A power outage typically means that your home and nearby homes lack electricity. These kinds of outages stem from your electricity supplier and often occur when the supply line to your home trips up. Weather, from high winds and extreme heat to ice and snow, can cause outages.
Trees can also interrupt power when their limbs fall on lines. And human error can cause outages, from improper tree trimming to mischief by squirrels and other animals.
What causes power outages? America’s power grid is struggling to keep up with the electricity demand. And while some of the biggest culprits include antiquated facilities, extreme weather, and wildlife interference – there’s an almost endless list of reasons for blackouts. For example, it’s not uncommon for trees to fall onto power lines, particularly during stormy weather. High winds can also knock down utility poles and wires – another common cause of power outages. And, of course, a vehicle collision with a pole can also be the reason for an outage.
While human error isn’t the most common cause of outages, it still affects about two-thirds. And while it’s impossible to eliminate all incidents involving humans, there are ways that we can reduce the chances of them occurring.
One of the most effective methods is machine learning and AI to spot outage patterns. It can be done by analyzing alerts and device and system logs to identify the root cause of a power outage. This type of outage detection can help businesses prevent a loss of revenue and unnecessary downtime while reducing unplanned operating costs.
The weather is one of the most common causes of power outages, especially in the United States. Severe storms, hurricanes, and heavy snowstorms can damage poles, lines, and equipment and disrupt the flow of electricity. Lightning strikes can also damage infrastructure. In addition, extreme heat and cold can cause trees to lose limbs or collapse on top of power lines.
These factors can lead to outages for millions of people at once. Natural occurrences can also cause power outages, including wildfires, earthquakes, and mudslides. These events upend utility poles and lines, and they can destroy substations. A full-scale natural disaster can result in a blackout, the worst power outage, lasting days or weeks.
Vehicle accidents are another frequent cause of power outages. People driving over utility poles can break them, and hitting electrical equipment can shut down the lines. Excavation work can also disturb buried cables, leading to outages.
Small animals like squirrels, raccoons, and others may crawl onto or into transformers and insulators, leading to a short circuit that stops power flow. It can happen when they are looking for food or building nests or if they accidentally fly into a line. Shooting at insulators and transformers is still a problem in rural areas, and thieves can steal copper wire and other parts of power systems.
While severe weather is often the most common cause of power outages, it’s not the only reason. Lightning, tornadoes, floods, and ice storms can also disrupt the electricity grid. Whether the resulting interruption to electricity causes lights to go out, refrigerators and freezers to shut down, or appliances to stop working, a power outage can significantly impact our daily lives.
Vehicles are another common cause of outages, particularly when they collide with utility poles. It can happen to all vehicles, from cars and motorcycles to large cargo trucks. Driver impairment, poor driving conditions, and snow and ice can contribute to vehicle collisions with power lines and poles.
Construction vehicles, including bulldozers, cranes, and cherry pickers, can also cut through overhead power lines or knock them down entirely. Fortunately, many of these accidents are preventable; before starting excavation work, it’s always important to call the national 811 hotline and have underground lines marked.
Full-scale natural disasters can also cause outages, less frequent than weather-related issues. Wildfires can ignite power lines; earthquakes can upend poles and send debris crashing into them, and floods and mudslides can destroy or damage equipment.
Severe weather events like storms, hurricanes, and heavy snowfall are among the biggest causes of outages. The wrath of Mother Nature can cause damage to power lines and poles, disrupting the electricity supply. High winds can snap tree branches, and lightning strikes can damage short-circuit transformers. Flooding can impact power substations and other electrical infrastructure. Full-scale natural disasters can also cause outages, though less often.
Wildfires can char or burn utility poles and lines, earthquakes can hurl debris into power lines, and tornadoes can upend or rip through wires and poles. Human interference also contributes to outages. Thefts of copper wiring from utility company substations can be a major problem. In addition, squirrels and other critters can chew on the insulation surrounding power lines, causing them to fail.
Despite the best efforts of utility companies to maintain their equipment, it sometimes fails. It can lead to outages, especially when the equipment is critical in areas such as hospitals and schools where life-saving devices like ventilators, resuscitators, diagnostic machines, and patient transport vehicles rely on the electricity grid to function properly. Equipment failure can also occur when the electricity demand exceeds the supply, requiring utilities to implement rolling blackouts that shut off power to certain buildings or neighborhoods. These types of outages are relatively rare but can be devastating when they do occur