A power outage, also known as a power failure or a blackout, is the situation when electrical power is unexpectedly disrupted. Roshi Nateghi, a researcher at Purdue University, told The Guardian that extreme weather events caused prolonged power failures across the country in the last two decades.
Existing power infrastructure such as power plants and electrical lines were not designed to stand up to severe climate disasters. The problem is that scientists expect climate change to cause worsening heat waves, snowstorms, and hurricanes in the coming years.
Snowstorms, Heat Waves, and Wildfires
From February 14 to 19, 2021, Texas lost power because of a snowstorm, affecting 4.4 million customers at one time and a total of over 5.6 million customers, translated into an estimated 11,760,000 people. This was a jolt to the U.S. because it occurred even if the state has plentiful supplies of energy, being the country’s largest natural gas producer, oil producer, wind energy producer, and lignite coal producer.
The reason was that Texas experienced the coldest winter in 30 years hence people turned up their heaters, creating a surge in energy demand. Concurrently, there was a shortfall in natural gas, the largest source of energy in the state, because of frozen wellheads, pipelines blocked by icy condensation, and the shutdown of compressor stations. In addition, coal piles and wind turbines froze and a nuclear reactor tripped offline.
From August 10 to 11, 2020, several states lost power because power lines were struck down by a derecho, a destructive thunderstorm with hurricane-force straight-line winds, tornadoes, heavy rain, and flash flooding. The outage affected 1.4 million customers at one time and a total of over 1.9 million customers, translated into an estimated 4,120,000 people in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and other states in the path of the event.
From August 3 to 5, 2020, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania lost power due to Hurricane Isaias. It affected 3.8 million customers at one time and a total of over 6.4 million customers, translated into an estimated 13,870,000 people.
From October 1 to November 5, 2019, California was under a public safety power shutoff (PSPS) with 12 shutoff events due to raging wildfires. The shutoffs prevent power lines from being ignited by strong winds and high heat from the wildfires. From October 23 to 27, 2019, alone, the PSPS affected 1.1 million customers at one time and a total of over 1.598 million customers, translated into an estimated 3,460,000 people.
Dangers of Power Outages
Electrical outages are not just inconvenient but can also be life-threatening to vulnerable members of the population. Medical devices reliant on electricity will stop working. Life-sustaining medication that needs refrigeration will deteriorate. The elderly, infants and young children can suffer heat strokes in hot weather and are prone to pneumonia in very cold weather.
Water supply can stop, as well as transportation and communication. Banks, ATMs, gas stations, supermarkets, and other services can close.
With the frequency of climate disasters that cause power failures, you need to prepare at home. It is best to get a professional home generator installation, but make sure to position it outside the house and not less than 15 feet away from your windows. Get proper instructions for operating the generator under different conditions. You must get training in all the safety protocols for handling this equipment.
With a generator, your indoor temperature is at the optimum, medicines and food are fresh in your refrigerator, medical devices and other gadgets are working, and your communication lines remain open.
Can We Weather the Weather?
Alok Sharma, president of the upcoming UN climate conference, COP26, stated in early April that “Oceans are warming, storms are intensifying, and yet we are a long way off meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. He added that, “Unless we act now, the human, economic and environmental cost will dwarf anything that humanity has seen before.” The Paris Treaty signed in 2016 aims to limit the rise of the global temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The major changes are on the level of policymaking among governments but each of us can do our share in mitigating negative ecological impacts. We must change our lifestyle and be mindful of our day-to-day actions.
Let us teach children and ourselves to always choose earth-friendly options including the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the structures we live in, our mode of transportation, and how we dispose of our trash. As much as we can, let us reuse and recycle to drastically decrease our garbage and maximize the use of the planet’s resources. If we do not change ourselves, we may not be able to survive climate change.