resilience Guide,” which offers utilities information and strategies to help strengthen relationships with their electric providers and increase their resilience to power outages. EPA also has an incident action checklist for power outages and a brochure for tips on generator preparedness. In addition, a few years ago, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory organized a workshop that identified barriers between sectors and created strategies for increasing coordination and integrated planning between water and electric utilities, that study can be accessed here.

Utilites can also utilize the Interruption Cost Estimate (ICE) Calculator, which helps entities estimate the economic impacts of power interruptions. Furthermore, CISA’s “Resilient Power Best Practices for Critical Facilities and Sites,” offers guidance and discusses power resilience in regards to the all-hazards threat landscape. Lastly, utilities can apply for grants, like FEMA’s BRIC program, and build a microgrid for their facility.