Science

Thousands of Michigan residents without power for days during heat wave

As storms battered Southeast Michigan this week, Lindsey Brenz heard trees crashing and saw bright flashes of lightning through her windows. Then she heard a bang and the monotonous drone of what she suspected was an electric shock.

“I thought, ‘Oh God, this isn’t going to be good,’” she said.

Ms. Brenz, 32, was one of 69,000 customers left without power Wednesday night after powerful storms toppled trees and downed power lines, compounding the effects of an intense heat wave that has battered the Midwest and other parts of the country.

Three days after the power outage, approximately 7,000 customers are still without power, according to to DTE Energy, a Detroit utility that serves the area. Detroit has suffered temperatures in the 90s since the heat wave began on Monday. The heat index, a measure of how conditions feel when humidity is taken into account, reaches Saturday afternoon 95 degrees.

Ms. Brenz’s biggest concern was protecting herself and her cat, Bubba, from the sweltering conditions during the outage. She closed her windows, pulled her shades and avoided showering to keep her Berkley home cool.

“It was the little things I had to pay attention to to keep me and my cat safe,” said Ms. Brenz, who works for a nonprofit.

Deb Dworkin, a 52-year-old HR manager, lives in a bungalow in Berkley. She said her upstairs bedroom became “hot” during the outage. She slept on the couch for two days, using a battery-powered travel fan and a neck scarf filled with ice cubes.

“I probably looked ridiculous,” she said.

Michael Reiterman, a 25-year-old assistant financial planner who lives in New Baltimore, tried similar solutions in his home, including closing the blinds to keep the heat out. But his ultimate solution was to commute back and forth between his house, which had intermittent power outages, and his fiancée’s house, which had power all week.

The country has so far been spared from large-scale power outages due to the heat wave raised demand for electricity and puts pressure on the grid infrastructure. Experts say this is a promising sign that the grid can handle intense heat waves later in the summer.

But the difficulties facing Michigan residents demonstrate the risks of power outages coinciding with heat waves — regardless of whether the outages are caused directly by the heat.

To help mitigate these risks, DTE Energy plans to invest about $9 billion over the next five years to harden the power grid so it can withstand the impacts of climate change, said Brian Calka, vice president of the company’s Distribution Operations division.

“The weather patterns we are seeing now are fundamentally different than anything we have seen in recent history,” he said. “It is a call to action.”

Sophia Lada contributed to the reporting.

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