<p><strong>An exploding transformer lit up part of lower Manhattan, which was otherwise plunged into darkness during power outages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Mother Nature roughed up the power industry this year—and some believe she got a boost from human-driven climate change.</strong></p><p><strong>Sandy knocked out power to some 8.5 million homes and businesses in 16 states. Damage from the storm highlighted the aging and vulnerable grid infrastructure found across much of the U.S., which many states are working to update with smarter electric-distribution systems that can quickly identify and respond to trouble. (See "<a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/11/121102-hurricane-sandy-power-outages/">Can Hurricane Sandy Shed Light on Curbing Power Outages</a>?")</strong></p><p>During the lead-up to Labor Day, Hurricane Isaac was part of a perfect storm that drove pump prices sky high just before one of the year's biggest travel weekends. The approaching storm shut down Gulf Coast refineries, which caused dips in inventory and reactionary spikes in gasoline prices. (See "<a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/08/120830-hurricane-isaac-labor-day-gas-prices/%20">Isaac Drives Spike in U.S. Gas Prices Ahead of Labor Day Weekend</a>.")</p><p>Not all of the stress on the power grid came from storms. Record-breaking drought conditions that gripped much of the U.S. over the summer also took a toll. Nuclear power plants, which require water for cooling, were forced to scale back production, and some shut down—even as heat drove demand for air-conditioning and electricity. Hydroelectric power production was also slowed during summer 2012's extended dog days. (See "<a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/08/120817-record-heat-drought-pose-problems-for-electric-power-grid/">Record Heat, Drought Pose Problems for U.S. Electric Power</a>.")</p><p><em>—Brian Handwerk</em></p>

Energy Impacts from Extreme Weather

An exploding transformer lit up part of lower Manhattan, which was otherwise plunged into darkness during power outages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Mother Nature roughed up the power industry this year—and some believe she got a boost from human-driven climate change.

Sandy knocked out power to some 8.5 million homes and businesses in 16 states. Damage from the storm highlighted the aging and vulnerable grid infrastructure found across much of the U.S., which many states are working to update with smarter electric-distribution systems that can quickly identify and respond to trouble. (See "Can Hurricane Sandy Shed Light on Curbing Power Outages?")

During the lead-up to Labor Day, Hurricane Isaac was part of a perfect storm that drove pump prices sky high just before one of the year's biggest travel weekends. The approaching storm shut down Gulf Coast refineries, which caused dips in inventory and reactionary spikes in gasoline prices. (See "Isaac Drives Spike in U.S. Gas Prices Ahead of Labor Day Weekend.")

Not all of the stress on the power grid came from storms. Record-breaking drought conditions that gripped much of the U.S. over the summer also took a toll. Nuclear power plants, which require water for cooling, were forced to scale back production, and some shut down—even as heat drove demand for air-conditioning and electricity. Hydroelectric power production was also slowed during summer 2012's extended dog days. (See "Record Heat, Drought Pose Problems for U.S. Electric Power.")

—Brian Handwerk

Photograph by Karly Domb Sadof, AP

Pictures: Eight Biggest Energy Stories of 2012

North American fossil-fuel production surged, while China grabbed for resources and India's power system teetered, in the top energy news stories of 2013.

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