After a relatively mild December, the electric grid is beginning to face more challenging winter weather.
Utilities along the U.S. East Coast were working to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers Wednesday morning following a series of winter storms and high winds — while also preparing for Arctic temperatures a few days away.
The North American Electric Reliability Corp. asked grid operators and asset owners to prepare for “impending extreme cold weather events” beginning this weekend and through Tuesday.
Reuters reported more than 800,000 customers lost power in the storms, which began Tuesday afternoon. By Wednesday morning around 9.a.m., there were about 550,000 outages across New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions, according to PowerOutage.us. About 140,000 outages were in New York and 106,000 in Pennsylvania.
The Northeast outages were the result of a storm system that pushed through the region with high winds and rain, said Alan Reppert, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather. The outages in farther south, from Virginia through the Gulf Coast, resulted from thunderstorms and even some tornadoes, he said.
PSEG Long Island said that as of 6 a.m. Tuesday, it had restored power to more than 12,700 customers. The utility said it “is aware of the extent of the outages across Long Island and the Rockaways caused by today’s quick-moving storm. We are actively assessing the damage and restoring outages as safely and quickly as possible.”
About 4,000 PSEG Long Island customers remained without power Wednesday morning, and the utility warned that “while the brunt of the storm has passed the service area, strong winds are forecast throughout the day. We expect to continue to experience additional outages.”
National Grid, which had 60,000 customers lose power in a winter storm a week ago in Massachusetts, said it had prepared for Tuesday’s storms by securing over 800 crews to assist with recovery from as far away as Michigan and Georgia.
Consolidated Edison, which serves New York City, had about 20,000 customers lose power in the storm but almost all have had service restored. Outages peaked at 10 p.m., when almost 8,500 customers were without service, spokesperson Allan Drury said in an email.
Utilities may not have much time to relax before the next winter weather.
“We will see things keep more active than we had in December with a combination of colder air pushing into the US and more storms likely to move through the Southeast and even into the Northeast,” AccuWeather’s Reppert said in an email. “Next week we will see the coldest air of the season push in from Canada over much of the central and eastern US.”
“This cold, in combination with a threat for some storms for early and the middle of the week may bring some issues with power,” he said.
NERC on Tuesday said it was keeping an eye on the extreme cold weather forecast for next week. In November, it published its 2023–2024 Winter Reliability Assessment and warned that much of the U.S. bulk power system faces an elevated risk of blackouts in extreme winter weather.
“This extreme weather pattern of arctic cold and heavy rain across most of the lower 48 states has the potential to create significant challenges, especially in major metropolitan areas,” NERC said.
The reliability organization urged generators, fuel suppliers, reliability coordinators, balancing authorities and transmission operators “to evaluate energy adequacy,” and said load-serving entities should review their demand projections “to ensure the highest levels of reliability.”
“Securing fuel supplies, readying units through winterization and dispatching fuel will require prudent attention throughout the long, holiday weekend,” NERC said.