Power Outages Duration: Everything You Need to Know!
There’s no one answer to the question of how long a power outage lasts, as the length depends on various factors. The outage type is one consideration that will determine how long the restoration efforts take.
Some power cuts take only a few seconds, while others can last for days, even weeks. When in doubt about the nature of the outage and how long it will take to get the power back, you can always reach out to your electricity company.
Let’s see the common reasons behind power outages and what you can do while you’re in the dark.
What is a Power Outage?
Power outages are temporary losses of electricity. The absence of electric power may affect only a small area or several communities, depending on what caused the outage. Different events can lead to a power cut. Severe weather, human error, or accidents that affect power lines often bring about a power failure.
No matter the cause or duration, these power cuts have one thing in common, several households and not just one home lose electric service. If only one home experiences a power failure, the issue may lie with the house’s electrical system and not with the electric grid or distribution facilities.
Types of Outages Based on Time
We mentioned several reasons why power failures occur, with natural causes and human error being the most common. The extent of the outage and how long it will take for utility companies to restore power often depends on what disrupted electricity service.
There are two types of outages based on their duration.
If the lights went out for a few seconds or if you woke up to find your digital clocks flashing 12:00, then a momentary power cut must have occurred. This type of outage is usually caused by interferences on the power lines, such as trees or branches rubbing on the lines or animals knocking out some electrical connections.
Most distribution or transmission lines are protected by special devices called circuit breakers or reclosers. The purpose of these devices is to detect line interferences and shut off the flow of power to the section of the power line where the interference occurs. This leads to brief outages. After the interference clears the line, such as when the tree branch snaps away from the powerline, the safety devices perform a function akin to resetting circuit breakers in a home’s service panel. This allows power to flow back through the line after only a few seconds.
In contrast with momentary outages that sometimes last only for several seconds, sustained outages are longer. In most instances, their duration is more than 5 minutes.
Sustained outages are either planned or scheduled by utility companies or are caused by damages to electrical equipment due to severe weather conditions or accidents. How long before power is restored to the area depends on the extent of the damage or the schedule of the power company’s maintenance activities.
Power Restoration Process
Your input will influence how long it will take the utility company to restore power. While the utility companies have equipment installed that indicates the general areas that are without electricity, you expedite the restoration process when you report an outage. That’s because your report will help the power company pinpoint the exact areas that suffered a power loss.
Using such information, the company’s personnel will have a clearer picture of the extent of the outage area. They’ll also analyze weather conditions, dispatch line crews or repair crews to check on transmission lines and other facilities, and perform the necessary steps to resolve the problem that led to the outage.
The sequence for restoring power goes something like this, with the power company working on the following.
- High voltage transmission lines: These lines serve thousands of customers. They bring electricity from the power plants to the substations.
- The substation equipment: This equipment modifies the electrical voltage so it can flow through the main distribution lines.
- Primary distribution lines: These are the lines that deliver electricity to large sub-divisions and businesses.
- Local distribution lines: These lines bring electricity to smaller neighborhoods and local businesses. They are installed either overhead (4A) or underground (4B).
- Service lines: These are the power lines that deliver electricity to individual customers. They’re located either overhead or underground.
Factors That Affect the Time of Power Restoration
More often than not, the electricity company can only give you an estimate of the power restoration time. It is challenging to provide an exact time because of the various factors that affect how long power remains out.
The following will help determine when the power returns in an outage area.
Cause of Power Outage
The reason behind the power cut will definitely affect its duration. For example, downed power lines are considered minor issues, and utility workers can usually fix the problem in around 2 to 3 hours. In contrast, if the outage is due to damage from severe weather or a natural disaster, the power could be out for days, even months, in extreme cases.
If a power pole snaps and comes down, it could take a day before the utility crew can have it back up and the power running. But what will really take a long time to fix is a situation involving a whole power plant. Sometimes, you may have no electricity for a week in the event of a power plant shutdown.
Determining the cause of the outage sometimes takes the most time for utility workers. A downed power pole is easy to diagnose. But with problems occurring below ground (such as the case with underground cables), it would take much longer to identify the exact cause of the outage.
Standard power lines usually take only a few hours to set right, whereas fixing underground electric cables might take weeks.
