why does the power go out during a storm

Why does the power go out during a storm? It is so common to see the modern world plunging into darkness as the unrelenting forces of nature collide in a symphony of elemental chaos.

There is no electricity, and we feel both awed and humbled by the raw might of nature.

But why does this keep occurring? 

Why does the electricity go out during a storm? Can you do something to prevent it from happening?

The power goes out during a storm because of lightning strikes, strong winds, snow or ice accumulation, and even overloaded electrical systems. 

Why Does the Power Go Out During a Storm?

power outage during storm

It is usual for electricity to go out during a storm. And as common as it is, the loss of electricity can seriously interrupt people’s lives.

The ability to anticipate and deal with storm-related power disruptions depends on knowing why they occur.

Let’s discuss some potential reasons for an electrical outage during a storm.

Fact: More than 2,000 people have been injured by lightning in Florida during the past 50 years, earning the state the nickname "lightning capital" of the United States. 

Lightning Strikes

During storms, lightning is a common source of power disruptions. Statistics suggest that over 40 million lightning strikes hit the U.S. every year.

Lightning strikes can cause an electrical surge of up to 200,000 amperes in electrical equipment like transformers and power lines.

lightning strikes

Extreme heating, arcing, and short circuits can follow this abrupt rise in electrical current, which can be disastrous for any electrical device.

According to the United States Department of Energy, lightning is responsible for around 34% of all transmission and distribution outages, making it a major component in power disruptions brought on by storms. 

An Important Consideration

Lightning strikes to trees can cause them to split apart or fall on power lines, creating a power outage.

Research published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology found that lightning-induced tree failures accounted for around 13% of all weather-related power outages.

Fact: In the United States, 444 people have died as a result of lightning strikes between 2006 and 2021. 

Strong Winds

When a storm rolls through, it often knocks out the power because of the high winds.

There were 1,542 power disruptions from 2000-2020 due to strong winds caused by bad weather.

strong winds

Extreme weather accounted for the majority of service disruptions (58%), followed by arctic weather (22%), and then tropical cyclones (15%).

Trees and branches blown by the wind can fall on power lines, causing interruptions in service.

In October 2017, for instance, Hurricane Ophelia made landfall in Ireland, bringing wind speeds higher than 75mph.

The high winds wreaked havoc on electrical lines, with fallen trees and branches accounting for more than 80 percent of all faults.

As a result, about 18,000 homes were left without electricity. 

Flying Debris

flying debris

It is also possible to lose electricity because of flying debris, such as roofing materials or outdoor furniture, striking power wires and other electrical equipment during a storm.

Damage to electrical grids in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama was extensive when flying debris from Hurricane Michael in October 2018 caused winds to reach 170 mph.

Millions of people lost electricity in Florida because of the storm. 

An Important Consideration

In the event of high winds, utility providers frequently take preventative precautions.

To reduce the domino impact of downed power lines, these precautions may include routine tree cutting around transmission towers and poles and the installation of breakaway connectors.

Strong winds during storms, however, continue to pose a problem for grid resilience despite these attempts.

Fact: There was about 78% rise in the average yearly number of weather-related power disruptions during 2011-2021 compared to 2000-2010. 

Heavy Rain and Flooding

heavy rain and flooding

Storms often cause power disruptions due to heavy rain and flooding.

Climate Central found that the number of power outages caused by floods in the United States increased by 67% between 2000 and 2016.

Inundation of electrical substations or other equipment can result in short circuits and interruptions in the power supply when water levels rise.

Consider the widespread flooding that occurred when Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 60 inches of rain on parts of Texas in August 2017.

More than 338,000 people lost power because flooding ruined electrical substations and other equipment. 

An Important Consideration

Utility providers may choose to voluntarily disconnect power in flood-affected areas for the sake of public safety or to prevent further damage to electrical infrastructure.

Before Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October 2012, utility companies cut electricity to customers in flood-prone low-lying areas. 

This is to lessen the likelihood of electrical fires, explosions, and other disasters caused by the contact of floodwaters with live electrical equipment

Snow and Ice Accumulation

snow and ice accumulation

Power outages can be severe during winter storms due to the accumulation of snow and ice.

During 2000 to 2021, about 22% of power outages in the United States were due to winter weather, including ice, snow, and freezing rain.

Weight from snow and ice accumulation on electricity lines can cause them to sag or break, leading to outages.

For instance, during the 1998 North American Ice Storm, power wires became several inches thick with ice deposition due to freezing rain.

Because of the extra weight, power lines sagged or broke, leaving millions of people in Canada and the northern United States without electricity. 

Broken Branches

broken branches

Branches can snap under the weight of accumulated snow and ice, bringing down power lines and causing blackouts.

There was a large amount of wet snow on trees that still had leaves in the northeastern United States in October 2011 due to an early-season blizzard.

Millions of people in the region lost power as a result of tree damage and falling branches onto power wires

An Important Consideration

Ice forming on transformers and insulators can cause the devices to fail, leading to power outages.   

Overloaded Electrical Systems

Increased electricity use, especially for heating and cooling, can stress the power grid during storms.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that energy demand is highly sensitive to temperature and humidity, with peaks typically occurring during periods of extreme weather.

overloaded electrical systems

Overloading the electrical system due to this increased demand can result in blackouts.

Extreme heat and humidity can put a burden on the electrical infrastructure.

This was the case during the 2012 derecho, a severe windstorm that hit the eastern United States.

Due to storm damage and overburdened electrical networks, millions of consumers lost power in the aftermath of the storm. 

An Important Consideration

To handle the surge in demand and avoid extensive blackouts, utilities may use rolling blackouts.

Load shedding, or rolling blackouts, is the temporary disconnection of electricity to some locations to ease the strain on the power infrastructure.

Utility providers in France and Italy employed rolling blackouts during the 2003 European heatwave. 

This was to deal with the increased demand for electricity due to the high temperatures and the use of air conditioning, thereby preventing more widespread power outages.

Fact: From 2000-2020, the Southeast, the Midwest, and the Northeast saw the most power outages due to weather. 

Damage to Power Generation Facilities

Major damage to power plants during a storm can halt electricity production and cause blackouts in the communities they serve.

For instance, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in Texas caused flooding and damage to many power plants along the Texas Gulf Coast, causing them to temporarily shut down or restrict their output.

damage to power generation facilities

As a result, this hampered electricity generation and exacerbated blackouts in the area.

Storms pose a threat to wind turbines because of the high gusts, lightning strikes, and ice buildup.

A 100-meter-tall wind turbine collapsed during a windstorm in Scotland in December 2011, temporarily knocking out the country’s power supply. 


Why does the power go out during a storm? Lightning strikes, severe gusts, and falling trees are all potential causes of power disruptions during a storm.

Power outages may also occur if the storm has an effect on the electric utility infrastructure, such as power lines, transformers, and substations.

The loss of electricity during a storm might be annoying, but staying safe should always take precedence.

Stay inside, turn off all electronics, and dial 9-1-1 if you lose power; this is the best course of action.