WILDFIRE

Decades of data will help Rocky Mountain Power better predict wildfires

Jul 7, 2023, 7:59 AM | Updated: Oct 18, 2023, 2:46 pm

Power crews burying lines to prevent fire in Big Cottonwood Canyon. (KSL-TV)

(KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — A game changer for Rocky Mountain Power in the fight to stay in front of mother nature as some new software is allowing them to predict wildfire dangers like never before.

RMP meteorology manager Steven Vanderburgh said the new technology gives a 30-year hourly weather history and mixes that with today’s data to predict dangers, outages, and wildfires. He said it took 16 months of 24/7 number crunching by supercomputers to put it all together.

“It’s saying that even though yes, it’s warm and it’s dry. We’re really not in a situation where there’s a lot of wildfire risk, particularly as you get north of I-70,” Vanderburgh said while demonstrating how the software worked.

“It looks back at those 30 years and says, ‘Hey, this is the second strongest wind gusts that has ever been forecast for this location in the last 30 years. And this is what that means in terms of your potential for outages, this is what it means for your wildfire danger,’” he explained.

Vanderburgh said the program also helps them to predict where they can shut down sections of the power grid to prevent wildfires from happening from blown down power lines or flying sparks. He said it would allow them to stay in front of the danger rather than trying to play catch up.

“It’s about having all the players and all the pieces in the right place at the right time to be able to respond to any curveball Mother Nature throws our way, to mitigate that risk of having a spark and wildfire,” he said. “That allows us to strategically place all of our folks in the field, all of our folks here in our emergency operations center, in the right place at the right time ahead of time.

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Decades of data will help Rocky Mountain Power better predict wildfires