Off-Grid Power Systems: Keeping the Lights On

solar panels on a slanted roof.

Solar Panels for Off-Grid or Renewable Energy

Living and working off the grid doesn’t necessarily mean you give up every convenience or necessity that requires electrical power. People and businesses in remote or rural locations often require sources of electrical power other than electric utilities. Some choose a low-environmental impact way of life while for others, utility power isn’t available or comes at a high cost.

In both cases, a regular and reliable source of electricity is still needed. Solar and Wind in combination with battery banks make up the most common off-grid and renewable energy systems.

Off-Grid Power System Overview

an off grid telecommunication facility that relies on solar panels for the primary source of power.

Solar Powered Off-Grid Telecommunication Facility

In a typical configuration, solar panels and wind turbines connect directly to a battery charger which feeds a battery bank and a power inverter. The inverter changes the direct current (DC) from the battery bank or battery charger into 120 / 240 volt AC for use by the home or business. The main service panel receives power from the inverter instead of from utility lines.

If the battery bank charge drops below an acceptable level, a standby generator starts automatically to charge the batteries and provide power to the home or facility.

The battery charger provides three functions.

  • Convert alternating current (AC) from a wind turbine into DC current.
  • Charge the battery bank from the solar panels and wind turbine.
  • Prevent overcharging of the batteries by monitoring battery charge levels and limiting charging power as batteries approach peak charge.

Modern off-grid systems often combine the inverter and charger into a single unit. In some renewable energy systems, a connection to the local grid allows the system to sell excess power to the local utility.

Battery Banks

Deep cycle batteries are connected together to provide electrical power. Series connections increase voltage, parallel connections increase current. Large six-volt or 12-volt lead-acid batteries are common, but other battery sizes are also used.

Consider a battery bank built of 12-volt, 50 amp-hour batteries. By connecting three batteries in series, the output is 36 volts and 50 amp-hours. Groups of three batteries wired this way will each produce the same output. If each group is connected in parallel, the output current rises with each subsequent connection.

With twelve batteries series-wired in groups of three, and then each group connected in parallel, the output voltage is 36 volts, but the output current is 200-amp hours. Power = Voltage x Amps = 36 Volts x 200 Amp-Hours = 7200 watts.

Solar and Wind Power Generation

Solar panels receive sunlight and produce DC current to charge a battery bank. They are wired so that their output voltage matches the battery bank voltage. The biggest drawback to solar power is that the sun only shines for part of the day. On cloudy days, the power output is lower because the panels receive less sunlight.

Wind turbines produce three-phase alternating current which is not directly compatible with the battery banks. As the turbine spins faster, the frequency of the alternating current rises. Turbine voltages are selected for efficient conversion to DC current and feed the battery bank to keep it charged. Naturally, when the wind doesn’t blow, the turbines cannot produce power.

Off-Grid Standby Generators

Generac EcoGen standby generator for Off-Grid use.

Generac EcoGen 6kW

Norwall Power Systems offers models from two manufacturers that are designed specifically for use with off-grid power systems and operate on propane (LP Gas). These standby generators are ideal for residential or commercial use where utility power is unavailable.

Note: Off-grid applications void the warranties of most standby generator systems, but these standby units include off-grid consumer warranties.

The EcoGen by Generac supplies 6kW of power and has an extended run time of up to 500 hours without maintenance. This generator can supply the home directly with 120 volts or 240 volts (conversion required for 240 volts) or supply power to the inverter/charger to charge a battery bank.


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Save up to $300 on Select Cummins Power Generators

For a limited time, save up to 300 dollars off the regular Norwall PowerSystems price on select air-cooled standby generators from Cummins Power Generation. The sale includes 20-kilowatt and 13-kilowatt residential standby packages that include an automatic transfer switch. Packages without a transfer switch save 150 dollars off the regular Norwall price.

Cummins Power Generation supplies air-cooled generators that run on either LP Gas or Natural Gas. 20-kilowatt models are configured to use LP or NG during installation while 13-kilowatt models are factory set to run on LP or NG.

A 5 year, 2000 hour limited consumer/commercial warranty is included for all air-cooled standby generators.

