Hurricanes and other weather phenomena are changing. ECC wrote about that last week as we talked with the author of A Furious Sky, a 500-year history of hurricanes. (See it here.)
Utilities are well-versed in weather forecasting and how it is changing. We checked in with two senior meteorologists at Dominion Energy to discuss how they look at weather, climate, customers, and work at the utility. They are Jacob Klee and Jeff Mock in Richmond, VA.
First, climate versus weather – what is the difference? “Climate is long term and weather is day to day,” said Jeff. “Climate influences weather. We deal with weather and translate its impact to operations.”
Utility meteorologists’ translations mean a lot. “On an operational basis we take what we expect each day or week out and convert it to what it will do to our infrastructure,” said Jacob. “Take a snowfall forecast. We may expect 6-9 inches snow on a given day. Dry fluffy snow versus the same amount in a heavy wet snow makes a big difference to Dominion and its customers. The first is something of a nonevent, the second – a heavy and wet snow can be catastrophic with power outages and days of getting power back on.”
Back to hurricanes, something well-known in the Southeast, these meteorologists can see changes. Said Jacob, “We expect a mix of future storms becoming stronger and more intense, but there may be fewer intense relative to the total number of storms.” So, there may be more storms, but not all are intense. Those that do grow big may get really big.
“2020 is a very active season, like 2005 was active, said Jeff. Remember that was the year of Katrina, Wilma, and Rita. “We ran through the alphabet on names that year and might this year.”
“We are behind on intensity of the storms, just one major hurricane as of the start of September. We believe the season will remain active.” Jeff notes how human perceptions can play games, too: “We can have an active season but if it impacts someone else, people may not perceive it as intense.”
A storm is a storm to a big extent. “Some of our bigger weather impacts have been tropical storms versus intense hurricanes. They have bigger wind fields,” said Jeff. “Landfall might be away from our territory but the storm remnants come through our territory.”
Jacob commented on storm intensity: “The news reports on hurricane intensity and if it is expected to increase. For us the intensity does not make as much difference as how long the area spends in a tropical storm intensity. An example is 2018 season (map, left, from US agencies). It had a handful of lower-end storms that impacted the Carolina and Virginia coast on already saturated ground. That was an impactful weather year.”
The Southeast US will have an example of this soaking as Sally hits the Gulf Coast then takes a hard right into Georgia and the Carolinas.
Customer growth is also changing, and that changes risk, according to Jeff: “Now people are working from home, and they rely on power so much more and in a new way. Outage predictions more crucial.”
ECC asked the meteorologists what they would advise the average citizen for prep.
“Stay aware of what is going on around you,” said Jeff. “Our science is getting better, outage prediction is better, but every storm is different. People have to pay attention. Utilities are in the media and in the news, and forecasts can change. Stay informed.”
“The pandemic hasn’t changed the wisdom of being weather aware, said Jacob.
“Where will weather significantly impact my life?” is the question Jeff suggests keeping in mind. “There are lots of apps to help you know.”
Both Jeff and Jacob said there’s so much they and utilities do to prevent outages, but there is only so much that can be done when a big storm packs a punch. “That’s where we come in, we can’t prevent it but can all be ready,” said Jacob.
With two such savvy energy and weather people, ECC asked what they have done in their households to be energy efficient.
“LED lights, bit by bit, and with our large family,” said Jacob. “We always have used the most efficient bulbs possible at the moment. With heating and cooling, we acclimatize ourselves to the season. We used to try and keep our home the same temperature all the time, but with just a little discomfort at the first of the season we adapt.”
Jeff takes it further: “I am a minimalist at all aspects of my life. Our house has better insulation and for years my lights have been LED lights, but they are not on a lot. We do not use much electricity.” Smart thermostats are also part of the energy savings.
Feature image of the Hurricane Sally from NOAA Monday, September 14, 2020, 5:30 eastern time.