The importance of taking volatile weather events seriously cannot be overstated enough. When it comes to severe snow storms, electrical storms and everything in between, utilities and companies of all types need to be thinking in three distinct categories: bad, worse and truly ugly. Thanks to climate change and many other characteristics, volatile weather events are here to stay. Rains are going to be heavier. Snow fall is going to be harder. Flooding is going to be more severe. To make things worse, these events are going to last longer than ever.
This is all advice that Jeff Johnson, the chief science officer at a company called Schneider Electric, is trying to get industries all around the country to take seriously. Johnson has been with Schneider Electric for many years in the capacity of preparing both medium and long-term forecasts for many different types of weather events.
One of the main ideas that Johnson is trying to impart has to do with infrastructure. He indicates that utilities, power providers and similar types of companies need to be ready for the rough roads ahead by hardening their infrastructure in anticipation of these types of events. His own research, coupled with the research provided by his colleagues and peers, has suggested that we’ve had a larger number of instances of extreme weather in the last ten years alone than we have in any comparable period since records have been kept on this particular topic.
Important factors that he has observed over the last several years include the fact that warmer seasons have a tendency to be dramatically extended, which in turn increases extreme dryness. On the flip side of the equation are the heavy rains, which tend to be bigger and heavier than they have at any point in the past. Droughts are most certainly another area of concern, which themselves have had a tendency to be stronger with each passing year. Periods of warm and cool weather are also extended, which can cause severe weather patterns (or the threat thereof) to stay around longer.
Johnson also indicated that one major area for concern is the fact that weather patterns of all types are moving much more slowly than they have in the past. This in turn means that instances of bad weather are staying around for much longer than we have the capacity to deal with. Even if a specific area doesn’t have a severe weather outbreak for several weeks, it is then common to see a big outbreak of tornadoes and similar types of extreme events in the days ahead. Johnson indicated that this was a pattern that he had personally observed in the last two years in particular.
The crux of Johnson’s argument stems from the fact that he believes energy companies and the industry at large needs to not only be aware of these increased risks, but be prepared for what they have in store. His advice for utilities companies involves the use of smart grid systems that will allow them to remotely and quickly identify what has caused an outage, which is actionable information that can be used to restore services as quickly as possible. Building higher flood walls to protect from storm surges is also something that Johnson recommends.