Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Planning for Long-Term Power Outages




Between 2003 and 2012, weather caused 80 percent of all power outages in the United States.
During the sweltering heat of summer, losing electricity limits access to air conditioning, fans and other methods of keeping cool.
"Generally, bad weather doesn't hit the whole system at once," said Senior Communications Representative for First Energy Chris Eck.
In June of 2012, however, it did. An intense, long-lived line of thunderstorms known as a Derecho swept through the Midwest. 
Courtesy Storm Prediction Center of the NWS
 A video posted to YouTube shows footage of the storm and a northwest Ohio resident saying, "I've never seen it storm like this."
YouTube Video: Derecho in Newark, Ohio
"That wind storm did a great deal of damage to our system and it took a long time to recover," adds Eck.
Of the event's roughly 1,200 storm reports, nearly 10 percent cited damage to power lines and utility poles. The impacts of the Derecho's 90 mile per hour wind gusts were felt immediately and for days and weeks afterward as thousands suffered without power.
According to the National Weather Service, a derecho, or a damaging line of thunderstorms may occur once per year in the NW Ohio area, climatologically speaking.

Derecho Climatology, According to the NWS

Derecho Climatology, According to the NWS
 When it comes to power outages, most people's plan is to light a few candles and wait it out. But what happens when the power company leaves you in the dark for longer than you expected?
"You can't make your infrastructure weather proof. Mother Nature can always throw things at you that you aren't prepared for," said Eck.
In northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan, multiple companies control the power supply. First Energy owned Toledo Edison and Ohio Edison provide energy for most of northwest Ohio from the Indiana border to the shores of Lake Erie. South of the Glass City, AEP Ohio provides energy for parts of Central Ohio, including the cities of Findlay, Lima and Upper Sandusky.
Map shows coverage areas for local energy companies
With more than 300,000 miles of wire in the air, First Energy conducts ongoing preventative maintenance to keep the grid working smoothly. In a severe weather situation, all of the local energy companies work around the clock to restore power starting from the largest service areas, down to the minor ones.
"Sometimes, you might have your power out and it's been a few hours and you haven't seen a truck and you wonder if we're working. We're working our way out to you," said Eck.
In the meantime, emergency services personnel identify potential hazards, and provide support.
"When we arrive on the scene of a weather related incident, it can be very dynamic. Our first thought is to secure that area if a power line is down if a tree is down. Our first thought is public safety, not only to us, obviously, but the public, as well. Any time we have an energized power line on the ground that presents a danger," said Toledo Fire and Rescue Lieutenant Matthew Hertzfeld.
You can stay safe by watching for things like caution scene tape and notifications of live wires and by planning in advance. 
Battery operated flashlights and radios can come in handy during power outages. Remember to fully charge your mobile devices and fill your tank with gas before a potential severe weather outbreak.
A battery powered fan will prevent you from getting too hot this summer, but it's also good to have a back-up plan when it comes to keeping cool.
In the days leading up to and following the 2012 Derecho event, high temperatures ranged from the lower 90s into the triple digits.
Temps after the Derecho in 2012 were well into the triple digits
"I've got a thermometer in my room and this morning when I got up, it was at 92," said one Findlay resident, who found refuge at a Red Cross cooling center.
The Lucas County Emergency Management Agency partnered with the Red Cross to provide families will bottled water and non-perishable foods and to open shelters and cooling stations.
"There are definitely concerns, especially when we have the [summertime] heat and no air conditioning. We ask that citizens check on their elderly neighbors to make sure that they are safe and maybe get them to a cooling center," said Lucas County EMA Director Patricia Moomey.
Michigan and Ohio top the list for the most major outages per state. A new study conducted by Climate Central in April of this year suggests that not only have the number of power outages risen in the past decade, but they will continue to do so in the future.