20 Kilowatt Standby

Cummins Onan Standby Generator shown with ATS

Cummings Onan Air Cooled 20kW with ATS

20-kilowatt models eligible for 300 dollars in savings are generator packages that include either a 100 or 200 amp, service-entrance-rated automatic transfer switch. Some packages are cold weather equipped and some include installation harnesses. Others are cold weather equipped and come with installation harnesses.

RS20-C250 200-amp ATS equipped for cold weather

RS20-C2100 200-amp ATS equipped for cold weather with two 100-foot install harnesses

Eligible for 150 dollar savings are packages that only include the 20-kilowatt standby generator or the 20-kilowatt standby generator equipped for cold weather.

20GSBB-6713 20kW standby unit.

20GSBB-6714 20kW standby unit equipped for cold weather.

13 Kilowatt Standy

Cummins Onan air-cooled standby generator shown with ATS

Cummins Onan 13kW Standby with ATS

Similar 13-kilowatt standby generator packages that include a service-entrance-rated automatic transfer switch are also eligible for 300 dollars in instant savings off Norwall’s regular price. Packages that include installation harnesses or are cold weather ready (or both) also qualify for the savings.

RS13NG-C1100 200-amp ATS, cold weather equipped, two 100-foot install harnesses.

RS13LP-C1100 200-amp ATS, cold weather equipped, two 100-foot install harnesses.

Models with only the 13-kilowatt standby generator, with or without the cold weather package, qualify for 150 dollars off the regular price.

13GSBA-6711 Natural Gas cold weather equipped.

3GSBA-6721 LP Gas cold weather equipped.

Cummins Standby Generators

Standby generators are permanently installed and automatically provide a backup supply of power during a power outage. When the power goes out, the generator system instantly detects the outage and the generator starts within seconds. The Automatic Transfer Switch or ATS isolates the home from the utility lines and supplies the home with power from the standby generator.

As separate companies, both Cummins and Onan began early operations in 1918 and set a course that would eventually bring the two companies together. Nearly 100 years of history in building and manufacturing engines and electrical power generators positions Cummins Power Generation to deliver the best in modern standby generators for homes and businesses.

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Safe Use of Electric Generators at Home and Away

A Generac Portable Generator providing power to a house through a 240-volt cable.

Generators Provide Electric Power When None is Available

The Internet age has brought information in vast quantities to our fingertips from just about anywhere. Unfortunately, a lot of that information isn’t perfect and some of it is downright dangerous.

Any genuine expert on a particular topic can only shake their head at some of the so-called “authoritative” information that is available. Such is the case with information on generators and how to use them, and especially with portable generators.

Make sure the knowledge you have about electric generators is correct. If you have a question, call a knowledgeable expert; don’t ask for information in forums or social media and expect answers you can count on.

Terms to Know and Apply

Volts and Amps are electrical measurements. Amperes or amps is the amount of electrical current flowing. Volts is the pressure behind the current that makes it move. Multiply volts by amps and you get watts which is a measure of the amount of work being done. Generator capacity is measured in watts or sometimes kilowatts. 1 kilowatt equals 1000 watts.

Never attempt to connect an appliance designed for one voltage to a source that supplies a different voltage. A 240-volt device cannot be powered by 120-volt outlet or vice versa.

Running or Continuous Watts is the amount of electrical power or work that a generator is capable of doing continuously. Select a generator for purchase that is capable of doing the work.

Just like a runner can put on a burst of speed at the end of a race, a generator has a surge capacity. Like a runner, the generator is only capable of producing it’s maximum or surge watts for a very short time. Continuously overloading a generator may damage it or cause damage to the appliances connected to it.

Connecting Generators

Electric cables, wires, and extension cords are rated by the number of amperes they can carry. Exceeding the ampere rating will cause overheating and possibly a fire. Ordinary, two-wire household extension cords are a poor choice for making generator connections. Select heavy-duty cables that include the ground prong on the plug for making connections.

A good choice for connecting to generator 120-volt appliance outlets are grounded cords rated for 20 amperes. Most manufacturers have cords designed for 240-volt outlets for making generator-to-house connections.

Purchase extension cords long enough for the job. Don’t connect multiple cords together.

Keep your local utility worker safe. Never backfeed a generator using a homemade cable that you plug into an appliance outlet. You could energize a utility line unexpectedly and electrocute a utility worker.

