Beryl was not a surprise, but it battered southeast Texas electric grid anyway 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image of Hurricane Beryl moving toward Texas late July 7, 2024.  
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image of Hurricane Beryl moving toward Texas late July 7, 2024.  

By John Haughey 
Contributing Writer 

Hurricane Beryl was on radars for more than 11 days, and its likely southeast Texas landfall was projected for at least five days before it crashed ashore Monday in Matagorda Bay near Indianola, a ghost town abandoned nearly 140 years ago after being twice-destroyed by hurricanes. 

The storm was not a surprise. 

Yet, in Category 1 Beryl’s wake, at least eight people in Texas and Louisiana are dead, and more than 2.3 million homes and businesses in the Houston area were without power early Tuesday, down from more than 2.7 million the day before, according to 

“While we tracked the projected path, intensity, and timing for Hurricane Beryl closely for many days, this storm proved the unpredictability of hurricanes as it delivered a powerful blow across our service territory and impacted a lot of lives,” said Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president of CenterPoint Energy, the region’s largest electrical utility with more than 4 million area metered and natural gas customers in a Tuesday press release. 

An “electric army” of 12,000 linemen and technicians from across Texas and neighboring states are scrambling to repair downed transmission lines and flooded substations, CenterPoint Energy reported early Tuesday. 

“Based on current progress with its damage assessment and initial restoration, CenterPoint now expects to have 1 million impacted customers restored by the end of the day on Wednesday, July 10,” it said. 

That leaves at least 1 million people in the Houston area alone without power for an extended period in a 90-to-100 degree steam bath under a National Weather Service heat advisory at least through Wednesday. 

CenterPoint said it would supply mobile generation units to provide temporary power to cooling centers, health care facilities, senior centers, police, and fire stations until electricity in storm-savaged areas is restored. 

Intensifying Projections and Planning 

Hurricanes are a familiar menace on the Gulf coast, although rarely has a storm of such fury, storm surge, and flooding arrived in July during the June 1-Nov. 1 ‘Mean Season.’ 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 2024 hurricane season has an 85% chance of being “above normal,” with 17 to 25 named storms and eight to 13 hurricanes, including four to seven “major” hurricanes. That’s a 30% increase in storm activity over 2023’s NOAA forecast. 

Hurricane Beryl, although a Category 1 with 80-mph winds when it made landfall in the United States, is the first 2024 storm to meet NOAA’s “major” storm classification of Category 3 and above, reaching Category 5 with 165 mph sustained winds faster and earlier than any Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. 

According to a recently published study by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute, the Houston area is 72% more likely to see more extended hurricane-induced power outages in the coming years than it is right now. 

The study used outage data from 23 hurricanes that made landfall in the United States between 2014-22 to determine with computer modeling where electric utilities are most vulnerable to sustained outages not only in the Southeast, but also in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. 

The Houston area was among those determined to be most susceptible to prolonged storm-induced power outages like the one it will endure in Beryl’s wake. 

“The average person in the metropolitan areas of Boston, Houston, and New Orleans could see expected outage events increase more than 70% per decade,” the analysis states, projecting Washington, D.C., would see its odds of sustained power outages from hurricanes in the coming decades increase by 21%, Philadelphia by 49%, New York City by 47%, and Boston by 76%. 

Not surprisingly, Florida is particularly vulnerable, according to the study, with Tampa at 89% higher risk and Miami at 119% higher risk. 

That vulnerability comes as no surprise, although planning for the “unpredictability” of hurricanes is getting more difficult, representatives from the state’s four private utility companies said during a May 22 presentation before the Florida Public Service Commission. 

Florida Power & Light President and CEO Armando Pimentel told the PSC that greater “unpredictability” during hurricane season has fostered a “conservative” worst-case scenario in planning when investing in infrastructure hardening and in response training. 

The storms are getting bigger and coming more frequently, he said. “For whatever reason … there’s clearly an intensification going on … And so now we have to prepare for storms a little sooner than what we had, and it’s going to be a little bit more costly than what we had.” 

Tampa Electric Co. President and CEO Archie Collins spoke of the challenges of preparing for hurricanes. 

“It is becoming an increasingly difficult game to figure out how to find that balance between being well-prepared and not overspending on planning for an impending hurricane,” Collins said. 

Among the issues in responding to hurricane-induced outrages is that utilities in nearby states are hesitant to send mutual aid crews to Florida because another storm could strike while they are tending to a disaster elsewhere. 

Duke Energy Florida President Melissa Seixas called assembling an emergency response mutual aid response effort is like “literally staging an army” with the host utility needing to find housing, food, and services for the arriving linemen and technicians. 

Duke, which operates electric utilities in South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, can draw on its own workforce to supplement those in Florida in an emergency — and vice-versa. 

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