New York City averted widespread blackouts Wednesday night after issuing a rare emergency call for energy conservation during a heat wave, becoming the latest region to have its power grid tested by extreme weather this year.
The heat smothering the region broke hours after officials asked the city’s 8.4 million residents to avoid use of major appliances and limit air conditioning. On Wednesday afternoon, Central Park hit 98 degrees Fahrenheit that afternoon, the highest since 2013. By Thursday afternoon, the temperature had dropped to 75.
Time and again this year, extreme weather has pushed power grids and other infrastructure to the brink. In February, a rare deep freeze in Texas crippled the state’s power system, left millions in the dark and killed more than 150 people. California narrowly averted blackouts during a June heat wave. And this week, an historic heat wave in the Pacific Northwest buckled roads, halted streetcars and forced rolling outages in eastern Washington.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio had pleaded with residents to dial back power use.
“We have a real challenge on our hands,” he said during a briefing Wednesday afternoon. “Immediately reduce the use of electricity in your home or in your business. This is very serious stuff.”
Moments after the city called for conservation and warned of possible outages, demand for electricity in the region began to dip, according to data from the New York Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s grid. The reduction, however, didn’t necessarily come just from individual altruistic New Yorkers. Many industrial customers and apartment buildings are paid to reduce consumption when demand spikes to keep the grid stable.
Small sporadic power outages dotted the city throughout Wednesday, with upward of 3,000 homes and businesses being without service at a time. By 12:30 p.m. Thursday, there were about 2,500 outages in the five boroughs and Westchester County.
The heat wave is now over in the city. The high on Thursday is forecast to be 85 degrees, with occasional thunderstorms. Friday will hit 78.
Weather in the normally rainy and temperate Pacific Northwest has been even more brutal. Lytton, British Columbia -- a region of glacier-fed rivers -- reached 121 degrees. British Columbia has reported about 300 more deaths than normal over the past five days.
The Northwest heat prompted President Joe Biden to call for a more resilient power grid. He met Wednesday with governors from Western states anxious about another summer of wildfires, drought and power failures, and pledged that the government will give additional aviation support using satellites and other new technologies to remotely detect fires.
Participants included Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who declared a state of emergency Tuesday, citing an imminent wildfire threat amid hot, dry, windy conditions, ongoing drought, and no forecast of rain. The mercury hit 116 degrees in Portland on Monday, a third-straight record.
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