Prolonged power outages, often caused by weather events, hit some parts of the US harder than others, according to new research.

Joan Casey, an assistant professor in the University of Washington’s department of environmental and occupational health sciences, lived through frequent wildfire-season power outages when she lived in northern California. While waiting for the power to return, she wondered how the multi-day blackouts affected a community’s health.

“For me it was an inconvenience, but for some people it could be life-threatening,” she says. “If you had an uncle that had an electric heart pump, basically, his heart wouldn’t work without power. You could use a backup battery for eight hours, but after that, if you don’t have access to electricity, you have to go to the emergency room. This is a really dangerous situation.”

Years later, Casey has answers. A new study analyzed three years of power outages across the US, finding that Americans already bearing the brunt of climate change and health inequities are clustered in four regions—Louisiana, Arkansas, central Alabama, and northern Michigan—and that they are most at risk of impact by a lengthy blackout.

The findings could help shape the future of local energy infrastructure, especially as climate change intensifies and the American power grid continues to age. Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act included billions of dollars to revamp energy systems, and Casey hopes federal agencies will consult the newly published findings to target energy upgrades.

The study is the first county-level analysis of power outages, which the federal government reports only at the state level. That poses a problem for researchers: a federally reported outage in Washington state could occur in Seattle, Spokane, or somewhere in between, making it difficult to understand specifically which population is affected.

Casey and her team found that between 2018 and 2020, more than 231,000 power outages lasting more than an hour occurred nationwide. Of those, 17,484 stretched at least eight hours—a duration widely viewed as medically relevant.

Most counties that experienced an electrical outage had at least one event lasting more than eight hours. These counties were most concentrated in the South, Northeast, and Appalachia.

Read the full article about power outages at Futurity.