More intense future hurricanes powered by warming global temperatures will significantly increase power blackouts for some major US cities, researchers predict.
Engineers created a new computer model to analyze the future vulnerability of power grids on or relatively near the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines. The findings should help metropolitan areas better plan for global warming.
“We provide insight into how power systems … may be affected by climate changes, including which areas should be most concerned and which ones are unlikely to see substantial change,” says Seth Guikema, associate professor of geography and environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
“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.'”
Higher ocean temperatures coming as a result of global warming will provide more energy to developing storms, increasing their power and duration, scientists report. That will combine with rising sea levels, coastal development, and the degradation of protective wetlands to intensify storm-related damage and destruction.
For the study, published in the journal Climate Change, researchers factored in data from historic hurricanes and plausible scenarios for future storm behavior. With that information, the team could pinpoint which of 27 cities, from Texas to Maine, will become more susceptible to blackouts caused by future hurricanes.
NYC tops the list
Topping the list of cities most likely to see big increases in their power outage risk are New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Jacksonville, Florida; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Hartford, Connecticut. Cities at the bottom of the list, whose future risk of outages is unlikely to dramatically change, include Memphis, Tennessee; Dallas, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Atlanta, Georgia; and Buffalo, New York.
Although planning for climate change is difficult due to the high degree of uncertainty about how hurricanes of the future will behave, researchers examined a range of potential changes in storm activity and quantified how those changes are likely to influence power outage risk.
By being able to anticipate the risks, officials could have a chance to protect cities against damage and to reinforce power grids, Guikema says.
Not surprisingly, the team’s results depend strongly on location. If climate change indeed intensifies hurricane activity, some areas of the country would feel the impact of it more than others.
Cities already frequently on storm tracks, like Miami and New Orleans, would remain so. But cities like New York and Philadelphia as well as some more inland urban areas would likely be increasingly susceptible to more frequent and intense storm activity, researchers say.
For both New York City and Philadelphia, the 100-year storm scenario, that is, the level of storm impacts expected to be exceeded on average once every hundred years, would be 50 percent higher. More people would lose power more often, and the worst storms would be substantially worse.
In that same type of 100-year storm situation, researchers predict about a 30 percent increase in the number of customers without power in Miami and New Orleans relative to current climate conditions. In more geographically protected cities like Baltimore and Washington, DC, there would be about a 20 percent increase in the number of customers without power in the 100-year storm.
“The range of results demonstrates the sensitivity of the US power system to changes in storm behavior,” Guikema says. “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.”
Doctoral student Andrea Staid is the report’s lead author. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.
Source: Johns Hopkins University