Monday, November 30, 2015

The Value of Meteorology

Ice storms are, to me, the most difficult type of weather to forecast. Give me a tornado, hurricane or even snow situation any time. Of course, accurate forecasts are essential because ice storms can cause terrible misery, financial loss and occasionally, injury or death.

Part of the difficulty is that ice storms require a specific, and uncommon, structure of the air above the ground. And, the worst ice can be in an area small enough that it is not sampled by weather balloons or instrumented aircraft. So, improving our forecasting tools is essential.

Nearly 400,000 people in Oklahoma lost power at one point or another Friday into Saturday evening due to massive amounts of ice. Some are still without power. How can can electric utilities know to prepare for these storms?
In 2007, Sidney Sperry (Oklahoma Electric Coops) and meteorologist Steve Piltz (NWS Tulsa) created an index that used wind, forecast ice thickness and temperature to assess the likelihood and severity of power outages due to ice. It has proven itself to be very reliable, provided a good weather forecast is made. 

At 9:17am Friday, I posted the index and called for widespread power outages, some lasting more than 24 hours (below). The deep blue and black areas were where serious damage to the electrical grid was forecast to occur. 

The worst affected counties were the ones in deep purple.
The correlation was nearly perfect.

We know that electric utilities were notified to begin to prepare in advance. Here are a couple of photos via Twitter. 


I'm hoping people who read the article on this blog and forecasts elsewhere prepared themselves and their families and mitigated the effect of these extended power losses.

But here is the point I wish to make: This valuable tool didn't require a million dollar research grant to a university, it didn't require an Act of Congress. It was two guys, one a meteorologist, who saw a need and acted. That is one of the many reasons I love meteorology and meteorologists!!

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