In a month highlighted by Halloween, utility customers across the U.S. were left with more tricks than treats when it came to their power supply. Throughout October, Eaton’s Blackout Tracker captured 295 separate outages that collectively left more than 3.7 million customers in the dark for 613 hours — that’s more than 25 days!
Power taken by storm
One of the biggest contributors to the blackout tally was an explosive storm that tore through the northeast on Oct. 29, unleashing damaging winds and pockets of flooding rain. More than 1.3 million customers in the region lost power, representing the most since Hurricane Sandy struck five years ago. Coastal New England was the hardest-hit area, with some 300,000 customers affected by power cuts in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Central Maine Power estimated that 400,000 accounts – greater than 60 percent of the utility’s customer base – were left without service, signifying the largest number of outages in the company’s history.
Even worse, nearly half of those in Maine spent a significant part of the week in the dark, with restoration efforts lasting up to eight days, and officials reporting that the state’s economy lost vast amounts of money as a result of the outages. In the wake of the storm, many businesses had to cease operations, some for most of the week. Not only were tourists forced to go home, but some residents even fled to other nearby states like Massachusetts where outages were comparatively shorter.
Don’t bet the farm on continuous power
A farm tractor hitched to a grain wagon was the culprit behind an Oct. 5 outage in Lake, S.D. The tractor struck a wooden utility pole, snapping it in half and causing overhead power lines to fall to the ground on top of the tractor, subsequently knocking out electricity to 4,600 customers. The tractor’s operator exited the machine by jumping to the ground, narrowly avoiding electrocution. In another farm-related incident, a cotton picker hit a power line in Blakely, Ga., Oct. 22, which also resulted in a blackout.
Agriculture equipment wasn’t the only source of the month’s 35 vehicle-related outages. In fact, transportation-related offenders spanned the spectrum, ranging from DUI drivers to dump trucks, and semis to cement mixers. Yet another blackout was instigated from the air, after a helicopter clipped a static power line Oct. 11 in Pendleton County, W. Va. The steel bird was conducting an electrical survey when it struck the line, causing it to fall into energized transmission lines and knocking out power to all substations in the county, leaving 5,965 customers in the dark.
Squirreling away the electricity supply
Notorious for ranking among the top outage-causing nuisances, squirrels continued their crusade in October, accounting for at least 10 of the 17 animal-induced outages tracked by Eaton. Nearly 32,000 customers combined lost electricity at the hands of the pesky rodents. Another squirrel played a secondhand role in a Hampton, Va., blackout, after a hawk flew into power lines. Fire officials, who discovered a singed squirrel clutched in its talons, believe the bird caught the squirrel and then attempted to land on top of the pole to enjoy its meal. Instead, it touched a live power line, electrocuting both bird and squirrel and setting the woods on fire below.