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Weather Forecasters Help San Diego Utility Company

KPBS Evening Edition

SDG&E Has One Of The Largest Weather Networks In The Country

San Diego Gas & Electric is learning a lot from the devastating 2007 wildfires in Southern California. Especially about the impact weather has on the electrical system. More than half a million people were evacuated from their homes in San Diego county. After strong winds and several wildfires caused the largest evacuation in the region's history.

It was late October 2007. California was still in a drought and 100 mile an hour Santa Ana winds were howling in San Diego's fire prone back country.

"This would have been the second strongest Santa Ana wind event in our history."I've been in wind storms, flash floods, but this was one of the scariest things I've ever experienced," meteorologist Steve Vanderburg said.

Vanderburg was evacuated from his home in Julian, just like half a million other county residents.That's more than the number of people evacuated during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

After spending ten years with the National Weather Service Vanderburg is now one of two full-time meteorologist at San Diego Gas & Electric, where he helps them understand in real time the impact weather can have our electrical system.

"We have the third largest weather network in the country, as well as the densest, and we have made available to the public all the information gathered from these weather stations," Vanderburg said.

If you've been to the rural back country you probably recognize those weather contraptions on power poles. There are 144 weather stations that SDG&E has set-up particularly in high fire areas.

"This network of weather stations allows us to see exactly what's occuring on our system," Vanderburg said.

And because strong winds can bring down power lines like they did in 2007 sparking wildfires. Vanderbug says having a forecaster on staff provides the company a heads up on how and where to respond.

"From helping to schedule a fleet of helicopters during construction of the Sunrise Powerlink to daily load forecasting (customer demand) to make sure to procure resources to meet the anticipated need. Using that information the company can then route people and resources to where ever there needed," Vanderburg said.

He's currently working on a project to develop a Santa Ana wind classification system similar to what is used to predict hurricane strength to marine layer forecasting, which will be critical as SDG&E adds more solar resources to their energy mix.

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