Climate MattersSeptember 14, 2022

Surging Weather-related Power Outages

CM: Weather-Related Outages

KEY CONCEPTS

  • Between 2000 and 2021, about 83% of reported major outages in the U.S. were attributed to weather-related events.

  • The average annual number of weather-related power outages increased by roughly 78% during 2011-2021, compared to 2000-2010.

  • From 2000-2021, there were 1,542 weather-related power outages. Most outages were caused by winter weather (22%), tropical cyclones (15%), and other severe weather (58%).

  • Southeast, Midwest, and Northeast experienced the greatest number of weather-related outages from 2000-2021.

  • The states with the most reported weather-related power outages were Texas, Michigan, California, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

REPORT: Surging Power Outages and Climate Change

The power grid is essential, but vulnerable.

We all depend on the electricity system that serves homes and businesses across the U.S., but this system is vulnerable to large-scale outages caused by extreme weather.

Hurricanes, wildfires, ice storms, flooding, and heat waves are growing in frequency, duration, and/or intensity with climate change—which puts stress on the nation’s aging electrical infrastructure.

The effects of climate change can both increase electricity demand and compromise electricity supply. And most of the nation’s electrical infrastructure wasn't built to function in our present-day climate. Further warming could impact electricity system performance, resilience, and capacity to meet demand.

Power outages are rising. Weather is often the cause.

Climate Central analyzed major power outages (during which at least 50,000 customers lost power) in the U.S. from 2000-2021, as reported by utility companies to the federal government and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

CM: Major Power Outages
Major Power Outages
  • The decade from 2011-2021 experienced 64% more major power outages than that from 2000-2010.

  • About 83% of all reported power outages from 2000-2021 can be attributed to a weather-related event.

  • Between 2011 and 2021, the average annual number of weather-related power outages increased by roughly 78% compared to 2000-2010.

Outages by type of weather event

Utilities are required to describe the cause when reporting major power outages. The cause reported by utilities is often based on qualitative criteria rather than using specific quantitative thresholds (e.g., for severe weather). Climate Central conducted additional analysis to more accurately assign weather types to reported outages, where possible.

From 2000-2021, there were 1,542 weather-related major power outages, of which:

  • 58% were caused by severe weather such as high winds, rain and thunderstorms

CM: Outages by Weather Type - Severe Weather
Outages by Weather Type - Severe Weather
  • 22% were caused by winter weather, including snow, ice, and freezing rain

CM: Outages by Weather Type - Winter Weather
Outages by Weather Type - Winter
  • 15% were caused by tropical storms and hurricanes

CM: Outages by Weather Type - Hurricanes
Outages by Weather Type - Hurricanes
  • Extreme heat and wildfire accounted for the remaining ~5% of outages

Regional weather-related outages

Because of the interconnected nature of the grid, some types of extreme weather, including winter storms and hurricanes, can affect large areas and cause power outages across multiple states and regions.

CM: Weather-Related Outages
Weather-Related Outages

The number of weather-related outages varies among U.S. regions—which partly reflects the weather each region experiences, as well as relative population density and infrastructure age.

  • The Southeast had the most weather-related major outages (474).

  • The Midwest ranked second in total weather-related outages (363), but first in outages due to severe weather (295).

  • The Northeast was third in both weather-related (346) and severe weather-related (183) outages.

CM: Weather-Related Outages by State
Weather-Related Outages by State

The states with the most reported weather-related power outages from 2000-2021 were: Texas (180), Michigan (132), California (129), North Carolina (97), and Pennsylvania (82)—all of which are ranked among the top 10 most populous states, however the populations of Texas and California are nearly three- to four-times larger than Michigan or North Carolina.  

Building a more resilient power system

There are a number of promising and innovative solutions to build electricity security into our system now, especially alongside the anticipated near-term growth in renewable energy capacity. Here are a few:

POTENTIAL LOCAL STORY ANGLES

Weather and climate disasters in your state or region
NOAA’s interactive tool allows you to visualize the frequency and cost of billion-dollar weather and climate events over time for the country, geographical regions, and states. The EIA has a map to help identify risks to energy infrastructure from significant storms and other weather events. Local utility companies often provide current power outage maps and updates by zip code. 

Are individuals and facilities in your area prepared for power outages?
FEMA and the CDC offer preparedness and safety guidance for power outages. And the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides research on how disasters affect low-income communities.

Tools for reporting on extreme weather events and disasters
Journalism schools and organizations provide advice for responsibly reporting on disasters, including focusing on safety, data, and cultural sensitivity. Be sure to check out Climate Central’s extreme weather toolkits (in English and Spanish) and online workshops for covering disasters.

LOCAL EXPERTS

The SciLine service, 500 Women Scientists or the press offices of local universities may be able to connect you with local scientists who have expertise on weather-related power outages and climate change. The American Association of State Climatologists is a professional scientific organization composed of all state climatologists.

NATIONAL EXPERTS 

Eliza Hotchkiss
Senior Disaster Recovery and Resilience Analyst
Group Manager, Resilient Systems Design and Engineering
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Media contact: David Glickson (David.Glickson@nrel.gov)
Related expertise: Energy security and resilience

Eric Larson, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist (Energy Systems) at Climate Central, and
Senior Research Faculty, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Princeton University
Contact: elarson@princeton.edu

METHODOLOGY

Power outage data from 2000 to 2021 was collected from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Form OE-417 reports. Major outages are considered to be events that affected at least 50,000 customers. For the purpose of our analysis, we consider only power outages (including blackouts and voltage losses), fuel supply emergencies, and emergency appeals for reduced electricity usages where there was a reported number of customers affected or power lost and where outages were attributed to weather- or wildfire-related causes. We do not include reports of vandalism or cyber-attacks. Regional definitions broadly correspond with those outlined in the Fourth National Climate Assessment with the exception of Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Power outages that affected multiple states and regions were counted in each state and region's total number of events, but were counted only once in the national number of events.