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Derecho Report: BGE Surprised by ‘Freak Storm’

'It is important to note that no utility east of the Mississippi River could have anticipated the raw strength of this storm system.' BGE report.

The unpredictability of the was an important factor in the scope and length of power outages across BGE’s service area, according to a new report filed with the state.

BGE filed its Major Outage Event Report with the Public Service Commission on July 30 as is required by Maryland law after a "major outage event." The derecho, which hit on June 29, left more than three quarters of a million Maryland customers in the dark – 62 percent of BGE’s customer base in Maryland. 

Focus on BGE's response intensified after . In it, they said BGE refused to give them specific outage information directly after the storm hit, and that the utility generally needed to improve its performance during severe weather events.

In its report, BGE stated that it “Had no prior warning that a significant operational storm would be impacting BGE’s service area until approximately 10:30 PM; no request for crews was made by BGE at this time.”

“It is important to note that no utility east of the Mississippi River could have anticipated the raw strength of this storm system,” the report reads. 

A head meteorologist at the National Weather Service agreed.

“Forecasting convective storms … is one of the most difficult things to do,” according to Jim Lee, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Sterling, W.V. 

NWS forecasts about 20 to 25 severe thunderstorm watches a year, Lee said. Derechos are more like 4 or 5-year events in this region, and the storm that swept through Maryland on June 29, he said, “that’s more like once every two or three decades.”

On the morning of Friday, June 29, BGE scheduled calls with its weather service providers. According to the report, the two calls both yielded similar reports “low threat of thunderstorms for the evening, but not severe.”

NWS sent out a statement at 7:30 p.m. that Friday, warning damaging winds were likely in Howard and nearby counties.

“We didn’t have a lot of confidence at that time” that the storm would hit the area, Lee said, because at that time, the storm still had not crossed the Appalachian Mountains. 

The mountains are a crucial landscape when it comes to forecasting large-scale wind storms in the Mid-Atlantic, Lee said. Typically, “as soon as they hit the Appalachian Mountains, they fall apart.”

In addition, he said, at about 6:30 p.m. Friday, the squall line – or line of severe storms – was still in Ohio and looked like it would be heading south and west of Washington.

“By 9:30 p.m. we were getting a lot more confident,” Lee said. NWS issued a special weather statement at 9:35 p.m. that advised an “extremely dangerous thunderstorm” would impact the Baltimore-Washington area.

A storm watch - which means conditions are favorable for a storm – was issued at 9:51 p.m. for Howard, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel Counties.

The goal at NWS is a 17-minute lead-time for severe thunderstorm watches. “If you work in Ellicott City,” Lee said, “we want to be able to provide you 17 minutes, so that you can seek shelter, go outside and roll up the windows, put your deck furniture away and bring your kids inside. 

“In this event we gave over 37 minutes of lead-time. From a forecasting standpoint, that’s very good.”

In its report, BGE also noted that it was not until about 10:30 p.m. that “the full strength and destructive nature of the storm was known.” The utility had, the report said, taken steps earlier in the day to “pre-mobilize additional crews to respond to potential heat-related outages and what was anticipated to be normal thunderstom activity.”

But the derecho was not “normal thunderstorm activity.”  It was, in the words of the report, “One of the most destructive storms in BGE’s nearly 200-year history.” 

“It was a freak storm,” Lee said. 

“The state of the science doesn’t allow us to say ‘Hey, BGE, hey PEPCO, in 10 hours we’re going to have a derecho. The science isn’t there yet. We would love it to be. But it isn’t.”

Read Patch's coverage of the derecho and its aftermath:

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This article has been edited to indicate that filing a report with the PSC is standard procedure after a major outage and is required by Maryland law.

