From utility-mandated rolling blackouts in California to a record-setting number of hurricanes in the South and East that prompted the alphabetical naming scheme to resort to Greek characters, the biggest weather-related U.S. blackouts of 2020 represented yet another blemish in a year marred by worries and woes. Leaving millions of outages in their wake, the storms impacted customers across the entire country, with Eaton capturing 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 2020:
1. East Coast under siege
At least nine people were killed and more than 3.7 million were left without power after Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes, dumped rain, and toggled between hurricane and tropical storm strength the first week of August. Outages blanketed the East Coast as a result of whipping winds and fallen trees, impacting customers in multiple states including North Carolina, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. The restoration process lasted days in some areas.
2. Zealous Zeta
On Oct. 28, Hurricane Zeta slammed into Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane before pummeling other states as a tropical storm, leaving more than 2.5 million people in the dark. At least six people were killed, thousands of trees were downed, and buildings were shattered by the storm that stretched from Louisiana to Virginia with sustained winds of more than 50 mph.
3. Roll with it
An estimated 2 million Californians were plunged into darkness over a four-hour period on August 14 as multiple utility companies instigated rolling blackouts during a record-setting heat wave. As the state’s electric grid became overtaxed by air conditioners and fans, operators began to shut down customers without notification, with outages lasting for 60 to 90 minutes on a rotating basis.
4. Dastardly derecho
More than 1 million customers across the Midwest lost power August 10 after a powerful storm system known as a ‘derecho’ slammed the region, bringing winds that exceeded 90 mph to parts of Iowa and Illinois. Nearly a week later, ComEd reported that 57 customers were still without power.
5. Destructive Delta
A total of 850,000 customers were estimated to have lost power on Oct. 9 — the majority in Louisiana — after Hurricane Delta made landfall as a Category 2 storm just 13 miles from the location where Hurricane Laura struck only weeks earlier. In addition to property damage exceeding $1 billion, Delta significantly disrupted power infrastructure.
6. Sneaky Sally
More than 540,000 homes and businesses across Florida, Alabama and Georgia were left without electricity on Sept. 16 as Hurricane Sally brought high winds and massive flooding. Rescuers along the Gulf Coast used high-water vehicles to reach people cut off by flooding while the region braced for a delayed, second round of floods.
7. Taken by storm
Severe thunderstorms with high winds raced through North Carolina and South Carolina on April 13, disrupting service to more than 500,000 customers. In addition to heavy rains and mud slides causing damage, a tornado was confirmed to have touched down in Oconee County, S.C.
8. Lashing Laura
The backbone of Louisiana’s power grid suffered catastrophic damage after Hurricane Laura barreled ashore on August 27, killing at least 14 people and cutting power to more than 400,000. Restoration efforts were slowed after the storm destroyed utility equipment, knocked down thousands of utility poles and ripped away power lines. Utility officials reported that the damage was so extensive in some areas, it would need to be rebuilt from the ground up. With sustained winds of 150 mph, Laura was the strongest storm to hit Louisiana since the mid-1800s.
9. Whipping winds
At least 400,000 Northern California customers lost power Feb. 9-10 due to high winds. The outages were attributed to fallen trees, debris and branches, as opposed to a Public Safety Power Shutoff. Although wind speeds were close to those where the utility had previously mandated outages, the area’s fuel and soil moisture levels were high enough to lessen potential danger of wildfires.
10. You wind some, you lose some
About 370,000 customers in lower Michigan were hit by power outages on Nov. 15 after high winds blew down trees, limbs and power lines.
11. Premeditated power loss
PG&E intentionally cut power to some 345,000 Californians on Oct. 27 as part of a Public Safety Power Shutoff sparked by high fire danger from strong winds, extremely low humidity, dry vegetation and severe drought. Noting that there were 130 incidents of equipment damage during the week’s wind event, utility officials said that had these power lines been active when they were damaged, they could have sparked a wildfire.
12. There’s no place like home?
Tell that to the 290,000 Columbia S.C. customers who were left in the dark April 15 after the National Weather Service confirmed 14 tornadoes in the region. The utility had to solicit helicopter assistance to help with damage assessment of power lines.
13. Shades of summer
More than 275,000 people in Michigan were without power June 10 after severe summer storms swept through the state.
14. A tree tragedy
Officials in Oklahoma City deemed an Oct. 27 weather event as the “worst nightmare of an autumn ice storm” after it wrecked trees and power lines and left more than 200,000 without electricity. Tree branches littered streets, others were uprooted altogether, and leaves on branches weighted down with ice, causing a rebound effect when it melted and branches bounced back up.
15. All in a week’s work
It took nearly a week to restore power to all 131,000 Nashville Electric Service customers after storms swept across the region the first week of May. Crews worked around the clock in an effort to restore power, replacing 250 damaged power poles during 14-hour rotating shifts. Local linemen were assisted by 36 additional bucket trucks and 90 workers from Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky.
For more information captured by Eaton over the years, including our Blackout Tracker Annual Reports and industry-specific findings, visit