This story was originally published in 2011 to cover Hurricane Irene. The information about storm preparedness is still crucial this storm season.
On Sunday, Hurricane Irene weakened to become Tropical Storm Irene – but not before leaving at least 4 million homes without power and causing fuel shortages along the United States' Atlantic coast. This hurricane brought on-land wind speeds of more than 85 mph in the continental United States, and maintained its hurricane status through most of its trek north. Though the storm had diminished by the time it hit New York today, it still carried 65-mph winds and drenching rain. With this wind came downed power lines and poles along the entire East Coast, leaving many stranded without power.
The good news is that the East Coast knew that this storm was coming. As David Biello said on Thursday – it’s best to be prepared. And, thanks to our nation’s storm tracking abilities, East Coast utilities were able to ready road crews so they could repair power lines that were taken down by the high winds. Power plants lying within Irene’s projected path were able to prepare their facilities to be hit by the wind and rain, helping them to avoid extended supply disruptions.
But, even with this preparation, millions of Americans were faced with unplanned power outages – which is no surprise when you look at the size and complexity of the United States electric grid.
When the first power plants were built in the United States, they were located close to their customers – generally within a few miles. But, over time this distance has increased with growing populations, increasing electricity demand, and the electrification of rural America.
Today, there are more than 160,000 miles of transmission lines (the huge silver towers that you see along the road) and millions of miles of distribution lines running through the United States. While some of these lines run underground – especially in dense urban settings – the majority run overhead, supported by poles and towers. This web of wires moves electricity from the nation’s power plants to our homes and offices, supplying electricity whenever we demand it.
[Note: There is a great U.S. grid visualization tool available on NPR’s website]
On the heels of Cyclone Nada, a new and more significant tropical cyclone threatens to take aim at India this week.
Before the coldest air so far this season arrives, parts of the northeastern United States will face bouts of slow and slick travel early this week.
The threat for flash flooding and localized severe thunderstorms will expand across the southern United States early this week.
Nuisance snow will create slippery conditions across parts of the midwestern United States into Sunday night before spreading into the Northeast to start the new week.
The coldest and most far-reaching arctic blast so far this season will spread across the majority of the contiguous United States this week.
The coldest air of the season so far and some snow will pour into the northwestern United States by early this week.
Arctic air settling over Germany may prompt children to leave their shoes for St. Nicholas indoors instead of outside before going to bed on Monday night.
A deadly wildfire exploded in Tennessee this week, charring a popular resort town and causing devastating damage.
Dashing hopes for Christmas Day snowmen and white rolling hills, forecasters predict Britain's weather pattern will leave more to be desired on Dec. 25.
Rounds of heavy rain will heighten the risk for flash flooding across portions of the southern United States through the weekend.