Outage Causes

Know What Can Cause an Outage

Outage causes can come in many shapes and sizes. Things like squirrels, trees, snakes, flying objects, ice, and cars can all create a power outage. Get more information below about unplanned, planned, and controlled power outages that could affect your home or business.

Unplanned Outages

Unplanned outages have many causes. When an unplanned outage occurs, crews are ready to respond and restore power as soon as the scene is safe.

Check out these 10 common causes for unplanned outages:

small mammals near poles


While deer and bears have caused outages in some parts of the country, the culprits in the Austin area are usually much smaller. Small mammals take risks around electrical equipment, and that can mean an outage for you or an entire neighborhood. Squirrels cause outages regularly.

snakes in utility controls


Snakes love to hide in cool, dark places, and they can find all those things in a substation. Austin Energy constructs barriers and takes other measures to help keep critters out, but sometimes they find their way in and cause outages.

bird nest in power line


Birds love a high perch, and not just in trees. A bird’s nest in the wrong spot can cause an outage for multiple city blocks.

tree branches contact with pole lines


Trees do not mix well with power lines. When trees are planted too close to power lines, not trimmed properly, or damaged from weather, their branches can touch power lines and cause outages lasting hours or even days.

car crashes into pole

Car Crash

You might be surprised how often vehicles crash into poles. Between ensuring medical care for those involved, damage assessment, equipment repair, and securing the scene, crashes can lead to power outages that take time to repair.

mylar balloons caught in pole lines

Flying Objects

From loose metallic balloons to remote control toys, drones, and patio furniture, flying objects can hit electric lines and cause outages. When the forecast calls for wind, secure items in your yard that could fly away.

wind blows pole lines

Swinging Lines

Speaking of wind, what seems like a simple motion of swinging power lines on a clear, windy day can cause outages, too.

lightening strikes pole


We know to go inside to avoid lightning. When lightning strikes, that electricity takes the fastest path to the ground. Sometimes a power pole takes a direct hit during a storm. Lightning can destroy wires and transformers and even break poles, causing outages.

iced power lines and poles


Ice on electric lines can add hundreds or thousands of pounds of weight and increase the weight of branches by 30 times. This can break power lines and cause outages, even on brand new equipment.

construction machinery hits pole

Construction Site

As the Austin area grows, more and more buildings go up and connect to the grid. Part of that process might mean digging and excavation that brings unintentional power outages for the surrounding area.

Planned Outages

Planned outages allow for maintenance and repairs on electric infrastructure and equipment, including scheduled tree trimming. Austin Energy notifies customers in advance of planned outages and restores power as quickly and safely as possible.

Controlled Outages - Statewide Grid Events

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the statewide electric grid. When electricity use across the state gets too close to the amount of available electricity generation, that can strain the statewide grid and lead to an emergency situation. ERCOT has three emergency levels that help keep power flowing. The highest level calls for controlled outages to prevent a statewide blackout.

ERCOT-directed, controlled outages typically last up to 40 minutes before being rotated to another location. However, depending on grid conditions and ERCOT requirements, these outages may not be able to rotate and can turn into extended outages. 

Learn More

Date last reviewed or modified: 02/14/2024