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Pandemic magnifies uncertainty amid NOAA's forecast for active hurricane season

Wei Du, energy and utilities expert at PA Consulting, comments on utility preparedness as they head into the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full S&P Platts article here

The article notes that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season will be a busy one, according to an outlook published Thursday by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which predicted a 60% probability for above-normal activity.

The agency's forecast anticipates 13 to 19 named storms, reserved for disturbances generating wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. Among those, NOAA expects to see six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes of category 3, 4 or 5 – all of which generate wind speeds of 111 mph or higher. NOAA provided the storm prediction ranges with 70% confidence.

The agency's forecast does not predict the number of storms likely to make landfall, which it says is determined largely by prevailing weather patterns around each storm at the time of its formation.

While the official 2020 hurricane season does not begin until June 1, the Atlantic has already seen its first named disturbance this year – Tropical Storm Arthur, which formed on May 16 and brushed past the Outer Banks of North Carolina before dissipating.

During an average hurricane season, the Atlantic sees 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The 2019 season saw 18 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Critically, NOAA's outlook does not predict the frequency of disturbances smaller than a tropical storm, which lie outside its predictive capacity but have previously resulted in significant damage caused by flooding.

Power Markets

As during previous hurricane seasons, storms making landfall this year will likely cause power outages, putting additional pressure on power sellers already strained by pandemic-related demand destruction.

Peakloads dropped almost 30% below prior five-year averages on the hardest-hit day of Hurricane Harvey's presence in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, system operator data shows. Hurricane Florence cut power demand in the Carolinas by almost 20% in comparison with the previous three-year average on its worst day, US Energy Information Administration data shows.

Wei says: "I would assume that downward pressures brought on by COVID-19's drop in load would only be exacerbated by long outages caused by damage.”

Wei adds that the unknown is how utilities will deal with crew safety, and the willingness of crews to travel. One option he pointed out would be for central supply depots to offer alternative, more dispersed accommodations to restoration crews, like sleeper trailers or even tents.

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