Spring is the most volatile season for weather variation across the US, with heavy snowstorms in the north and east, the start of tornado season in the south and Gulf coast, and heavy thunderstorms and snow in the mid-west and Rockies. Even California and the west coast have recently suffered from abnormal spring weather, which has caused havoc for residents there.
Some notable examples of significant spring storms include:
March 1993: The “Storm of the Century” started in the Gulf of Mexico and moved north, causing widespread damage across 22 eastern states. Winds over 140mph, 59,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, and seas up to 65 feet caused over 100 deaths and billions in damage.
March 2019: A bomb cyclone with record high winds, record low pressure, a massive blizzard, heavy rain, and melting snow combined to cause nearly $11 billion worth of damage across Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
April 2022: Up to 18” of snow across many northeastern states caused widespread power outages. Over 300,000 people were left without electricity in the middle of the storm as weighed-down branches fell onto lines and other cold weather issues arose for substations.
March 2023: Having long suffered from drought and forest fires, California suddenly experienced temperature shifts and winter precipitation. However, come spring 2023, this precipitation started coming too fast in the form of spring storms, melting the winter icepacks that had built up and overwhelming dams, reservoirs, and riverbanks. This caused landslides, riverbank erosion, and widespread destruction of property.
With the increasing prevalence and intensity of spring storms, it’s crucial for all stakeholders, including federal agencies and utility companies, to be aware of the potential impacts of these storms, especially on energy transmission, and what can be done to prepare for them.
Effects of Spring Storms
Spring storms are often caused by low-pressure cold fronts, which have several specific effects. The occurrence and magnitude of these spring storms have been increasing in recent years. The major outcomes to expect from spring storms include the following:
When warm air with high moisture meets cooler winds, the friction of oscillating positions causes thunderstorms, lightning, very high precipitation leading to flooding, and high winds. Thunderstorms can significantly impact energy infrastructure, with lightning strikes on lines and transformers causing load overcurrent, blown fuses, and fires. Flooding and high winds also cause issues, such as loosening the ground and making it much more likely for trees to fall onto power lines or underground cables to be disrupted.
As low-pressure fronts are denser, they can often push warm air in front of them as they move. This can be particularly noticeable in the US as low-pressure fronts from the center and east move along the north, making it seem quite warm for a while. However, this is a false dawn, and a strong cold spell will inevitably follow these few days. Unfortunately, year after year, people don’t heed warnings and begin jobs such as repairs or maintenance, which can leave them short when the real cold comes.
Starting in March and April, tornadoes affect different parts of the country, causing large-scale property damage wherever they pass through. Particularly in the Deep South in March and April, and May in the Plains and Midwest, tornadoes tear up infrastructure. Power lines, transmission towers, and transformer stations are the most difficult to protect because a tornado is highly likely to hit the system as it moves.
The temperature swings and high moisture content in spring storms can also lead to heavy “end-of-season” snowfalls and blizzards. In March 2018, the east suffered four of its brutal nor’easters in three weeks, and March and April are the worst months for snow in the Rockies and High Plains. Snowstorms have a critical impact on energy infrastructure because it can be much more challenging to reach and repair infrastructure that has been affected and because it is a time when people need energy most to warm themselves.
Preparing for Spring Storms
With spring storms causing such major disruption to energy supplies, leading to significant losses in supply to customers and direct costs for repairs and paying higher daily prices, it’s understandable that utility companies want to defray these effects as much as possible through storm hardening. Here are some ways that can be achieved:
Preparation Work in High-Risk Areas
The costs of major projects, such as pole-by-pole replacement of existing energy transmission infrastructure, can be extremely prohibitive. However, selective undergrounding of cables (except in unsuitable areas such as those prone to flooding), improving pole strength in key areas, and storm-proofing substations (such as waterproofing, elevating, or covering transformers) can help mitigate risks. Florida, for example, has obligated utility companies to create 10-year hardening plans to show how they intend to improve storm resilience.
Upgrading substations should decrease the chances of them being damaged and improve the level of remote control providers have over the energy transmission network. In addition, modern electrical switchgear allow greater monitoring and control of the situation at all substations from a centralized location. This will enable technicians to shut down or switch transmission to prevent overload and to identify the most critical stations for repair in the event of outages.
Several actions can also be taken to ensure that grids are as resilient as possible. These include:
Installation of reclosers and sectionalizers
Creating backup microgrids on a local scale with renewable energy sources or other generators
Deploying solid-state metering
Upgrading cabinets to include modern PLCs and touchscreens
Installing multifunction relays
Deploying IoT monitoring devices
Utilizing satellite imagery to aid both disaster response and vegetation management
Spring Storm Preparation with Enercon
Spring storms can bring about major destruction across the country, with weather effects including snowstorms, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooding. This is of particular concern for utilities and federal agencies as energy transmission is often severely impacted due to downed lines, torn-up poles, and overloaded substations. Naturally, with the costs and level of disruption involved, utilities and other stakeholders want to reduce the impact of spring storms on energy transmission.
Spring storm hardening can be achieved by upgrading equipment and deploying modern technology to improve the monitoring and control of energy transmission. Physical preparation work should also be carried out, such as deploying stronger poles or undergrounding cables where feasible.
Enercon has the expertise and production capacity to assist with all storm hardening operations through engineering, fabrication, integration, and servicing. To learn more about how Enercon can help you prepare your facilities and networks for spring storms, read more here or talk to our team for more details.