UAlbany-Led Wind Extremes Forecast System Will Improve Power Outage Prediction, Response in New York

A look at the damage to power lines and trees caused by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 24, 2019) – Jeff Freedman wants to reduce the risk of New Yorkers experiencing widespread and prolonged power outages from extreme wind events.

Freedman, a research associate at UAlbany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC), is working in collaboration with researchers and meteorologists at the Consolidated Edison Company of New York (Con Ed) and MESO, Inc. to create the Wind Extremes Forecast System (WEFS).

WEFS will combine numerical weather prediction (NWP) modeling with machine learning techniques to produce forecasts of threshold wind speeds and gusts that could lead to power outages at county and sub-county levels in New York State. By determining where power outages are possible, WEFS researchers believe utility companies and other stakeholders, such as emergency managers, can mobilize resources more efficiently, reducing restoration time and could lead to improving the long-term resiliency of the state’s power distribution system.

New York City ranked as the most vulnerable major city in the U.S. for more power outages due to increasing extreme weather, according to a 2014 study. Two years prior, more than 670,000 people in and around New York City were left without electricity or heat for days to weeks after Superstorm Sandy brought winds gusting to 94 mph in the metropolitan area.

Another study in 2011 ranked New York State as the most weather sensitive state in the nation.

“In the last 20 years we have seen an increase in extreme wind events in New York,” said Freedman. “Our goal with WEFS is to predict when and where power outages might happen based on forecasted wind storms. This information is valuable for utility companies to prepare for storms and send their crews to the right location.”

“Millions of dollars can be saved if power can be more quickly restored after the occurrence of an outage,” he added.

Jeff Freedman, research associate at UAlbany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC).
Jeff Freedman, research associate at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

Smart Weather Solutions

Leaders from Con Ed, including meteorologist Mike Berlinger, approached UAlbany’s NYSTAR Center of Excellence in Atmospheric and Environmental Prediction and Innovation last year about developing a sophisticated weather forecast system that could help minimize power outage impacts for its millions of customers in southeastern New York.

They were connected with Freedman, an atmospheric sciences and renewable energy researcher with a focus on improving onshore and offshore wind resource assessment and power production forecasts. Among his recent projects is the first Wind Forecasting Improvement Project (WFIP), a $3.5 million study funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Soon after I started at Con Ed, we recognized how big of an impact wind gusts were having on our system,” Berlinger said. “That’s when we pitched the idea to UAlbany to create a solution that can help us better forecast wind-related outages. If WEFS is successful, our thinking is to potentially extrapolate this idea to other forecasted variables in the future.”

WEFS will forecast wind gusts and wind speeds for regions in Con Ed’s service area at one-kilometer spatial resolution in 15-minute intervals and up to 48 hours in advance. WEFS project partners have provided funding for the project, along with support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)’s Smart Grid program.

“UAlbany has direct access to the largest concentration of atmospheric, climate and environmental researchers in New York,” said Chris Thorncroft, interim director of ASRC. “These scientists are creating smart business solutions that empower industry partners statewide to make more informed weather risk management decisions.”

Alicia Barton, president and CEO, NYSERDA, said, “Advancing innovative technologies under Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal plays a key role in our communities remaining resilient to unexpected weather events and the impacts of climate change. The Wind Extremes Forecast System could result in a quicker response and restoration time during power outages, and as extreme weather events continue to become the norm, this can be expanded to support utilities and New Yorkers statewide.”

Outage Prediction

Sustained winds and gusts of 30 and 50 mph are generally considered two important thresholds for predicting potential power outages, according to Freedman. However, other factors, such as snow accumulation, heavy rains, vegetation and the region’s history with blackouts need to be part of the equation before making predictions.

WEFS project partners are developing machine learning algorithms that combine NWP forecasts with real-time weather data from the University’s NYS Mesonet, a statewide next generation observation network of 126 weather stations. Other weather information will come from National Weather Service Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) stations.

Each NYS Mesonet weather station is equipped with automated sensors that collect variables such as temperature, humidity, snow depth and soil moisture every five minutes. An additional 17 profiler stations use scanning Doppler LiDARs and microwave radiometers to continuously sample vertical profiles of the wind, temperature and moisture.

“With the deployment of the NYS Mesonet, all of the data that we need to build this sophisticated weather forecast system is now available to us in New York. We are just finding new and smart ways to use it,” Freedman said.

WEFS will be ready for experimental use in operational applications by mid-2020 and capable of being customized for the specific needs of utility companies throughout the state.

Freedman shared more on the WEFS project on the UAlbany News Podcast.

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