Why Is It Taking So Long for My Power to Come Back On?

Published on 03/19/2021

Why Is It Taking So Long for My Power to Come Back On?

This February, winter storm Uri barreled across the United States, Mexico, and Canada causing the most extensive power blackouts since 2003.

Extremely low temperatures and snow that blanketed nearly three-quarters of the country caused a major strain on power resources, leaving nearly four million people in southern states without power.

Economic experts project that damages from Uri in Texas alone could range from $195 to $295 billion, making it the costliest weather event in that state since Hurricane Harvey.

Elsewhere in the U.S., consumers dealt with power outages and rolling blackouts as utilities scrambled to repair damaged and downed lines and deal with excessive strain on their power grids.

As they contended with sporadic or continuous loss of power, many homeowners and businesses wondered, “Why is it taking so long for my power to come back on?”

Reasons for Power Outages

While it is easy to see why a winter storm of Uri’s severity could cause power outages, there are many reasons you may experience a loss of power, such as:
  • Ice storms can cause ice to build on power lines, which can break under the weight.
  • Lightning bolts can strike power lines; the poles that support the lines; or other equipment such as transformers, relays and fuses to interrupt electricity flow.
  • Flooding can cause a shutdown of substations to prevent equipment damage and ensure safety.
  • Scheduled maintenance may cause a power outage.
  • Automobile accidents that involve a power pole can cause lines to be damaged.
  • Falling tree branches or overgrown trees where branches are contacting power lines.
  • Squirrels and other wildlife can chew through lines.
  • Excavation digging can damage lines.
  • High power demand can overburden the grid and cause power loss.
Of course, other natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes can also contribute to a loss of power.

Each of these causative factors has a different impact on your power status depending on the utility company’s resources, the magnitude of the event, and other factors that can affect timely power restoration.

The Complex Process of Keeping Power Flowing

For public safety and to ensure that power restoration is prioritized, utilities will follow a restoration program based on established plans. These plans will vary from state to state and among utilities and providers.

For example, after a large storm power plants will be assessed for damage and restored to function, followed by repair of high-voltage transmission lines that serve wide areas. At that point, substations are then brought online to provide service to local distribution lines.

Power is then restored to emergency services and facilities that are crucial to the safety and health of the public, such as hospitals, fire stations, police, communications systems, and water reclamation facilities.
Finally, crews are sent to repair lines to the largest number of customers to systematically restore power to industries, businesses, and neighborhoods. Then, service lines to smaller groups of customers and individual houses are repaired and restored.

Some states have deregulated their gas and electricity markets, which means that the utility company is the entity that delivers power to your home and maintains the infrastructure while the “provider” or “supplier” is the company that deals with services, rates, and customer service.

At this writing, 26 states in the U.S. offer some choice regarding providers of energy from natural gas or electricity, allowing customers to choose their supplier. Power outages will be handled by the utility, so they should be your point of contact in a loss-of-power emergency. 

Linemen: The First Responders for Power Emergencies

Linemen work for utility companies to set up and maintain the lines that keep homes and businesses supplied with electricity.
Their duties include:
  • Installation, maintenance, and repair of power lines
  • Power line inspection and testing
  • Stringing lines between poles, power towers, and buildings
  • Checking for defective transformers, switches, and voltage regulators
In a power outage, linemen are the first out in the field, working long hours in potentially hazardous environmental conditions to assess the situation and ascertain a way to repair transformers, lines, and other devices safely.

The Importance of Preparation — and Patience— in a Power Emergency

Power outages can happen at any time, for a multitude of reasons that are often out of the control of your utility and/or power supplier. Such outages can disrupt your ability to communicate with others, prevent you from using necessary medical devices, disrupt water and transportation, and cause food spoilage.

It’s important to be prepared in the event of a power emergency. Some simple tips include:
  • Plan for alternative power sources or batteries.
  • Create a power outage plan for medical devices with the help of your doctor.
  • Have nonperishable food and bottled water on hand.
  • Don’t use gas stoves or ovens to heat your home and keep generators and grills outdoors and 20’ away from windows.
After preparation, patience is critical during a power outage. Even though you can’t see it, the utility has immediately activated their disruption plan and is performing all the tasks necessary to get your power restored — from removing downed tree limbs from power lines to repairing blown transformers.

The men and women who are tasked with power recovery often work tirelessly from the moment power is disrupted, putting in long hours in oftentimes dangerous conditions in order to ensure your power is restored quickly and safely.

Once you’ve reported your outage, allow time for your utility to conduct inspections and repairs. To stay abreast of developments, check the utility web page or social media accounts or tune into local news. Remain patient and understand that power will be restored to everyone as quickly as possible, but that certain organizations such as hospitals, police, and firefighters will receive priority as they are crucial for the protection of public health and safety during an emergency.