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A Look Back at the Year’s Biggest Blackouts

From hurricanes and tropical storms, to heavy snowstorms and thunderous blackouts, extreme weather events exemplify the dangers that lurk around the corner each season. Yet, while unforeseen emergencies can develop at a moment’s notice, they don’t stop the demands on businesses to keep operations, along with supporting IT systems, up and running.

In the process of looking back, companies and their IT teams can take steps forward in enhancing their disaster avoidance strategies. Below are some of the most significant blackouts caused by weather events last year and considerations for businesses to protect against prolonged downtime caused by major power outages in 2023.

Eight Significant Power Outages

  1. Catastrophic chaos – Initially making landfall on Sept. 28 near Fort Myers, Fla., Hurricane Ian roared ashore at 150 mph and left more than four million Floridians in the dark. The Category 4 hurricane – the deadliest to strike the state since 1935 – continued to wreak havoc over the next two days, knocking out electricity for nearly a million people in North Carolina and South Carolina. Five days later, roughly 580,000 business and residential customers in Florida remained without power.
  2. Deluge in December – Two days before Christmas, a powerful arctic storm knocked out power for more than 1.5 million people across 25 states and Canada. From fierce blizzard conditions to wind gusts exceeding 60 mph, perilous weather raked the eastern third of the nation, leaving nearly 200,000 in the dark in North Carolina alone. Tennessee, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, and Georgia each had tens of thousands of outages as a result.
  3. Thunderous blackouts –More than 586,000 residents and businesses in Toronto lost power on May 22 when destructive thunderstorms rumbled across Ontario. A day later, Hydro One crews were still working to restore electricity to more than 226,000 customers, hampered by widespread damage which included at least 800 broken poles, 800 downed power lines, and countless trees and large branches. In Ottawa, four transmission towers were toppled by the storm, requiring the utility to construct a temporary bypass in order to restore power.
  4. Summer squall – Upwards of 375,000 Michigan residents were left without power on Aug. 29 – many for more than 24 hours – after a severe thunderstorm ripped through the southeast and western portions of the state. Fueled by winds of up to 74 mph, the storm toppled trees and more than 3,000 power lines, including one that killed a 14-year-old girl. Dozens of schools were forced to cancel classes.
  5. Storm leaves electric supply on thin ice – An extreme winter storm cut power to about 350,000 homes and businesses from Texas to the Ohio Valley Feb. 2, leaving numerous states glazed in ice and smothered in snow. A major culprit in the loss of power was heavy ice weighing down tree branches, causing them to fall and severely damage power lines. The states of Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, and Ohio were hit the hardest.

Lessons for 2023

What do major weather-related outages from 2022 tell us about how businesses should prepare for what’s to come in 2023? For resiliency’s sake, companies need to prepare themselves to face extreme weather events at a time when they’re growing in intensity. Businesses should also weigh this trend in alignment with other IT challenges, including the evolution toward hybrid and digital IT, which has resulted in an increase in outages for some industries amid transition.

Considering all the dynamics in play, it can be helpful for IT teams to make upgrades to their power management strategies to help balance current demands. For example, while uninterruptible power supplies remain a key component at the heart of a backup power system, new lithium-ion battery technologies offer benefits in both improving lifespan and reducing maintenance complexities in expanding IT environments.

Disaster avoidance software can be another valuable tool for IT staffs looking to get a better handle on their evolving infrastructure – providing a central hub to monitor their power management devices. Pairing these systems with industrial-grade hardware equipment that is engineered to withstand harsher environments, including surge protectors and power distribution units, can help to ensure a well-rounded strategy designed to keep systems safe and powered in the face of unpredictable threats.

A warmer outlook

While Mother Nature is a formidable opponent, she’s not the only one companies will need to keep at bay this year. Power outages can come from a variety of issues, including equipment failures, human error, animal interferences or even cybersecurity breaches, to name a few. These disturbances have the capacity to disrupt power and cause problems with downtime which have dire business consequences.

Companies should assess their risks based on their own unique applications and IT environments. Proximity to severe weather events should be calculated along with components of their operational and IT infrastructure that may play a factor. By making the right strategic upgrades now for disaster avoidance, it could be all the difference for companies to prevent major issues with downtime caused by outages in 2023.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Spears

Ed Spears is a technical marketing manager in Eaton’s Critical Power & Digital Infrastructure Division in Raleigh, N.C. A 40-year veteran of the power-systems industry, Spears has experience in UPS systems testing, sales, applications engineering, and training — as well as working in power-quality engineering and marketing for telecommunications, data centers, cable television, and broadband public networks. He can be reached at EdSpears@Eaton.com, or find more information at Eaton.com.

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