March outages come in — and go out — with a roar
While the month of March is purported to go “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” that wasn’t the case when it came to power outages. Eaton’s Blackout Tracker logged more than 300 incidents occurring across the United States over the course of the 31 days. Collectively, some 3.3 million customers were left in the dark in excess of 258 hours in March — that’s almost 11 days! Here, we recap some of the most noteworthy:
Statue of darkness
Lady Liberty was among those affected by blackouts, after an unexpected power cut March 7 left the nation’s most famous statue without its hallmark illuminating lights. Although there was some online speculation that it was a deliberate move to show solidarity with the Day Without A Woman inequality protests scheduled for the following day, the National Parks Service said the New York City blackout was probably due to construction work. The Statue of Liberty’s lights eventually came back on after a few hours, just before midnight.
More than 1 million wiped out by wind
DTE Energy deemed it the largest weather event in its history: on March 8, wind gusts topping 60 mph hammered southeast Michigan, cutting power to more than 1 million utility customers. The storm, which packed "sustained wind gusts equating to tropical storm levels, just shy of Category 1 hurricane strength," knocked down more than 4,000 power lines and led to the death of two people, who succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning while running a generator.
Power (outage) corrupts
Sometimes a power outage goes beyond inconvenience and becomes a matter of life and death. A man staying with relatives in Bloomfield Township during the aforementioned Michigan storms got into an argument over the use of a generator during the blackout. The altercation escalated to the point where he threatened to stab the homeowners with a knife, prompting police to be dispatched. The relative was arrested and was unable to post the $50,000 cash bond, leaving him locked up until his trial date.
Don’t breathe in
In another risky result, air quality was compromised after a March 11 outage led to malfunctions at an oil refinery in Commerce City, Colo. The blackout triggered belches of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide gas that exceeded state air quality limits. While Xcel Energy officials said electricity was out for 6 minutes, a Suncor spokeswoman said power was cut for more than 13 hours. The unexpected issue triggered automatic and manual safety shut downs, causing the refinery to emit more than 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and more than 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide gas into the air. Suncor officials responded to the problem by closing nearby streets and sending air-monitoring trucks into surrounding neighborhoods.