It’s easy to take electricity for granted until the lights go out. Power outages are an enormous issue in the aftermath of a storm, especially now that we’re more reliant on powered devices than ever before. It’s hard enough to find the phone number to report an electrical outage to your provider, and it can be even harder to discern the extent of an outage to get an idea of how long it may last. Thankfully, there’s a fantastic resource that gives us the opportunity to quickly glean information about power outages across the country.
The piecemeal nature of our country’s electrical grid—sometimes splitting even the smallest counties between multiple power companies—makes it difficult to track power outages during large-scale events like hurricanes or snowstorms. It’s even harder to find that information through the patchwork of local news websites across the country, which often include vague, partial, or outdated power outage information for a region. PowerOutage.US cuts through those difficulties and streamlines our ability to monitor power outages across the United States.
Keeping track of power outages is a good way to judge which areas were hit the hardest by a particular storm. You could follow the core of Hurricane Michael’s winds by looking at power outage maps across the southeastern United States. The counties that experienced hurricane force winds saw near-complete power outages in the days after the storm. You could also see where the storm’s winds weakened before reintensifying over North Carolina and Virginia the following day.
Monitoring the extent of power outages can also give you an idea of when your power will come back on. If your county only has a couple of outages, there’s a good chance your electricity will be restored after just a few hours. If the power infrastructure in your entire area is damaged, resulting in potentially hundreds of thousands of outages, it may take a while before service is restored.
When the lights went out during Hurricane Michael’s unexpectedly strong winds here in north-central North Carolina, I had a tough time trying to find out how many of my neighbors were also without power. My power company’s website was slow and cumbersome to navigate on my smartphone. Frustrated, I typed “power outage map” into Google and landed on PowerOutage.US. I immediately found out that almost 70 percent of my county had no power. It was a widespread problem, and that helped me plan for the fact that it might be a while before our power was restored. (Thankfully, our electricity came back within two hours, but some nearby neighborhoods were without electricity for five days.)
PowerOutage.US is a project run by Jason Robinson of Bluefire Studios LLC. The website automatically pulls power outage reports every ten minutes from more than 500 utility companies across the United States. Most states outside of the Rocky Mountains have complete or near-complete coverage, giving us a pretty good look at the damage left behind by storms as they move across the country. The site reports that its outage maps cover more than 125 million electrical customers across the United States.