The History of Power Outages
Across the U.S.
Imagine a world plunged into darkness, where the hum of refrigerators ceases, and the safety of our food supply hangs in the balance.
This isn’t a scene from a dystopian novel, but a reality faced by millions during power outages. Beyond spoiled food, what are the consequences of these energy failures, how common are they, and where in the U.S. do they happen most? From the loss of perishable items to the broader implications on our national power infrastructure, this article uncovers the impact of power outages in America.
We begin with an interactive historical overview, analyzing the frequency and severity of power outages over the past two decades, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Next, we highlight the dramatic increase in outages since 2003 with a focus on the recent years from 2019 to 2023. You’ll see regional disparities and how different states have been affected. Lastly, we shift to how staples like milk, yogurt, chicken, and apples deteriorate when power loss strikes.
By detailing the past and present of power outages, our goal is to help you adapt to these challenges. Keep scrolling to discover valuable insights about power outages.
This interactive Blackout Tracker depicts power outages in each U.S. state since 2003 based on U.S. Department of Energy data. You can filter outages by month, year, and the events that caused them.
occurred across the entire U.S. due to severe weather, impacting all but 5 states.
2020 (most known for the COVID-19 pandemic) was the year most impacted by power outages, totaling 392 hours and affecting an estimated 23,357,562 Americans — over 7% of the U.S. population.
The number of outages per year from 2019-2023 was 321 — over 93% more than those from 2014-2018 (166).
The average power outage length from 2019-2023 was 154 minutes, marking a 9% decrease compared to the outages from 2014-2018 (169).
Nebraska, Ohio, Wyoming, Texas, and Minnesota saw the greatest increase in outages per year in the last 5 years compared to the 5 years prior.
Tennessee and Utah were the only states with a decrease in outages in the last 5 years (2019-2023) compared to the 5 years prior (2014-2018), among states with sufficient data.
Texas has experienced more power outages than any state in the last 5 years: 263, each lasting an average of 160.4 minutes and impacting an estimated average of 172,000 Texans.
Looking at where power outages happen in the U.S., we see how different states uniquely confront these challenges. California, Texas, and Florida, frequently faced with extreme weather conditions and natural disasters, have consistently endured the highest number of power outages.
Battling wildfires and heatwaves, California has seen numerous disruptions, impacting millions. Texas, with its distinct power grid, has grappled with severe winter storms, resulting in widespread and long-lasting power outages. Similarly, Florida’s susceptibility to hurricanes has led to a considerable number of power failures.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. has experienced a significant increase in power outages, peaking at 282 in 2022 compared to relatively stable years in the early 2000s (including only 36 incidents in 2004). The years 2020 and 2021 also saw a high number of outages, with 235 and 234 respectively. This drastic rise, contrasting sharply with earlier stability, suggests major shifts in weather patterns, grid robustness, or both.
The average duration of U.S. power outages over the years highlighted critical trends as well: 2003 saw the highest average at 69.6 hours, largely due to the Northeast Blackout of 2003, while subsequent years, 2004 through 2009, had significantly shorter averages between 3-6 hours. In contrast, 2013, 2014, and 2023 recorded the shortest durations, averaging just under 3 hours. This reduction could be due to varying factors, such as the nature of the event and advancements in grid technology and response strategies.
Seasonal patterns since 2003 suggest that the intense storms and high energy demands common in much of the U.S. during the summer months may increase the risk of power outages. This appeared to be particularly true in August, which averaged 258 outages. In contrast, more temperate months like November, March, and September saw fewer outages, with counts of 133, 160, and 163, respectively. This could be thanks to less air conditioning use and fewer severe weather events.
The average duration of U.S. power outages revealed a contrasting seasonal trend: September (the end of hurricane season) brought the longest outages nationwide, averaging 9.6 hours, while May and October also saw relatively long durations. Conversely, March, January, and June have had the shortest average durations, indicating quicker responses or less severe incidents. These patterns emphasize the need for season-specific preparedness strategies in managing power outages.
Impact of Power
Outages on Perishables
The absence of power leads to significant disruptions, notably the spoiling of essential food items like dairy and fresh meats. The visual representations below of these spoiled staples highlight the often overlooked consequences of power outages on food safety.
See How Milk Perishes Over Time Without Power
Illuminating the Future:
Against Power Outages
The impacts of power outages in the U.S. are far-reaching and can be dangerous, from disrupting essential services to affecting essential food preservation. The patterns of these outages offer valuable insights into how the risks change seasonally and throughout the years, stressing the need for preparedness. Ensuring a resilient, adaptable response to the challenges of future power disruptions will require individual, local, and national preparedness.
For this study, we leveraged power outage data from the United States Department of Energy spanning January 2003-June 2023. We also used MidJourney to generate images of perishable food items if left unrefrigerated due to a power outage for specific time frames.
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