Power Outage Causes? Let Me Count the Ways

Think back to the last power outage you experienced. What was the cause of the outage? 

Most likely it was extreme weather. That’s what causes a vast majority of blackouts in America. That weather could be anything from a thunderstorm or blizzard to a tornado or hurricane. Or even high winds.

But there are many other causes of power outages. One or more of them occur nearly everyday in this country.

Such as natural disasters, automobile accidents and road construction. Or wildfires and overloaded circuits. Or small animals in electrical equipment. Or planned rolling blackouts. Or even cyber attacks and domestic terrorism.

Not to mention a higher than normal energy demand. Or just plain old human error or equipment failure.

Extreme weather is the chief cause

Living in an area of the country that experiences little in the way of violent weather does not make us immune from power outages. One or more of the causes just mentioned could affect you. Regardless of where you live. The key is to be ready.   

But getting back to weather for a moment, why does it cause outages? Well, floods and mudslides from heavy rain can damage electrical equipment. Extreme heat or cold can damage some of the electrical grid’s components.

Lightning can strike transformers or substations. Or knock down trees that damage power lines. In the winter, ice can freeze wires that transfer power from one place to another. Wind can fell utility poles.

Of course, natural disasters can also knock down power lines. And damage transformers and destroy substations. Those disasters include earthquakes, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions.

Accidents will happen

Have you ever experienced a power outage on a beautiful day? It’s very possible that outage was caused by a car or truck accident.

If one or more of those vehicles hits a utility pole, it can damage equipment enough to cause at least a local outage. Most of these outages last only four or five hours. But that could be long enough for some of your refrigerated food to spoil.

Another common cause of outages on good-weather days is from road or building construction. Workers try to be careful about this. But they’re not perfect.

Landscapers and excavators sometimes inadvertently cut underground power lines. Even some homeowners are guilty of this while doing work on their property.

Equipment wears out

If we lived in a perfect world, every piece of equipment would last forever without any problems.

But power equipment is like everything else. It wears down as it ages. Especially when exposed to the elements.

Insulators corrode and break. Transformers fail. Cable insulation cracks and wires snap.

Every piece of power equipment will eventually wear out. Periodic safety checks are designed to avoid this. But it still occurs. 

Furry friends or foes?

Some small animals are attracted by the warmth and hum of electrical equipment. This is unfortunate for them and us.

Squirrels, birds and other small creatures sometimes short-circuit connections while building nests.

Some will even chew through power lines. Or knock down various components while foraging for food.   

Anytime wildlife seeks to escape excessive cold or heat, power equipment might be where they head to set up camp.

Power draws and sabotage

Speaking of excessive heat and cold, that’s when many people are drawing energy at the same time. And that can cause a breakdown.

That high-energy demand in a localized area – especially when everyone is using an air conditioner around the clock – can overload the system.

And then there are deliberate acts of destruction including vandalism. Sometimes this involves theft of wire and other components.

The number of cyber attacks – both foreign and domestic – on electric utilities is staggering. And scary. 

It will occur so be ready

The last time our neighborhood had a power outage, I received a recorded message from the utility. It said, “The cause of the power outage was… (drum roll, please) unknown.”

That doesn’t tell me a whole lot. But it does tell me that a power outage can occur anywhere at any time for any reason. Or for no known reason. That’s why it’s important to have back-up power.

You’re going to have another power outage. You don’t know when. You don’t know how long it will last. And you might not ever learn the reason why.

But it’s coming. So be prepared.

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