Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Northeast blackout of 2003, the largest power outage in North American history.
For a while, this colossal disaster was a shared reference point for millions. We salvaged a tub of ice cream on the roof, hitched a ride home with strangers, directed traffic at a darkened intersection, and so on. Everyone had a story.
But a decade later, it seems a faded memory. For those in the affected area, recollections have been supplanted by disaster stories of Superstorm Sandy, and then some. Despite regulations tightened in response to the 2003 blackout, power outages – particularly those caused by the weather – are more common than ever.
According to a new report released by the Department of Energy this month [PDF], there were 679 widespread (affecting at least 50,000 people) power outages due to severe weather between 2003 and 2012. The cost of these incidents has been calculated to be anywhere between $18 and $70 billion per year.
There are two explanations for this spike. First, the grid is getting older. Second, the weather is getting (or at least has gotten, in the last ten years) worse.