From devastating wildfires in California to bomb cyclones that exploded in the Northeast and the West, the year’s biggest blackouts heeded an ominous collective warning of the strength and gravity that weather possesses. Wild storms spared no corner of the U.S. in 2019, prompting meteorologists worldwide to warn of accelerating climate change effects and disasters. As these storms also left millions of outages in their wake, Eaton captured the most severe.
Eaton is a power management company that specializes in providing backup power solutions to businesses. Over the last decade, we have followed and reported on power outages by the numbers but know the devastation they can cause both personally and professionally. Our thoughts are with all that have been touched by such events.
Below is a roundup of the most significant weather-related outages of 2019. Considering the fact that California historically ranked as the state with the most weather-related power cuts over the past 10 years ─ not to mention took top honors in total number of outages, averaging 454 cuts per year ─ it is not surprising to see the Golden State in several of these reports. Likewise, year after year, both Texas and Michigan rounded off the top three states for Mother Nature-induced blackouts, and received multiple nods in 2019.
Furthermore, one-third of the top 15 outages of 2019 occurred during June and July, which historically ranked as the months with the highest number of reported outages across the U.S.
1. The power supply went up in smoke. Between Oct. 25-28, more than 2.7 million Northern California residents and businesses lost electricity amid hurricane-force winds that whipped through the state, fueling numerous wildfires. To prevent power lines from sparking and setting off more blazes, the utility intentionally cut power, which left some customers in the dark for the third time in a week and the fourth time that month.
2. A ghoulishly dark Halloween. An intense line of thunderstorms cut power to more than 800,000 customers across 14 states on Oct. 31. Three days later, some 420,000 people remained without electricity in Connecticut, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, with restoration efforts hampered by winds that topped 70 mph in some areas.
3. Just one of those days … or six. On July 19, storms and high winds throughout Michigan caused a loss of power to roughly 700,000 customers, many of whom didn’t have power restored for six days. The blackout represented the second highest number of storm-related outages in DTE Energy Co.'s history.
4. The $65 million outage. Pacific Gas & Electric came under fire for a deliberate Oct. 9 power outage that spanned large parts of Northern California as strong, gusty winds and months of dry weather put the state on high alert for wildfires. After intentionally cutting power to 738,000 customers, the utility was pressured by the state’s governor to give billing credits to those affected. A $65 million price tag resulted for PG&E after it allocated a $100 credit for each household and $250 for every business.
5. Summer storm catches heat for blackouts. A July 21 storm that swept from Michigan to New York left more than 900,000 blacked out customers in its wake. Michigan utility officials announced that it would take up to three days to completely restore power to the 600,000 homes and businesses that lost electricity across the state. Meanwhile, as the squall moved east, it cut power to 300,000 customers in New Jersey and New York, some of whom were left in the dark for several days in the midst of a dangerous heat wave.
6. One for the record books. More than 500,000 people were left without power from Maine to New York after a record-shattering bomb cyclone battered the region Oct. 17. The strongest storm ever recorded during the month of October, the squall packed winds of up to 50 mph.
7. A ticking time bomb. Delivering fierce winds of up to 70 mph, another bomb cyclone blizzard cut power to more than 430,000 Denver metro area customers on March 13. The next day, 85,000 customers still had no electricity.
8. Everything’s bigger in Texas ─ even power outages. On June 9, some 350,000 customers in Dallas County lost power after a severe thunderstorm downed hundreds of trees across the region. The following day, 200,000 remained without power, while 16,000 didn’t see electricity restored until June 12. Complicating matters, the outage impacted more than 40 percent of traffic signals in the city of Dallas; 496 were temporarily inoperable and 168 reverted to flashing red signals.
9. You wind some, you lose some. High winds of up to 60 mph swept across parts of western Washington and moved through the Puget Sound region on Jan. 6, downing trees and knocking out power to at least 320,000 people. Officials warned that some outages would continue into the next day.
10. Thunderstorms, tornadoes and floods, oh my! A combination of calamities struck Wisconsin July 19 and 20, disrupting power to more than 277,000 customers. The severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding prompted the governor to declare a statewide state of emergency. Some customers were still without power a week later.
11. Hurricane havoc. On Sept. 5, Hurricane Dorian knocked out power to more than 270,000 homes and businesses across South Carolina. As winds whipped up the coast, the storm uprooted trees, felled branches and snapped electric lines. At one point, the entire city of Georgetown was without power.
12. Winter woes. A massive storm pummeled the mid-Atlantic region for two days beginning Jan. 13, dumping snow and freezing rain. More than 240,000 people were without power across North Carolina, Missouri, Kansas and Virginia as close to a half-inch of ice in some sections led to trees falling on power lines.
13. Power disappears like the wind. Parts of San Antonio were plunged into darkness June 6 after powerful storms roared through the metro area. Winds of up to 70 mph ── combined with 3,500 recorded lightning strikes ── resulted in 235,000 customers experiencing either momentary or sustained outages. Some 17,000 people remained without power the following day.
14. Electricity supply on thin ice. A frigid winter storm left western and mid-Michigan an icy mess on Feb. 6, knocking out power to 190,000. Two days later, more than 157,500 customers remained in the dark, as the utility company blamed back-to-back waves of icy precipitation for limiting restoration ability. It would require five days to get every affected customer back on the grid.
15. Power supply gets snowed under. About 175,000 Kansas City-area customers were without electricity Jan. 14 after a major winter storm dumped at least 10 inches of heavy, wet snow. The slush snapped tree limbs, caused vegetation to sag and downed scores of electrical wires.
For more information captured by Eaton over the years, including our Blackout Tracker Annual Reports and industry-specific findings, visit Eaton.com/blackouttracker.