Public Utilities Fortnightly

National Magazine Highlights SDG&E Meteorologists as Innovators

Editor's Note: SDG&E’s meteorology team was among the 2018 Top Innovators recognized by Public Utilities Fortnightly in a special issue. Brian D’Agostino, director of fire science and climate adaptation, Steve Vanderburg, principal meteorologist, and Katie Giannecchini, meteorology data scientist, were featured in an article published in the magazine's December 2018 issue available at www.fortnightly.com). 

Simply a no-brainer to be named a top innovator is San Diego Gas & Electric.

We all have watched the devastation caused by wildfires across the western United States, and in the San Diego region, wildfire was identified as the number one operational risk to that utility due to the region’s complex topography, lack of rainfall, and susceptibility to dry, hot winds called Santa Anas. SDG&E is fighting back through innovation.

Innovative tools were developed by SDG&E’s meteorology team consisting of Brian D’Agostino, director of fire science and climate adaptation, Steve Vanderburg, principal meteorologist and Katie Giannecchini, meteorology data scientist.

To better prepare for, respond to, and recover from severe weather and wildfire events, SDG&E’s team developed and built what is arguably the nation’s largest utility-owned weather network. At a hundred and seventy-seven stations, SDG&E’s weather network provides situational awareness of potential weather threats on the electric system. Each station provides readings every ten minutes of temperature, humidity, and wind speed. With over two hundred thousand pieces of weather data collected daily, this weather system informs operational decision-making to mitigate risks associated with adverse weather conditions and wildfires.

It should be no surprise this was created. D’Agostino leads the team and became the first meteorologist hired by SDG&E in 2009 to develop a weather program. He has a huge social media presence and is worth checking out on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Veteran storm chaser Vanderburg, the second meteorologist brought onboard at SDG&E, is a major contributor to these efforts, and the duo are featured in an informative SDG&E emergency fire preparedness brochure that everyone should read.

In 2013, Giannecchini joined, and she has a master’s in atmospheric sciences. With this formidable team, in June 2018 SDG&E was named winner of the EEI’s 2018 Edison Award for enhancing wildfire preparedness.

SDG&E later collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California at Los Angeles to develop the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index. The SAWTI calculates the potential for large wildfire activity based on the strength, extent, and duration of the wind, dryness of the air, dryness of the vegetation, and greenness of the grasses.

SDG&E’s meteorologists also helped develop a sophisticated weather model called the Fire Potential Index. The FPI communicates the potential impact of wildfires to the utility on any day. This seven-day forecast, produced daily, classifies the fire potential based on weather, both live and dead fuel moisture, and vegetation. These are all shared among fire agencies.

Significant intel related to the wildfire potential is also gathered from SDG&E’s Wildfire Risk Reduction Model, which integrates the latest weather and GIS technology to understand wildfire growth patterns. A first of its kind in the nation and developed by SDG&E in collaboration with a local company, Technosylva, WRRM assesses the areas of highest fire danger before a blaze begins so preventative measures can be taken.