The Deadliest Weather Is Not What You Think

Record Power Demands Shut Power Down in L.A. Valley

L.A.’s demand for electricity reached an all-time high this month in the wake of a dangerous heat wave.

As demand soared, it taxed the local power grid past its ability to provide. Unplanned rolling blackouts resulted.

Record power usage caused transformers to burn out and power lines to fail. One power transfer station even caught fire under the strain. As crews rushed to repair one mechanical failure, another failure would occur. They scrambled to stay in front of the outages, but couldn’t.

The mechanical failures triggered blackouts in several areas around the valley, leaving thousands to cope with sweltering 105-degree heat with no air conditioning.

The outages in L.A. disrupted other services. Kids at one school walked out in the middle of the day, refusing to sweat it out in classrooms that were 103 degrees.

Heat Waves Claim More Lives Than Hurricanes

Power outages during a heat wave like this are common. They can also be dangerous.

During a heat wave, power is the leading way that people stay cool. Without power, there’s no air conditioning. No fans. Just a stagnant, heavy heat. And it can be deadly. Heat waves claim an average of 660 lives every year, making them the deadliest type of weather-related event.

Preparing for Short-Term Blackouts

Weathering a short-term power outage is a little bit different than weathering a massive power failure that will last two weeks or more.

If you’re expecting power to be out for a few hours or just a couple of days, you may not want to tap into your catastrophic supplies (although a power outage provides the perfect opportunity to test your preparedness plan).

A long-term power outage requires more permanent solutions to things like cooking your food, sanitizing your water, and washing your clothes. In a temporary blackout, you can rely on temporary solutions that may be easier and more convenient in the short term.

To prepare for short-lived blackouts, it’s a good idea to have a temporary blackout kit in your home.

Such a kit should include:

  • Several flashlights (one for each member of your household) and spare batteries for each.
  • Two or three lanterns for lighting entire rooms when needed.
  • A can opener—especially if the one you usually rely on is electric.
  • A small camp stove with fuel.
  • A solar charger for your cell phone.
  • Emergency details, such as where emergency shelters are should the weather get too extreme to remain in your home.
  • Entertainment items—a deck of cards and a book of Mad Libs work great.
  • A small bottle of bleach for sanitizing water should your local water-treatment facility lose power.

If you live in an area with a history of blackouts when the weather gets extremely hot or extremely cold, you can take some simple steps to help reduce the strain on the grid. Obviously, a single household taking these steps won’t make much difference, but if a lot of people get on board, it may be enough to keep the lights on.

  • Use passive heating and cooling to help offset your heating or cooling demands. For example, close your blinds to keep the sun out in the summer, which will help your home stay cooler. Open blinds and curtains on south-facing windows in the winter to help reduce your heating demands.
  • Unplug any appliances that you’re not using. TVs. Computers. DVD players. Game stations. These all draw power when they are plugged in … even when they’re turned off.
  • Run things like your dishwasher and washing machine and dryer during off-peak hours.

Taking these actions won’t only help keep the power on during times of grid strain, it will also help you save a couple of bucks.