cathy eshmont August 04, 2012 at 05:48 PM
So a couple of thoughts: 1) the derecho of 29 June can only be a 'freak' storm once. Now that a storm of this magnitude has been seen, BGE must factor this reality into its planning for hardening the infrastructure, and 2) with all the computer-assisted weather modeling that's available, BGE should be looking at the 'what ifs' of various factors coming together into the blockbuster 'perfect storm' and proactively hardening the infrastructure accordingly. The point is that the infrastructure needs to be more hardened than it currently is, and it's not apparent (because BGE doesn't share and the PSC doesn't require it) how BGE has been spending the money it receives each month from each customer towards upkeep, maintenance, and upgrades. It's not entirely clear to me why BGE is putting such an emphasis on reduced warning time except if they're thinking they could put out mutual aid calls a few hours earlier than if they wait until after the storm. It may be that counting on mutual aid agreements is just not a workable solution. Common sense says if the next monster storm passes over states where mutual aid agreements exist with BGE, there's no way that a utility would want to put their crews on the road to assist before knowing if their crews are needed at home. We don't know what the Howard County delegation thinks about any of this because they're quiet but Sen James Rosapepe (PG and AACO) has suggested a reservist force residing in-state.
TomP August 06, 2012 at 02:07 PM
It seems to me that it is time to get over this storm and recognize what a great job BGE and others did in recovering from a severe storm in a relatively short period of time. This was an extremely intense storm, and we were inconvenienced for a few days. Of course, we can expend billions of dollars and try to prevent it from happening again, but our utility rates are already pretty high. I'm not at all sure the additional investment is even close to compensating for what is really a very temporary inconvenience.
NoPower August 07, 2012 at 10:18 AM
No, it's NOT a temporary inconvenience. If you lost power and you lost everything in your refrigerator (again), had to go to a hotel (again), lost medicine that needs to be refrigerated(again) and had to eat out for a week (again), no, it's not a temporary inconvenience. The Derecho was a freak storm, we get it, enough! What about the continued power outages that have been going on in the country for decades? The blue sky outages?You can't blame those outages on the Derecho or Hurricane Irene or blizzards and pretend that BGE's atrocious service to some neighborhoods gets a pass. If Taiwan can go through a typhoon without losing power why can one of the richest counties in the US do the same?
NoPower August 07, 2012 at 10:18 AM
I means to say county not country.
ECLibertarian August 07, 2012 at 02:23 PM
It would be a cheaper proposition overall for everyone to outfit their homes with automatic standby generators.
Gary Stanton August 07, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Gary Stanton Yes, big windy storms cause outages, but paying customers should not expect to be without electricity for 5,6, 7,8 days EVERY STORM! If a meaningful preventative quality assurance program was in effect over these last several DECADES, then the impact of a big windy storm would not be 5,6,7,8 hundred thousand people without power for 5,6,7,8 days. Meaningful tree trimming and technology updates over several decades(big tree limbs and trees DO NOT grow overnight!) would have minimized the scope of outages and allowed those without power to be restored in a more timely manner! All truth becomes self-evident at some point in time. That time has arrived. One final point: When is the government of this State going to advocate for the citizens of this State!?
NoPower August 07, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Sorry buddy, but no itneouldnot be cheaper. A whole house generator can run you close to $15,000 or more. What we need is for BGE to take that money that they are stealing from us everyone while lying about the work they are doing to keep homes with power not just after a big storm bug on a daily basis in many neighborhoods.
ECLibertarian August 07, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Have you seen the numbers? Several millions of dollars per mile to bury. And if you're talking about keeping the trees trimmed - do you know how much that racket costs? Tree work is not cheap. Are you willing to pay for the expense in addition to the already high bills? I for one am not willing to absorb any more costs. How about the people who never lose power - do you think they would be willing to foot the bill for the areas that get hit hard? It's a pipe dream if you think the cost would not be passed on down to the consumer. In full disclosure - I put a standby generator on my house in October of last year (we were without power or water (well pump) for 6 days - not to mention with 2 small children as well). It wasn't cheap, but far under the 15k you mention...one could go bare minimum (7kw system) for about $2,500.00 installed...so they can be very affordable. Figuring that not everyone would want everything powered, nor would everyone need to add a generator (parts of Columbia never lose power) - it would be far cheaper to outfit all affected homes with a standby generator (using personal funds) rather than retrofit thousands of miles of wires and pass the cost to the consumer.
NoPower August 07, 2012 at 11:34 PM
EC - you realize that BGE has been lying to their customers for decades, right? If Taiwan can go through a typhoon (hurricanes in this side of the world) without losing power why can't Howard County and all of MD not to the same? I am not wasting my hard earned money to buy a generator. If it costs that much money to bury the lines maybe BGE should have started when they promised and instead of just 65% of their lines being underground they all would be by now. Do you work for BGE? You sound like one of those buble people who only think about themselves and what happens to them. This is a statewide problem and BGE has been milking their customer long enough.

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