Insights > 2020’s power outages have been dominated by storms, but other acts of nature cause disruptions, too

2020’s power outages have been dominated by storms, but other acts of nature cause disruptions, too


When it comes to animal-caused power outages, squirrels are the GOAT!
When it comes to animal-caused power outages, squirrels are the GOAT!

Wildlife and electricity don’t mix

Raccoons and ‘possums and squirrels…oh, my! These furry critters may not sound as scary as lions and tigers and bears, but if you like a cold house in the dog days of summer or a toasty one when ol’ Man Winter is beating down your door, then be afraid. Be very afraid!

A Bull, And That’s No Bull

Animals like these – along with snakes, birds and the occasional bull--are responsible for tens of thousands of power outages a year at utilities in Mississippi and around the world.

We tell our customers all the time to stay away from downed power lines and teach them to respect electricity, but the animals? Well, we’re not Dr. Doolittle. We haven’t been able to get it across to them yet that animals and electricity don’t mix.

It’s a Jungle Out There

As long as there are animals that mess with energized equipment, linemen will have a job. While 2020 has been known for its historic storm season (and resulting outages), in 2019, more than 2,000 animals caused more than 22,000 outages in Entergy Mississippi’s service area. The average duration for one of these outages is about an hour and a half.

Raccoons are but one of the offenders. The original mask-wearers caused more than 600 outages for our customers last year. These sneaky bandits make their way into electrical equipment. Then, all too often, they become a conductor between an energized line or piece of gear and a grounded component.

Then there are birds. We know you’re wondering…why don’t birds get electrocuted when they land on power lines? Here’s why they almost never do. Still, in 2019 our feathered friends caused about 1,200 outages for Entergy Mississippi customers. The birds themselves rarely cause an outage directly, but occasionally, they spread their wings and connect things that should not be connected. Or they drop other animals onto our equipment. Sometimes, it’s not the bird but the bird’s poop. Vultures like to perch on transmission lines. If they poop and it hits a line beneath them, it is highly corrosive. Birds also build nests in our equipment, and that can gum up moving parts and cause other problems.

Snakes are next. They like bird eggs, and sometimes go after the ones in nests that birds have built in our equipment. We discovered 19 that slithered to an untimely demise last year, disrupting power for 1,855 befuddled customers.

Cyber Squirrel Operations

Coming in at the undisputed No. 1 position is no surprise: squirrels! They are King of the Power Outages, causing more than 15,000 of our animal-related outages last year with their cute scampering. Ultimately, they scampered into places they just don’t belong. But why? Squirrels have taken down the power grid far more times than hackers. Do they have a secret plan? Or just an amateur interest in electrical engineering?  Perhaps this terrifying and hilarious look at squirrel attacks on the U.S. power grid will shed some light.

And Then There Are the Others

Remember the bull? His name is Ron, and last May he left three villages in England without power after knocking a transformer off an electrical pole while trying to scratch his backside. It was a near-death experience for him and about a five-hour power outage for 800 local homes and businesses.

Bulls on our side of the pond aren’t much better.  Along with cows, goats, beavers, ’possums, lizards, bullfrogs, ants, cats and rats, they caused more than 3,500 outages for our customers last year.

There were lots of cases of cows and bulls rubbing guy wires on poles, just like Ron did in England. And there was a case of goats butting poles and getting wires to slap together and knock out power. Many times, beavers chewed through trees and dropped them on our conductors. And the ants? They set up house inside our pad mount transformer. Those are the big boxes you see in some neighborhoods or near large buildings that have underground wiring.

Break Out the Fake Owls…This Means War!!

Keeping animals out of electrical equipment is a constant battle. Here are some of our “military secrets”:

  • Special guards prevent squirrels from running across overhead lines and reaching critical equipment. Spinning wheels on either side act as jump barriers and rollers spin if the squirrel makes it past the barriers. For the squirrel, it’s Mission Impassable!
  • Special plastic or rubber covers fit over particular components, especially terminals where wires enter and exit from transformers.
  • Insulated tape is wrapped around bare wires in locations near other components.
  • New designs add more space between energized equipment and grounds, reducing the risk of animals becoming a conductor.
  • Fake owls posted on substation fences. Owls eat snakes and rodents, so they help deter the animals that we can fool. We move the owls around now and then to enhance the illusion that they're real.
  • Flashy, shiny reflectors to deter birds.
  • Fencing around substations. All substations have chain-link fences, mostly to keep people out. But in substations where other measures have not worked, we install Vanquish fencing, a non-energized barrier that stops all crawling animals, including snakes.

Power outages can be caused by many things, including critters. Entergy Mississippi, and utilities everywhere work very hard to outsmart these ingenious wreakers of havoc. But sometimes the animals win. So, while other people may be more concerned with lions and tigers and bears, we’re concerned with scary beasts that can do some real damage…like make you swelter on a hot Mississippi day or shiver during the cold of winter! And If we could talk to the animals, we’d tell them the same thing we tell our customers about the dangers of electricity: keep your distance, keep your life.

Mara Hartmann
Manager, Nuclear Communications