Blackout and Power Outage Tracker

From animal antics to the wrath of Mother Nature, there’s no shortage of troublemakers when it comes to causing power outages. Discover more about the prevalence, costs and unusual instigators associated with blackouts.

From 2008 to 2018, Eaton tracked power outages to provide helpful information on their causes and impacts. Beginning in 2019, we opted to move from the historic Blackout Tracker Annual Report and instead, focus on sharing some of the year’s most compelling stories associated with power, as well as explore the impacts of blackouts on a variety of specific industries.

We’re also here to provide valuable information to ensure that you and your organization are properly safeguarded against power outages that could affect you and your business.

Each year we highlight some of the biggest outages that wreak havoc on residential and business customers. And those eager to catch the  most obscure blackouts won’t be disappointed, as we continue to divulge some of the strangest outage instigators (spoiler alert: zombies in 2018!).

To stay informed and stay protected, download your free copy of any educational Eaton handbook.

Eaton's Blackout Tracker Annual Report

A power outage is just one of nine common power problems that impact power quality and availability. In many cases, they occur within a building or facility and are not reported publicly. As a result, power-related problems occur far more frequently than what is shown in the Blackout Tracker Report.

We’ve opted to turn the page on the historic Blackout Tracker Annual Report and stopped daily data collection after 2018, which is why reports are through 2018. Download our previous reports below. 

Brace yourself: prepare and protect against winter’s greatest threats

The buildup of ice or snow can prompt sturdy power lines to snap, representing one of the many seasonal extremes that results in power outages. The months of December, January and February bring a wide variety of adverse conditions, from snow squalls to blizzards to bone-chilling winds. In fact, January generally ranks as the snowfall leader, followed by December and February. Learn more about winter-related power outages:

Eaton outages by industry

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Healthcare

There are few sectors where access to continuous, clean power is as vital as the healthcare industry. In the medical world, just a few seconds of downtime can not only cost an organization hundreds of thousands of dollars, but any disturbance in power can also cost lives.

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Education

There is a clear expectation for 100 percent uptime across today’s educational landscape. Nearly 56 million students rely on the availability of IT services. The estimated 22.4 million students served by colleges and universities throughout the country require always-on technology.

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Retail

The retail industry is undergoing a revolution, driven in large part by big data. Not only is the storefront changing, but so are the requirements to ensure that both data and electronic equipment are properly safeguarded against potentially devastating power quality issues and outages.

Cost and causes of downtime

The U.S. experiences more power outages than any other developed nation. And when the grid goes down, companies like yours suffer; every minute of downtime results in thousands of dollars lost in productivity. But what causes downtime? The truth is, unforeseen mishaps and grid maintenance issues are often to blame.

Consider the price of one missed “9.” Collaboration and messaging software company Slack surrendered $8.2 million in revenue after its work-communications platform went down for about two hours over a 92-day period in 2019. The hefty sum was issued in credits to users after the company achieved only 99.9% service uptime for the quarter — short of its 99.99% commitment (which allows just 52 minutes, 36 seconds of downtime per year).

Meanwhile, personnel at Nissan and Infiniti dealerships endured a bumpy road following an August 18, 2019 outage that knocked out key systems at the firm’s Colorado data center, halting functions that dealers use to perform essential tasks at franchise locations. While some systems were restored within a couple of days, others remained offline longer, preventing dealers from ordering new cars and parts for vehicles, checking incentives and rebates, filing warranty claims, checking for recalls, and even determining how much customers owed on a loan or lease.

Beat the heat: prepare and protect against summer’s greatest threats

While usually a highly anticipated time of year, it can be easy to forget that the season also brings with it a sizzling span of threats, from triple-digit temperatures to thrashing thunderstorms. Power anomalies clearly don’t take a summer vacation; in fact, more than 36 percent of all U.S. power outages occur during the summer months, according to data compiled by Eaton’s Blackout Tracker between 2008-2017.

How to properly safeguard your organization against power outages

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Request a free power audit and site assessment with a qualified expert. An Eaton specialist can come to your facility or discuss your needs over the phone.

An uninterruptible power supply or a UPS system is an electrical apparatus that provides emergency power to a load when the input power source or mains power fails. Learn the top 10 tips to choosing the right UPS battery backup for your power infrastructure. 

Blackout and outages from the news

If a universal lesson emerged from 2020, it was to expect the unexpected — so it’s not surprising that the year’s power outages appropriately followed suit. From an overflow of corn to the backside of a bull, Eaton uncovered some of the most bizarre blackout architects as we tracked power outages across the globe throughout the past 12 months.

 

 

Below is a roundup of some of the most unusual outages of 2020:

1. No butts about it

Hundreds of homes in a Scottish town lost power in March due to a four-year-old bull named Ron, who was suffering from what his owner described as an "itchy bum." Attempting to scratch the itch, Ron rubbed up against a utility pole and knocked out power to a transformer box.

2. She definitely hit the sweet spot

Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas was plunged into darkness in February after a softball player proved she was a real ringer! During batting practice, a sprinkler head was struck by a softball at the campus’ athletic complex, which caused flooding inside the facility that led to the failure of a groundwater pump system in an electrical vault. The subsequent flooding then sparked a power outage that affected eight buildings, including several residence halls.

3. Power dropped like flies

A swarm of newly hatched mayflies was blamed for a July 2 outage at a Michigan nuclear power plant. The large throng of flies landed on equipment, causing arcing or a short that in turn knocked out power to one of the plant’s off-site power lines. A spokesperson revealed that the plant routinely decreases the number of exterior and interior lights visible in the area to deter the mayflies from gathering there.

4. He apparently lacked an eagle eye

An eagle that chose to sit on the wrong spot on a transformer was electrocuted in Kodiak, Ala., on Jan. 7, cutting power to 70 homes. The bird was discovered on the ground beneath the power line.

5. Spilling the beans

Not to be upstaged by corn, a tractor-trailer loaded with beans overturned on a highway in Kosciusko County, Ind., on March 19, damaging large utility poles that carry high voltage electric lines and causing a widespread power outage.

6. DWI or DW13?

A 13-year-old intoxicated driver crashed into a Fallbrook, Calif. electrical pole in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, causing a power outage to 45 customers including the local high school, which had to cancel classes for the day. The teen was driving a parent’s car, which burst into flames when he crashed into the pole. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, and was also cited for driving under the influence.

7. Shake, rattle and roll

A 5.7 earthquake that rocked Magna, Utah, and the surrounding areas on March 18 left 73,000 of residents without power.

8. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a … power glider?

An outage in Outagamie County, Wis., on July 4 was blamed on a pair of power gliders who hit a utility line and crashed into a farm field. The man and woman were transported to a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

9. Nothing but rubbish

Power was knocked out to a large portion of downtown Gainesville, Ga., on Feb. 10 after a garbage truck crashed into a pole next to a dumpster, taking out a transformer. The incident damaged several power lines, with emergency repairs extending into the following day.

10. Sneaky snake

Nearly 700 Spartanburg, S.C., customers were without electricity June 2 after a snaked slithered into a substation. The activity caused a flash, which turned into a fire and led to the power outage.

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.

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