SCE Adds Weather Stations, HD Cameras Ahead of Wildfire Season
Paul Roller and his team of Southern California Edison meteorologists are continually preparing for this year’s fire season as drought conditions continue to plague the state.
They vividly remember what happened last November during one of the season’s most significant Santa Ana wind events as they kept a close eye on hundreds of weather stations across SCE’s service area. The data collected by these weather stations provided real-time information and showed wind gusts exceeded 80 mph in some areas — strong enough to topple trees.
“The data from the weather stations allow for more targeted de-energizations during Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events,” said Roller, an SCE senior meteorologist. “The outages are a measure of last resort to reduce the risk of a significant wildfire, and we do everything we can to minimize their impact on communities.”
Last November, extreme weather prompted SCE to notify more than 228,000 customers in high fire risk areas ahead of time about a potential PSPS outage.
“We know that PSPS events create hardships for our customers, and we have made significant progress reducing these outages,” Roller said. If we need to turn off the power due to extreme weather conditions, we can be very precise and shut off a section of a circuit to impact as few customers as possible.”
Through expedited grid hardening work, SCE has reduced PSPS outages by more than 70% in communities frequently impacted by PSPS events based on 2021 weather and fuel conditions.
Weather stations provide wind speed, humidity and temperature data updated every few minutes. SCE recently installed two new weather stations in Ventura and plans to install at least 150 additional weather stations for a total of more than 1,600 across the service area by the end of this year.
SCE is also using machine learning models for 64 weather station locations. These models leverage historical observations to improve forecast model accuracy in specific areas. This year, the company will expand this new technology to at least 500 additional locations. Roller and his team use this data while collaborating with SCE’s fire scientist Tom Rolinski to monitor the wildfire threat across fire-prone areas that encompass 27% of SCE’s service area.
“We continue to increase our computing power to model the atmosphere at a higher resolution so we can produce more granular weather forecasts to inform PSPS decisions,” Rolinski said.
“We plan to implement wildfire spread modeling technology in real-time during extreme weather events in the near future. It will help determine the potential impacts of wildfires on our customers and the communities we serve,” he said.
SCE will also install 10 more high-definition cameras to continue monitoring for wildfires in high fire risk areas this year. Currently, 166 cameras pan, tilt, zoom and perform 360-degree sweeps approximately every minute and are viewable by the public on alertwildfire.org. Tom Jacobus, SCE’s Business Resiliency principal manager, oversees this program.
“We are also exploring the use of artificial intelligence-based technology to detect wildfires. It will work by using satellite imagery in conjunction with our high-definition camera system, sending proactive alerts about possible ignitions if the pilot is successful,” Jacobus said.