Are Your Ohio Electric Rates Hurricane-Ready?
This year’s hurricane season is well underway. As Ohioan can attest from Tropical Storm Barry’s recent visit, storms like these are not to be taken lightly. Because of the combination of growing storm intensity and high regional demands for energy, tropical cyclones now cause wider-felt market disruptions. In turn, energy shortages can increase Ohio electric rates that may linger for months.
Extreme summer weather causes more and more disruptions to our lives. Powerful storms can force companies in the Gulf of Mexico to evacuate drilling rigs, which often send shockwaves through the oil market, spiking the price of natural gas. Storm surges can shut down coastal power plants, electric switching stations, and natural gas pipelines. Even inland cities and towns located in steep-sloped river valleys can be inundated by torrential rains. High winds and tornados snap power lines like those from Hurricane Ike in 2008, plunged much of the state into the dark for days. Nightmarish storms, like Hurricane Sandy, Katrina, and Harvey, not only submerged entire metropolitan areas but impacted energy reliability and raised prices for months afterwards.
That’s why customers in the Buckeye State should be aware of this year’s hurricane season and how it can effect their future Ohio electric rates.
Ohio Hurricane Season 2019 Predictions
Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30. Unlike last year’s “above normal activity forecast“, 2019 is predicted to be a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season.
2019 Atlantic Hurricane Predictions
|Number of named storms
(winds 39 mph+)
|Storms becoming hurricanes
(winds 74 mph+)
(Cat. 3, 4 or 5, winds 111 mph+)
A Certain Amount of Uncertainty
All of these forecasts come with a certain amount of…er, uncertainty. For example, NOAA’s prediction comes with a 70% probability. The remaining 30% is uncertainty due to the effects from several factors that either help or hinder tropical cyclone formation. So with that in mind, let’s quickly review the conditions that spawn hurricanes:
- WARM sea surface temperatures (SST) in the Main Development Region (MDR) of the tropical Atlantic. The MDR spans the tropical Atlantic Ocean from west Africa to the Caribbean. The temperature threshold for tropical storm formation is when SSTs get above 26.5°C (about 80°F). Not only does the sea warm the atmosphere above it, but the warm sea water also evaporates into the air. Water vapor carries a LOT of latent heat which it releases when it condenses to form clouds. Warm, dry air coming off the coast of west Africa will also pick up more water vapor, adding to the amount of heat in the atmosphere. This heat building process creates convection currents which pulls in more air, which evaporates more warm water, which…you get the idea. The system gathers more heat energy and builds in strength and intensity ultimately forming a hurricane.
- CALM atmosphere. Tropical storms flourish when heated water vapor begins rising through convection into the sky without being disturbed by outside wind currents. As long as there’s calm air that allows storm systems to pull in warm SSTs at a high energy rate,tropical storms can grow into monsters. But, strong wind currents that blow vertically across the system (wind shearing) can displace the storm’s convection column and eventually dissipate the storm.
Current Storm Spawning Conditions
Right now, SSTs readings are showing between 26°- 28°C all the way across the MDR and into the Gulf of Mexico. So far the trade winds blowing westward from Africa have been weak for the most part. Last year, these winds near Dakar were so dry and dusty, they wouldn’t even pick up water vapor (sort of like when you pour water on parched soil — it’s too dry to absorb the water). This year has been different. The west African monsoon season has been wetter. As a result, trade winds won’t be as dry nor will they pick up as much dust. All told, this is starting to sound like good news for tropical storm formation.
But the big question hovering over the Atlantic season concerns the El Niño in the Pacific Ocean.
What El Niño?
According to NOAA, data indicates that a weak El Niño or El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)is indeed present at the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Data shows that SSTs are above average all across most of the Pacific (particularly along the Alaska coast). The Pacific Ocean is a very, very big ocean. That’s a LOT of warm water at the equator that’s warming the atmosphere. There’s also a LOT of water evaporating up into the atmosphere and falling elsewhere as rain. So, it should come as no surprise that this can have a major effect on both global atmosphere circulation and on your local weather. That also means it can affect the Ohio electric rates that suppliers charge.
Over the past few months, the weekly ENSO report showed continued warming across the Pacific Ocean. Because ocean conditions keep changing, subsequent forecasts are based on probabilities from data available at the time. For example, one forecast based on cooling SSTs from this past April called for a 40% chance of weak El Niño emerging and then fading to neutral conditions between September and November. That changed in June and reports predicted that there was a better than 65% chance that could last through summer and a 55% chance of it lasting until fall or winter.
But, as the data would have it, SSTs have cooled in the equatorial Pacific. So now the expected forecast has changed again once again. While the current El Niño is still “hanging on by finger nails”, it’s expected to fade to ENSO-neutral conditions in the next month or two. If that happens, ENSO-neutral would occur right at the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane season — and that’s bad.
El Nino Effects On Atlantic Hurricanes
El Niño is important to the Atlantic hurricane season because it influences the circulation of the atmosphere at the equator (known as the Walker Circulation). As El Niño moves the Walker Circulation eastward, it brings wind shear into the western part of the MDR. That means tropical storm systems entering the MDR have a higher chance of falling apart out at sea.
