Our power grid might be too old to suffer the increasingly extreme weather of climate change, according to government data.
An Associated Press analysis of data from government sources indicates that not only are we undergoing more frequent climate disasters, but our infrastructure is less and less prepared to handle them.
2021 was the deadliest year in the contiguous United States for weather disasters since 2011. Nearly 700 people died in 20 different climate disasters, from an unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, ice storms in Texas, four major hurricanes, and a wildfire season that hasn’t actually ended yet, 4 months into the next year.
The Texas ice storm in particular, called Winter Storm Uri, saw nearly 10 million people without power. Texas’s power grid, isolated by choice from the national grid and unable to cope with the increased demand, failed while Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio all hit record low temperatures. The storm killed nearly 300 people, most due to not having heat.
According to the AP analysis, severe-weather related averages have doubled in number in the past five years, from about 50 nationwide per year in the early 2000s, to over 100 annually since 2017. Power outages are, on average, the longest they’ve been since tracking began.
So far this year, 40 states have experienced longer outages – outages affecting more than 10 percent of the population and lasting longer than 12 hours. The average outage was 8 hours. Most outages have been happening in regions that see more severe weather.
Specifically, Maine, Louisiana, and California saw a 50 percent increase in outage duration in 2020, mostly occurring during periods of storm or wildfire.
The weather is worse, and our power grid is made of aging parts that scarcely worked together as a whole to begin with. For instance, most of Maine’s grid was installed over 50 years ago. That certainly played a part in their 2017 blackout that left half a million without power for three days. The whole system needs updated, because the extreme weather will only get worse.