How Rocky Mountain Power is working to prevent wildfires

Jul 13, 2022, 6:20 PM | Updated: Jul 26, 2022, 3:39 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A team of meteorologists at Rocky Mountain Power keeps a close eye on weather and wildfire risks and has the option of shutting off power in certain areas to keep from sparking a blaze.

“Weather has a huge impact on the grid,” said Steve Vanderburg, the meteorology manager for Rocky Mountain Power.

Vanderburg started the department 18 months ago. Today, five meteorologists between offices in Oregon and Utah run sophisticated weather modeling to predict wind behavior and fire danger.

“We’re investing in not just real-time modeling, but we’re going back and looking at 30 years of hourly weather data,” Vanderburg explains. “Then using that to train and build machine-learning models that can then predict what the impacts of that weather’s going to be,” he said.

Rocky Mountain Power’s weather map showing high wind areas.

The technology can also predict where outages will occur so that repair crews can be deployed ahead of time.

This week, the meteorologists watch for monsoon thunderstorms, dry lightning, and microburst winds.

Vanderburg explained that periods of sustained, high winds present the most risk for power lines to cause a fire, either from branches hitting the lines or other damage to the grid’s infrastructure.

“If we have a major wind event coming and the fire danger is very serious, this is the technology that’s going to help us understand where we need to take steps to mitigate that risk,” Vanderburg said. “That could change how we operate the system that day or all the way, as a last resort, potentially shutting off the power proactively.”

On its website, Rocky Mountain Power monitors ten main areas of concern for the potential of a public safety power shutoff.

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How Rocky Mountain Power is working to prevent wildfires