Blackouts & Brownouts: What’s the Difference?

Your Missouri Electric Cooperative does its best to provide you with reliable, affordable power all year long, but blackouts and brownouts that affect your service can still occur, especially when there’s high electricity demand or severe weather. Here’s what you need to know about blackouts and brownouts and what causes each.

What is an Electrical Blackout?

An electrical blackout is a complete loss of power, no matter how long it lasts or how far spread the outage is. A blackout can last a few minutes and cover just a small area or it can last for days and cover several states.

Blackouts are exactly what they sound like: they’re a time all power goes dark because there’s no electricity at all. Blackouts can be dangerous, especially during winter, when many Missourians rely on electric power for home heat. 

What is an Electric Brownout?

An electrical brownout is a temporary reduction in voltage to a power supply system or a temporary reduction in the system’s total capacity. A brownout lasts minutes or hours, and it can cause lights to flicker or to go dim (or “brown”).

Brownouts can happen when there’s an unintentional disruption to the grid, or they can be intentionally triggered by your Cooperative to reduce load and prevent a total power blackout (source). 

What Causes Blackouts and Brownouts?

Severe weather, a short circuit, an overloaded grid, power station faults, damaged power lines or other major disturbances cause electrical blackouts. Blackouts usually occur without warning, but your Cooperative may produce a brownout deliberately in an attempt to prevent a blackout.

Electrical blackouts and brownouts are most likely to occur at times of the year when electrical demand is the highest — like on Missouri’s hottest summer days and during our coldest winter months — and during severe weather like tornadoes, lightning storms and ice storms.

You can learn more about your Missouri Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide reliable electricity even during peak usage and severe weather, by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.


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