Originally, this El Niño (or ENSO) was expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer and persist into the fall, possibly even winter. That was good news especially during August and September which is the height of the hurricane season. Any late summer storms would likely encounter the El Niño wind shearing and (hopefully) fall apart before making landfall in the U.S.
But during ENSO-neutral conditions, Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures are within long term average ranges. Consequently, they really don’t influence circulation in the atmosphere as much. The Walker Circulation doesn’t shift eastward as much and there’s little of no wind shear over the MDR in the Atlantic. This allows other factors to exert more influence on tropical storm formation. Warm water in the Atlantic and the Gulf as well as no wind shearing generally indicates that tropical storms have an easier time forming. For example, Hurricane Harvey was one of 12 named tropical storms that formed after August 5 in 2017, an ENSO-neutral year.
How Does El Niño/ENSO-Neutral Affect Ohio?
El Niños typically reach their full strength between October and February. Their atmospheric effects can bring moderate winters to most of North America.
ENSO-neutral winters, however, are usually characterized by cold weather in the northern plains, north central (including Ohio), and the northeast. Wet weather is more common in the southeast, and warm weather from the south west sweeping eastward across Texas and the Gulf of Mexico into the southeastern states.
For customers comparing Ohio electric rates apple to apples this winter, an ENSO neutral pattern means you might increase your winter electricity usage. That means locking a cheap electricity rate this fall will help you save money in the coming year. Unfortunately, it’s still too early to know with real certainty how fast the current El Niño will fade to neutral. At the moment, the forecast models predict that it will fade to neutral by late summer but as we have seen earlier, things change.
Summer Weather and Your Ohio electricity Bills
Natural gas use for power generation is having a decisive effect on Ohio electric rates. Increased natural gas-fired power generation is now driving summer natural gas demand. That’s because air conditioning demand is consuming and the bulk of the electricity being generated. EIA cites that natural gas consumed for power generation alone climbed by 10% from May 29 through June 5. All that gas usage helps change Ohio electric rates, especially when you stop and consider that summer is also when natural gas production accelerates to put enough gas into storage for the coming winter.
In spite of the fact that U.S. natural gas in storage ended the winter heating season at the lowest level since 2014, prices have actually fallen. The near month natural gas futures contract closed on June 6 at a a three-year low of $2.324/mmBTU. That’s down $1.27 since the year’s high of $3.59/mmBtU on January 14. EIA’s STEO is forecasting “strong growth in U.S. natural gas production”. Natural gas storage injection rates are also high, hitting about 44% higher than the five-year average thus far for the April-October refill season. Fracking operations in west Texas have produced so much natural gas that drillers are pumping it back down into the ground to store it in old wells until prices rise.
Even still, temperatures across the country have also stayed comparatively moderate so far. Overall demand for electricity, and consequently natural gas, has also stayed below forecast demands for Ohio, ERCOT in Texas, and the rest of the Eastern Interconnection states. Of course, it’s summer and the weather can always change.
Ohio Electricity Usage Forecast: It’s Not the Heat…
In spite of what appears to be a waning El Niño, the NOAA June-July-August (JJA) temperature outlook indicates above normal seasonal temperatures for the eastern and western thirds of the US, including Alaska. Below normal seasonal mean temperatures and wetter conditions are more likely for parts of the Central Plains.
For Ohio, expect somewhat above normal average temperatures with above average rainfall leading to higher humidity. Above average soil moisture tends to keep daytime temperatures somewhat lower than average. That’s because evaporative cooling at night reduces the effects of daytime heating. The down side is that while it might not get as hot, it will be more humid. The combination of high soil moisture and humidity in a particular area sets up conditions that make it more likely to rain in that location over an over again.
When it comes to air conditioning, cooling dry air uses little energy. For example, to cool air by 20°F requires just 10 kiloJoules (kJ) or .0027 kWh per kilogram of air. Meanwhile, high humidity adds to the cost of cooling your home because one kilogram of water can hold a lot of “latent heat”. In order to remove the water and heat, an air conditioner must 2260 kJ or .62 kWh. Consequently, the more humid it is, the longer you’ll need to run your air conditioner to cool your home.
With rising temperatures in Ohio and elsewhere, energy consumers can expect to use more energy to keep cool. However, natural gas prices have so far remained low throughout the summer months. With the exception of heat waves spiking demand, low fuel costs for generators could help keep Ohio electric rates lower. While energy consumers might use more electricity this summer, Ohio electric rates could stay low going into fall. Plus, if you take advantage of the comparatively mild weather to improve your home’s energy efficiency, you could to reduce your year ’round electricity usage even further.
Your Ohio Electricity Bills— Shop for a Better Rate
So far, this summer’s storm season has not been so bad. But, please bear in mind that it only takes ONE storm to cause a tragedy. Even if the sun is shining and the birds are chirping happy, little songs make sure that your family has a storm safety plan and that everybody knows what to do in the event that dangerous weather comes to Ohio.
That all said, customers shopping for better Ohio electric rates can hope for low energy prices probably hanging on for a while longer. But those long August days with high temperatures on the way! Keep your cool this summer with our other energy efficiency tips and by shopping for a great electricity rate from https://www.ohenergyratings.com. Compare plans, read provider reviews, and choose the best Ohio electricity supplier that fits your family’s needs all year round!