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Michigan experiences the second most weather-related power outages in nation

Graphic courtesy of Climate Central A map of major power outages by state, focusing on Michigan, since 2000.

By Jim Bloch

Straight-line winds and lightning rolled through the Blue Water Area around 5 p.m. June 5, knocking down trees and knocking out power. In Port Huron, the power at the Blue Water YMCA blinked out. A downed tree spanned Griswold Street near Sixth. The traffic light hung dark at Military and Oak streets. In St. Clair, the traffic light at the corner of Clinton Ave. and North Riverside was out and a number of restaurants lost power and closed for the evening. A tree on Third Street crashed down on a car parked in a driveway.

Nothing out of the ordinary for residents of the Mitten State.

Michiganders experienced the second most weather-linked major power outages in the U.S. 2000-2023 with 157.

Texas led the nation with 210. California was third with 145. North Carolina had 111 and Ohio 88.

Regionally, the Southeast had the most weather-linked outages in the 21st Century with 360, followed by the South with 352, the Northeast 350 and the Ohio Valley with 301.

“Of all major power outages reported from 2000 to 2023, 80% (1,755) were due to weather,” according to Climate Central, the nonprofit organization that studies and publicizes the impacts of climate change. The organization released its study of power outages April 24. “Most weather-related outages were caused by severe weather (58%), winter storms (23%), and tropical cyclones including hurricanes (14 percent).”

Photo courtesy of Jim Bloch. A wind-damaged tree in St. Clair on June 6.

The burning of fossil fuels by humans has pushed global temperature to levels not seen on Earth in 120,000 years. Warmer air and warmer bodies of water mean more evaporation and more water in the atmosphere. Since what goes up generally must come down, that means more precipitation.

“Many types of extreme weather are becoming more frequent or intense because of human-caused climate change,” said the report. “These events put stress on aging energy infrastructure and are among the leading causes of major power outages in the U.S. The nation’s electrical grid wasn’t built for the present-day climate. Electricity is mostly transmitted and distributed through above-ground transformers, transmission wires, and utility poles that are exposed to extreme weather such as high winds, heavy rain, ice, lightning, and extreme heat. Even in areas where power lines are buried, flooding can lead to loss of power.”

Major outages – those affecting 50,000 or more customers – are increasing in the U.S. The second decade of the 21st Century saw twice as many and the first decade.

Climate Central advocates a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy. Possible shorter term actions to help minimize the occurrence of power outages include building micro-grids around, for example, hospitals, universities or neighborhoods to minimize the number of people affected per outage; adopting smart grid technologies that allow operators to assess the vulnerability of a given power grid and advise residents; hardening power grids against damage from falling trees and high wind; and offering customers incentives to reduce their power use at peak times, lessening the stress on the grid.

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com. 

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