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Storm Prediction Predicament
By: Chris Reese, President & CEO
In the electric utility business, following the weather is imperative. Weather forecasts, radar, and wind speed maps are on at all times in several locations in our office building, including in my own office. Weather alerts are set on so many cell phones in our office that, if there is an emergency, it creates a cacophony of phone sirens. For me, this isn’t just a professional consideration. I have mentioned in previous articles that if I had chosen another field besides engineering, it likely could have been meteorology.
While you can’t predict the exact weather or which storm forecast might be verified, you can always plan ahead so that when a severe weather event strikes, you’ll have the tools and resources needed to effectively weather the storm. The first step is to know how best to interpret the forecasting information that is available.
Credibility of sources is critical. Make sure you know where your sources are getting their information. Most of our television news channels are focused on New York City weather - rain for them may mean snow for us. The type of weather can even differ between individual towns depending on location and elevation. Remember the severe ice storm in 2008? I know Highland Lakes residents do. Everywhere else in our territory, it was just rain. No matter how much you trust your source or like your weather person, make sure to use a range of good sources so you can get a complete picture.
Having a trusted source is good but knowing several is best. You need to identify what your sources agree on so you can be critical about discrepancies. We had the opportunity to interview one such source, accomplished meteorologist Walter Drag, for our second article in this issue of Currents. I’d like to thank Walter for taking the time to speak with us on his expertise and career history. I hope our readers find his answers as interesting as I did!
During a storm, check for forecast updates – the first look at a storm is never as good as the 5th or 15th. Remember that a forecast is just an estimate, or an “educated guess.” Take time to check for new information as it comes in. Taking advantage of new, more accurate information can help you determine a new plan or revise your current one. The further out a forecast is (in days), the less accurate it is.
No matter how experienced you are in dealing with storms, past experiences cannot always be relied on. Every storm is different and past storm experience is not always remembered perfectly. There are a million different factors that can affect a storm’s outcome. A one-degree difference in temperature, plus or minus, can make a rainstorm an ice storm or create a snow/ice mix that can bend or break trees. A south wind instead of an northeasterly wind can be the final straw that topples a tree which has been standing for decades and withstood countless previous storms.
Heed warnings from emergency management professionals. While the media might get swept up in the hype of a storm, professionals in emergency management tend to wait for things to come into focus before recommending emergency measures. Orders to evacuate an area should be taken seriously. Experts know that an evacuation is not only terribly inconvenient but also creates a logistical nightmare. These orders are given as a last resort to keep everyone safe. Warnings to stay indoors and off the roads also help resolve problems more smoothly. With drivers at home, plows can more easily clear roads for our crews and, of course, first responders and other emergency personnel.
Stay in the know. Find your emergency management’s Facebook page, your town and county’s websites and other information channels, or follow your local electric cooperative on social media. It always pays to stay aware.
Keep your home prepared. Flashlights are only good if you know where to find them and if the batteries work. How many times have you stood in the dark outside with the dog because someone in your family moved the flashlight? That scenario is made up. Certainly, no one in my family has ever used our flashlight to look for the back of their earring and then left the flashlight by the chair in the family room instead of back where it belongs. Go to our website, sussexrec.com/storms to find a host of tips to prepare you for a storm. We provide everything you need from lists of non-perishable foods to generator tips to help you be prepared.
In the event of an outage, turn off appliances, TVs, computers, and other sensitive electronics. This will help avert potential damage and will also help prevent overloading the circuits during power restoration. That said, leave one light on so you will know when power is restored. If utilizing a small household generator, consider using LED holiday lights to illuminate a living area. A strand of 100 white LED lights draws little energy yet produces considerable light. Solar lights also work if they can receive some sunlight during the day for charging.
Research and planning for severe storms or other emergencies can reduce stress and anxiety caused by the weather event and can lessen the impact of the storm’s effects. Act today, because there is always power in planning.