Web tool helps PSNH predict power outages

Public Service of New Hampshire has teamed up with meteorologists at Plymouth State University to develop an internal Web-based application that is expected to help the utility in predicting and planning for when and where power outages may occur.

“The tool developed by our Plymouth State partners presents a customized view of the weather as it relates to our various area work centers around the state,” said Paula Vincent, PSNH’s customer operations support supervisor. “It will be very useful when monitoring weather conditions. By understanding the potential impact of anticipated weather we can be best prepared for our emergency response during outage events.”

Final development of the Web application is the culmination of a two-phase project that PSNH and PSU began in 2004. “Phase one of the project pinpointed various weather systems that have resulted in power outages over the last 10 years,” said Dr. Eric Hoffman, PSU professor of meteorology who is overseeing the project. “We sought to determine if there were any common, forecastable characteristics that would enable PSNH to make strategic operational decisions prior to or during a significant weather event.”

Michael Nahmias, PSU ’05, completed the research as part of his senior project, identifying four types of weather events as having the potential to lead to power outages: wind, winter storms with heavy, wet snows of six to 10 inches of accumulation, summer thunderstorms, and heat waves during which the demand for electricity is extremely high and the electrical distribution system is stressed.

“The results were somewhat surprising,” said Hoffman. “During winter, it is not the steady wind or blizzard which leads to potential major power outages, rather it is a winter precipitation event where the average temperature is between 28 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in the accumulation of wet heavy snow.”

The research also showed that wind storms that cause outages are those with strong winds of greater than 18 mph across the state with gusts higher than about 40 mph. The greatest number of such wind events occurred in the early fall and late spring.

In phase two of the project, Bridget Bixby, a senior meteorology major from Warren, matched the research data with real-time weather data to develop the integrated Web-based decision tool which PSNH can use to enhance its level of readiness.

“By asking a series of questions that compares current weather and forecast data and matches it up with the historical research data, the tool provides PSNH with a better idea of the potential for a weather event that might lead to power outages,” said Hoffman. “It puts all the information in one place and provides answers to their questions.”

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