Johns Hopkins Predicts 10 Million to Lose Power

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Seth Guikema hurricane power outage prediction
Seth Guikema is smiling because he knows when your power is coming back on.

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines:  10 Million May Lose Power in Storm. After you spend half an hour freaking out and gathering candles, you might start to wonder:  hey, how do they reach a number like that before the storm has even hit? Complicated computer modeling, it turns out, and Baltimore — well, specifically, Johns Hopkins — can take credit for this one, thank you very much.

In a prescient bit of research that was finished before Sandy was even a little red blip on the weather radar, Hopkins’ Seth Guikema, an assistant professor of geography and environmental engineering, teamed up with colleagues at Texas A&M to study storm behavior. Using data from a number of previous massively destructive storms, including Hurricane Katrina, the researchers came up with a statistical model that uses data about the storm, the power system of the area it’s about to hit, local topography, soil wetness, average precipitation, and other factors. The idea is that if power companies have a better model of what’s likely to happen, they can better allocate their resources — and (hopefully) get your power back on more quickly.

“If the power company overestimates, it has spent a lot of unnecessary money,” said Steven Quiring, who worked with Guikema on the model. “If it underestimates, the time needed to restore power can take several extra days or longer, which is unacceptable to them and the people they serve. So these companies need the best estimates possible, and we think this study can help them make the best possible informed decision.”

Guikema’s model got a good test last year when Hurricane Irene blew through; it successfully predicted the hardest-hit areas and was accurate to about 10 percent. He’ll keep running the model throughout the week as the storm makes landfall, even if he has to use a battery-operated laptop and cell phone to do it. (Yes, sometimes the power goes out on people researching power outages. Oh the irony!)

So if your power doesn’t go out this year (ha!), or comes back on earlier than you expected, you may want to consider sending Guikema a thank you card.

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