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City Blackouts Could Surge with Climate Change

Dec 18, 2014 02:13 PM EST
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City blackouts could surge with climate change due to more frequent hurricane-related power outages, leaving even New York City, the "city that never sleeps," in the dark, according to a new study.

Aside from the Big Apple, other US cities likely to see big increases in their power outage risk are Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Fla., Virginia Beach, Va. and Hartford, Conn. Whereas Memphis, Tenn., Dallas, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Buffalo, N.Y. can all breathe a sigh of relief, as their future risk of outages is unlikely to change dramatically.

"We provide insight into how power systems along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts may be affected by climate changes including which areas should be most concerned and which ones are unlikely to see substantial change," Seth Guikema, who led researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the analysis, said in a statement. "If I'm mayor of Miami, we know about hurricanes, we know about outages and our system has been adapted for it. But if I'm mayor of Philadelphia, I might say, 'Whoa, we need to be doing more about this.'"

Hurricanes are expected to intensify as climate change continues to warm our planet, with some areas of the country feeling its impact more so than others. Cities already "in the eye of the storm" like Miami and New Orleans, which lie on the coast, will predictably feel the brunt of this increased activity, though that's nothing new for them. About 30 percent more people in these areas would be without power, according to the study.

But for places like New York City and Philadelphia, as well as some more inland urban areas, the change would be more noticeable, as they would be increasingly vulnerable to more frequent and intense storms. In fact, storm impact would be 50 percent higher, people would lose power more often and experience blackouts, and the worst storms would be even worse.

Those that live in the Midwest may think they're out of the clear considering they're hundreds of miles inland from the nearest ocean, however, a recent study showed that hurricanes on the East Coast could manage to flood the Midwest. Flooding waters from a single hurricane could affect a whopping 10 to 15 states - even ones far away from the coast.

So now major US cities not only have hurricane flooding to worry about, but also power outages that could leave them twiddling their thumbs for days. Knowing this, experts plan to take the necessary precautions to combat climate change's effects.

"The range of results demonstrates the sensitivity of the US power system to changes in storm behavior," Guikema said. "Infrastructure providers and emergency managers need to plan for hurricanes in a long-term manner and that planning has to take climate change into account."

The findings were published in the journal Climatic Change.

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