While Eaton’s Blackout Tracker logged 312 separate power outages during the month of August — impacting more than 1.05 million customers — without question, all eyes were on Hurricane Harvey, which was responsible for leaving nearly 300,000 homes and businesses in the dark.
Knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers was just one of many devastating blows dealt by Harvey, which struck the greater Houston area on August 25 as a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds of up to 130 mph. The first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Wilma in 2005, Harvey had devastating effects leaving at least 70 dead, causing historic flooding, and destroying power lines along its destructive path.
The shattering squall, which was deemed the largest storm to hit the Texas service territory in 44 years, knocked out approximately 5,000 distribution poles and 300 transmission lines, as well as damaged an additional 200 utility structures. In the week following the storm, crews making repairs used materials equivalent to the amount necessary to build a 200-mile power line from Corpus Christi to San Antonio — and estimated that it would require double that amount of supplies to fix additional infrastructure in the weeks to come.
As of Sept. 4, electric service had been restored to approximately 179,000 customers, but utility representatives warned it could take weeks to bring all customer back online, in part due to the inability to access hard-hit areas until floodwaters recede and electric infrastructure dries out.
From winds and water to heat
Apart from Harvey, the month’s 311 other blackouts combined to leave customers without electricity for more than 423 hours — that’s nearly 18 days! Among the incidents were 93 power cuts induced by various weather conditions. In Southern California, excessive heat took a toll on the power supply between August 29-31, with utility crews struggling to restore power to thousands following a wave of triple-digit weather that strained the state's energy grid. Elsewhere in the state, on a day when temperatures were expected to hit 107 degrees in Colton, a lightning strike caused 50,000 homes and businesses to lose power, forcing the closure of the school district.
It wouldn’t be a proper power outage roundup without some animal intrigue. Twelve critters were blamed for instigating blackouts in August, including five squirrels, two raccoons, an owl, a goose, a seagull, and a bobcat that climbed to the top of a power pole. At the end of his ascent, the cat shorted out the circuit, causing an outage to 3,530 customers. The animal did not survive.
In related news, a Lake Placid, N.Y., utility planned a two-hour outage on August 11 in order to remove and relocate three osprey nests that the birds had built on the transmission line servicing the Tri-Lakes area.
In a more unusual outage occurrence, a drone flew into a power line in Moore, Okla., resulting in not only a blackout but also a small fire and damage to two cars. Police were searching for the pilot of the $1,500 flight mechanism.