Argonne is ground central for critical real-time weather threat analysis

Eric Singer

Far from the coastal areas where hurricanes typically hit, a team at Argonne National Laboratory in the Chicago area nevertheless keeps a close eye on the Gulf Coast and Atlantic seaboard. Real-time weather threat analysis is vital to the safety of the energy infrastructure in America. In my Flash Briefing, Argonne Principal Infrastructure Analyst Leah Talaber talked with me about Argonne’s role as the go-to national lab to get it done: “The goal is really to help responders and utilities get in place, prior to a storm making landfall, in order to make the response and recovery more efficient.”

Talaber and her team can estimate the potential damage of a storm up to five days prior to the storm making landfall: “As the storm is approaching and the National Hurricane Center updates its forecast every three hours, we re-run the model. As the event is happening and the data is increasing, we are constantly reassessing the situation and providing ongoing support to the Department of Energy” – which in turn delivers the analysis to FEMA and independent system operators. The extraordinarily busy 2020 storm and hurricane season has put this real-time weather threat analysis to the test. But Talaber tells me she and her team are up to the challenge: “The electrical infrastructure is one of the most vital systems that so many of our lives depend on, which includes the safe operations of hospitals, to treating and transporting fresh water, and almost all other lifeline infrastructures.”

Argonne’s important role didn’t just happen overnight. Argonne has been performing real-time weather threat analysis for the Department of Energy since 2005. But Talaber says everything changed in 2013: “Argonne took that analysis to a new level by creating a hurricane model that projects the number of electric customers that are impacted and the impact to electrical assets, including power plants and transmission lines.” Critical information provided to federal, state and local leaders means more informed decisions by them, and that’s something Talaber and her team are proud to support: “The reality is they must make the best decisions, moment to moment. Our goal here is give them the best analysis to make the most informed decisions.”

And the future of this real-time weather threat analysis is growing by leaps and bounds, says Talaber: “Currently we are expanding the model to include other extreme weather events, like ice and winter storms, extreme heat events and wildfires. Adaptive strategies like our weather threat analysis are more important than ever before.”

Click on the Mp3 below this story to listen to Leah Talaber’s full Flash Briefing with me. You can also read and hear previous Flash Briefings on the PAST, Public Affairs Science and Technology, Fusion Cell website. Also, don’t forget to “LIKE” the Argonne PAST Fusion Cell Facebook page and be a part of our Twitter and Instagram community @pastfusioncell.

Flash Briefing – November 23, 2020