The icy chill that shattered low temperature records and sent RealFeel® temperatures plunging this week caused an uptick in power usage.
Frigid, record-breaking temperatures have been shooting across the United States this week. Tuesday, Jan. 7, set record lows for the date for many cities across the country, including a new low of 6 F for Atlanta, 3 F for Baltimore and 4 F for Philadelphia.
The frigid air was especially shocking for southern locations that do not typically record many single-digit temperatures. As a result, many power companies are reporting a sharp spike in usage as people with electric heat crank up their thermostats.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released a statement on Tuesday declaring that the company had broken winter usage records with 57,277 megawatts. For a time, they had issued a conservation request to their customers to help prevent blackouts or other overuse complications.
Brian Green of Georgia Power said it was too soon to tell if any records have been broken but said they noted an obvious increase in usage between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. EST Tuesday. He attributed the timing to people waking up for work and realizing how much the temperature had plummeted. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature for Atlanta was as low as 11 below zero F.
"Even if it's not a record, I think we'll definitely see some kind of peak milestone," Green said.
For locations farther north, however, the usages were not especially notable. Mike Durand, media specialist for NSTAR energy in Massachusetts, said that even when winter temperatures plunge, the demand for power does not compare to the increase seen in the summertime when temperatures climb and air conditioners are turned on.
"We're not seeing any spike that concerns us," Durand said. "There was somewhat of an increase, but we are operating normally."
In northern areas where such low temperatures are more common, it is also likely that people will have secondary heating sources, such as wood stoves or fireplaces.
The polar vortex will be retreating northward in the coming days, making way for warmer air to return to frigid areas. According to AccuWeather.com Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok, the next big shot of cold air will come down into the Plains around Jan. 18 and will eventually spread into the East. Otherwise, temperatures are expected to be fairly typical for this time of year.