Power outages in cities and other urban centers typically get resolved faster than those occurring in far-flung areas. That’s because cities and urban centers often have more utility workers available to fix whatever issues that lead to power cuts. In the countryside, the lack of available skilled workers and resources can delay the restoration of electric power.
When outages occur due to natural disasters, the damages to power distribution infrastructure may be more widespread. Thus, utility workers may be spread thin, leading to long power cuts.
The repair method required to resolve the problem will determine the outage’s duration. Some issues with power lines are digital in nature and can be repaired quickly and remotely. Physical damages that require manual repair take longer. Moreover, before workers restore power fully, they’ll need to perform tests that might lead to overloading or power trips, thus lengthening the repair time significantly.
Grid overloads require more than the usual fixes. When such an event occurs, expect the outage to last for quite a while. In the meantime, while the problem with the grid gets addressed, the power companies will schedule periodic rolling blackouts. These are short, intentional power cuts that rotate through different areas to prevent a complete grid shutdown, leading to extended power outages.
With rolling blackouts, the outages customers experience last for a specified time. Moreover, utility companies often send notifications so consumers can prepare for the scheduled outage.
Preparing for Short & Extended Outages
Outages, even short ones, can disrupt your daily activities. However, due to the changing climate, severe weather is fast becoming the norm. This means that a blackout can strike at any time. You’ll need to make arrangements to keep your family safe and your home running smoothly despite having no electric power.
Having a rechargeable battery, otherwise known as a portable power station, can be a lifesaver when an outage occurs in your area. Portable power stations with large capacities can power even high-wattage appliances. Thus, even without electricity, you can use the microwave or hot plate to prepare meals.
Large-capacity power stations can keep you warm with electric blankets or space heaters. You’ll also be able to charge your mobile phones.
You can prepare for short or extended outages using the following tips.
- Keep a supply of non-perishable food.
- Stock up on extra batteries along with flashlights or battery-operated torches.
- Have a battery-operated radio or television on hand (the news media often give updates about the outage).
- Charge your cell phone when severe weather occurs, as power failures are often the result of extreme weather events.
- Use a corded phone (cordless phones need electricity to operate).
- Prepare an emergency kit in advance.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Keep a list of emergency phone numbers in an easy-to-access area. You want to avoid fumbling in the dark looking for your list. Tack it on your refrigerator or any place you can quickly find. Better yet, have multiple copies posted in various areas of your home.
Aside from the national emergency hotline, include the contact number of your power provider so you can report the outage as soon as it occurs. This can help the utility company in restoring power to your area at the soonest possible time. If the line is busy, chances are many are calling the number, too. Be patient.
How Long Does a Power Surge Last?
Power surges occur when there’s a massive spike in your home’s electric current. Unlike power outages that can last for hours, power surges often take only a few seconds, sometimes even for just a fraction of a second. However, the surge in power can cause lasting damage to your appliances.
Why Does the Power Go Out then Come Back On?
Flickering power occurs when there’s a momentary voltage fluctuation in the power system. It often lasts briefly and can happen due to various reasons. The most common cause is the tripping of the circuit breaker.
Why Do Lights Flicker Before Power Goes Out?
Lights often flicker when there’s a fault in the electrical system, such as loose connections or tree branches rubbing against power lines. This indicates that the automated system is working as it should by isolating the fault. This helps prevent further damage that can lead to a widespread and extended outage.
Should You Turn the TV Off During a Thunderstorm?
Your home doesn’t need to receive a direct lightning strike for your electronics to get fried. A strike to a nearby power line can travel to the wires leading to your circuit and cause a massive power surge. Anything plugged into an outlet is at risk of damage from an electrical surge. As such, it’s a good idea to unplug not just your TV but all your high-ticket appliances and electronics during a thunderstorm.
How long a power outage lasts depends on several factors. You may have to endure the inconvenience for only a short while, or, in extreme cases, you’ll need to live without power for weeks.
Severe weather is one of the common causes of outages. Because of the changing climate, intense storms are occurring with greater frequency, which can cause downed power lines or serious damage to the electric grid, leading to an extended power outage.
Knowing what to do before, during, and after a power outage can help you sail through one safely and with relative ease. Tune in to television stations if you have a battery-operated tv to find out when the power will be restored. Also, report the outage to your utility provider so they can act on it as soon as possible.