Blackouts related to severe weather are increasing in the US

·3 min read

In the last six years, blackouts due to extreme weather more than doubled, according to a new study -- and the number of blackouts in the Pacific Northwest this summer serve as a prime example.

Brian Stone, a professor from the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the researchers that worked on the study were able to simulate the way a heat wave in Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix would impact the temperatures both inside and outside structures.

They found that the number of blackout events in the United States that lasted for at least one hour and impacted at least 50,000 utility customers increased by more than 60% from the previous five-year reporting period. According to Stone, the researchers also found "temperature thresholds that were consistent with either heat exhaustion or heatstroke for 70 percent or more of the population in each city."

(Getty Images/Rpsycho)

"Not only are blackouts increasing, but they're increasing most rapidly in the summer months," Stone said. He explained that this is a result of not only the presence of hurricane season and more storms, but also because there is a larger demand on the electrical grid in the U.S. during the summer months.

"We're more likely to have blackouts at the very moment we most need air conditioning," he said.

Another finding of the study was that there were a small amount of cooling centers in each of the cities and a shortage in backup generators for the cooling facilities that do exist.

"Our cooling centers do not have typically backup power generation if there's no standard that requires that," Stone said. "And so during a blackout and a heatwave, you wouldn't even have cooling centers."

A person uses an umbrella for shade from the sun while walking near Pike Place Market, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Seattle. The unprecedented northwest U.S. heat wave that slammed Seattle and Portland, Oregon, moved inland Tuesday - prompting an electrical utility in Spokane, Washington, to resume rolling blackouts amid heavy power demand. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The goal of the study was to draw attention to the increase in heat-related blackouts and to push for both local and national change to increase protection against heat, such as national grid resilience standards.

"Nationally we need to have grid resilience standards...because we will have blackout events. We're going to see more and more serious storm activity. We know that we're already seeing serious storm activity."

Several heat waves that led to blackouts in the Pacific Northwest this summer have exemplified the study's findings, AccuWeather's Kim Leoffler reported. Officials said up to one dozen deaths could have been a result of the heat wave in Washington and Oregon, according to The Associated Press.

The unprecedented heat in the region caused such a strain on the electrical grid that utility companies had to resort to planning outages for some customers in an effort to conserve energy.

Reporting by Kim Leoffler

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