Squirrels and electricity: A shocking problem

The bushy-tailed rodents are responsible for tens of thousands of costly power outages each year.

By Bruce Kennedy Sep 6, 2013 9:19AM

Squirrel on a power line (© persnicketydame/Flickr/Getty Images)They seem cute, alright, but watch out: It appears America's squirrel population is hell-bent on plunging us humans into the dark, while wreaking havoc on the nation's infrastructure.

These furry, long-tailed rodents have been responsible for power outages for decades. Several years ago USA Today reported squirrels that electrocuted themselves by jumping onto transformers or chewing into power lines were to blame for tens of thousands of blackouts annually.

But a reporter at The New York Times did his best to keep track of power outages blamed on squirrels this summer, and he came up with some startling (or perhaps electrifying?) results.

Jon Mooallem says he became interested in the subject this past April, after reading about how a squirrel knocked out power in Tampa, Fla., putting hundreds of homes there in the dark and suspending state student achievement tests at several local schools.

Mooallem then set up a Google (GOOG) news alert for the term, "squirrel power." And during the 100 or so days between Memorial Day and Labor Day he recorded 50 major, squirrel-related power outages in 24 states. And, as he noted, these 50 blackouts "are only those power outages severe enough to make the news."

So many of these squirrel electrocution/power outages take place that no one seems to have any real data on the overall economic damage the animals cause.

Of course, utilities often take the biggest financial hit. Georgia Power estimated squirrel-related damage cost the company $2 million in 2006, according to USA Today. And a spokeswoman for Austin Energy recently told KXAN-TV in the Texas capital that the animals cause more than 300 power outages every year.

But squirrels appear to be conspiring to bring down America's stock markets, too. The Nasdaq exchange halted trading for 40 minutes in 1987 and again for 34 minutes in 1994 due to squirrel-related power disruptions. And The Wall Street Journal's Moneybeat blog was only half-joking when it reported that no squirrels were believed responsible for the most recent Nasdaq trading disruption, three hours long, on Aug. 22.

More on moneyNOW

Sep 6, 2013 12:08PM

You lose your power for a couple of hours.  The squirrel loses a lot more than that!


Who really had the bad day here?

Sep 6, 2013 10:27AM
As Ricky on that exterminator TV show says, "Squirrels are criminal masterminds." Ha ha... those furry little criminals. But they're sooo cute.
Sep 11, 2013 12:38PM
The smartest thing said today here was said by "callycoltransplant" when he or she suggested placing all of the powerlines AND PHONE lines under ground. Doing this would be beneficial in several ways. (1). It would completely eliminate "vehicle versus pole" fatalities. (2). It would eliminate power outages due to heavy ice accumulations on the lines during winter.. (3). Power would no longer be disrupted by falling trees and tree limbs during storms. (4). It would create MANY JOBS and the opportunities for those seeking to learn new skills in a relatively high paying field. Doing so would also remove the awful eyesore of all those exposed poles and power and phone lines. (Does anybody out there actually think that those poles are in ANY way attractive?) (5). It would save many thousands of trees and is just an environmentaly GOOD idea. (6). Emergency Response people would not be restricted where they can land rotor-wing aircraft due to location of power lines. (7). It would be a MAJOR boost to the U.S. economy and a great first step to the upgrade and replacement of our long OUT-DATED infrastructure. I really could go on but I think you all get the general idea.
Sep 6, 2013 5:35PM

 It is easy to blame the furry litle cute critters for the damage they do and there is a lot of proof they are guilty. But, has anyone got any ideas how to slow it down? One CEO once told me, there is no problem unless someone knows a way to solve what is described as a problem! Otherwise, it is just an expense of running a business.

 But, if you are in an area often hit by these outages, then you get the idea of how big the problem really is. I tried to keep squirrels out of a pecan tree in my yard last year because I had a good crop about ready to harvest. You have probably heard of flying squirrels. But, the red or fox squirrel so common throughout the USA evidently comes very close to flying the same way also. I have seen them run and jump (or fly) from one oak tree to the next numerous times. But, putting a cone on the trunk and trimming the tree so there was at least a five to six foot gap to higher limbs from the house roof and nearby fence and more than ten feet from an adjacent oak, at least one little critter regularly got into that tree. I saw it there and saw it leave several times, wondering how it got there. I know they cannot jump more than about four feet high. Evidenlty they jump from a thin branch high in  the adjacent tree and catch a small thin branch lower in the pecan tree.

 It is very common to see the smart little rascals running very fast along a power line. They obviously can get there from adjacent trees besides climbing the pole. They pop very loud when climbing around on a transformer and making the wrong connections. Thta, of course is when the lights go out and the computer, TV and clocks go out of service instantly!

Sep 6, 2013 2:19PM
Transformers aren't the only power they knock out.  Often squirrels will knock out individual poles connected to houses, causing the power company to send out one or two men with a truck to an individual house to fix the line (and often toss the squirrel into a field).  In 7 years, I have personally had power knocked out to my house and individual power source 5 or 6 times.
Sep 6, 2013 2:57PM
squirrel  = rodent = rat = poison
Sep 7, 2013 3:41PM
Nothing like the smell of "fried squirrel".....In the Morning..
Sep 7, 2013 10:02AM

Human = mammal=greed=destruction


Hey I know of plenty drunk drivers that knocked down power poles. 

They should get executed for disturbing my power supply


Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] S&P futures vs fair value: +7.80. Nasdaq futures vs fair value: +15.50. The stock market is on track for an upbeat start as futures on the S&P 500 trade eight points above fair value. Index futures spent the Asian session near their flat lines, but lifted off once European markets opened for action. The old continent will be in the spotlight until tomorrow with the Scottish independence referendum taking place today. However, Dundee and Glasgow are not expected to ... More