If there is anything data center and IT professionals need to be aware of as they prepare for the rest of the year, it’s the wrench Mother Nature could throw into their plans. Each year, major storms cause damaging power outages that can result in significant issues with downtime – a trend that will likely increase with the growing intensity of extreme weather events.
There are valuable lessons and insights to be gained from events that occurred over the previous year. Below are some of the most significant blackouts caused by weather in 2022 and considerations for data centers to properly safeguard against power outages that could negatively impact operations.
Six significant outages spanning each season
- New Year’s nightmare – Mother Nature rang in the new year with quite a punch last year, unleashing a fierce snowstorm in early January that pummeled the South and mid-Atlantic. Five people were killed and more than half a million were left in the dark as heavy snow snarled traffic and shut down much of the federal government in Washington, D.C. Residents in Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas were also impacted.
- Spring showers bring loss of power – Back-to-back storms in April 14-15 brought heavy snow and strong winds to Ontario, causing significant damage from downed power lines, broken poles and trees falling on lines. It took two days to fully restore power to the more than 257,000 residents that were left without power.
- Thunderous blackouts –More than 586,000 residents and businesses in Toronto lost power on May 22 when destructive thunderstorms rumbled across Ontario. A day later, Hydro One crews were still working to restore electricity to more than 226,000 customers, hampered by widespread damage that included at least 800 broken poles, 800 downed power lines, and countless trees and large branches. In Ottawa, four transmission towers were toppled by the storm, requiring the utility to construct a temporary bypass in order to restore power.
- Summer squall – Upwards of 375,000 Michigan residents were left without power on August 29 – many for more than 24 hours – after a severe thunderstorm ripped through the southeast and western portions of the state. Fueled by winds of up to 74 mph, the storm toppled trees and more than 3,000 power lines. Dozens of schools were forced to cancel classes.
- Hurricane havoc – Initially making landfall on Sept. 28 near Fort Myers, Florida, Hurricane Ian roared ashore at 150 mph and left more than four million Floridians in the dark, marking it the deadliest hurricane to strike the state since 1935. The Category 4 storm would continue to wreak havoc over the next two days – knocking out electricity for nearly a million people in North Carolina and South Carolina. Roughly 580,000 business and residential customers in Florida remained without power five days later.
- Christmastime chaos – A powerful Arctic storm knocked out power for more than 1.5 million people across 25 states and Canada just two days before Christmas. From fierce blizzard conditions to wind gusts exceeding 60 mph, perilous weather raked the eastern third of the nation, leaving nearly 200,000 in the dark in North Carolina alone. Tennessee, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut and Georgia each had tens of thousands of outages as a result.
The best offense is a good defense
In anticipation of potential severe weather risks, data center operators should assess the effectiveness of their current power management strategies and consider new advances to enhance their approach. For example, uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) remain a critical bridge to generator power in the event of an outage. Upgrading to devices with advanced technology such as lithium-ion batteries can help to improve lifespan and reduce maintenance complexities amid expanding IT environments.
As data centers continue shifting to a more decentralized framework, having disaster avoidance software can help staff manage their evolving infrastructure and monitor power management devices from a central location. Additionally, selecting industrial-grade hardware components, including devices such as surge protectors and power distribution units, will help to ensure a more ruggedized system designed to keep systems safe and powered in the face of unpredictable threats.
This season is now
Blackouts can come from a variety of weather events depending on where a data center is located, including hurricanes and tropical storms, heavy blizzards, severe thunderstorms, among others. These disturbances have the capacity to disrupt power systems and cause big problems with downtime for those that aren’t adequately prepared. And these challenges are exacerbated by limits on generator backup deployment restrictions and runtime limits, making battery backup devices all the more important for a workable solution.
The good news is that there are several useful steps that data center and IT managers can take now to get ahead of the threats that Mother Nature might pose. By evaluating their power and data management strategies while deploying tech-forward solutions for their evolving infrastructure, data centers will be well-equipped for disaster preparedness through each season in 2023.
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