Adding a standby generator to your home is a big job and requires extensive electrical experience and knowledge. Permits and inspections are required and an improper installation or one that was not inspected could void your homeowners insurance. Unless you have the experience necessary and your local building department approves, hire a licensed electrician experienced in standby generator installation.

Generator Placement

Never run portable generators indoors or in an enclosed space such a garage or shed. Carbon monoxide can reach lethal levels in just minutes. Always run portables outdoors and at least ten feet away from the home.

Be mindful of your neighbors home. Don’t place a generator where prevailing winds will carry exhaust fumes through open windows, doors, or vents.

Place portable generators on a firm surface such as a concrete pad or driveway and never where water may collect in a puddle.

There are specific rules for standby generator placement based on National Fire Prevention Codes. Consult your owner’s manual for proper placement, but remember that local codes may override what manufacturer recommends.


Portables require a steady diet of fresh fuel. Never attempt to refuel a hot portable. Shut it off and allow it to cool. This also provides an opportunity to check the oil and top it off as necessary. Look at the air filters and make sure they are clean. Replace as required.

Store fuel in appropriate containers designed for the type of fuel your generator uses, and in a storage location that meets local safety codes. Many communities place limits on the amount of fuel stored in at residential locations, and some limit the size of the containers that may be filled. Check for local restrictions before storing large quantities of fuel.

Motor vehicle gasoline has a limited storage life. Use gasoline stabilizers to keep your fuel fresh and rotate into use with your car, lawnmower, and other gasoline powered equipment.

Generators are becoming essential for an emergency supply of power. Understand manufacturer guidelines, use common sense, and follow all local codes and laws governing their installation and use.

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Power Your Campsite with an Inverter Generator

Mountain, sky, and forest reflected in a lake

The Great Outdoors

June is America’s Great Outdoors Month and what better way to spend summer vacations and weekends than at your favorite campsite. Time spent getting away from it all helps you unwind and rejuvenate your spirit, but maybe you don’t want to abandon every connection to the everyday world. Having a few comforts certainly never hurt anyone, and not every campground provides electrical service to their campsites.

Maybe you don’t care so much for crowded campgrounds and have a different destination in mind. With so many places to choose from, why limit yourself to campsites that provide electrical power when you could bring your own and even save a few dollars in the long run.

Inverter Generators

Generac's 800 watt inverter generator.

Generac iX800

Most portable generator engines operate at a fixed speed—usually 3600 RPM—to provide the 60 hertz alternating current required to operate regular household appliances. The frequency of the AC signal is dependent on the motor speed and as the demand for power increases, the engine works harder and uses more fuel to maintain the required speed.

Generac Portable iX Series iX2000

Generac Portable iX Series iX2000

Inverter generators work differently. The generating unit produces raw electrical power that is converted (rectified) to direct current similar to that provided by a battery. The direct current is electronically inverted (changed) into clean, 60 hertz alternating current at 115 volts. As the power demand increases or decreases, the engine speeds up or slows down as required to change the amount of power generated.

The end result is a quieter, more fuel efficient generator that provides a clean supply of electrical power that keeps even highly sensitive electronics operating.

Low Noise Levels

The 1000 watt inverter generator from Westinghouse WH1000i

Westinghouse WH1000i

While a clean electrical signal and low fuel consumption are important features, your neighbors at nearby campsites won’t appreciate it if your generator is as loud as a big-city sidewalk. Inverter generators are exceptionally quiet compared to other generators, but they still provide plenty of power while using comparatively small amounts of fuel.

It might be going too far to say your neighbors will never hear your generator, but the right unit will make less noise than the average conversation taking place around the campfire. Westinghouse offers two models with a no-load noise level of 53dB. That’s just slightly higher than the background noise surrounding an office cubicle. At full load, the noise level bumps up to 59db which is almost as loud as normal conversation.

Campsite Power

1800 watt inverter generator P2000 by Briggs & Stratton

Briggs & Stratton P2000

Inverter units are more powerful than you might think, but matching your needs to the generator is still important. Add up the total watts you need and choose the generator model that provides at least that much power with some left over. These inverter generators are quiet, fuel efficient, and can supply 120 volts AC for household appliances or 12 volts DC for charging batteries or operating 12-volt appliances.

TVs, laptops, small fans, and strings of small lights won’t use a lot of power and the smallest, compact units that supply up to 1000 running watts will handle most of your campsite electrical needs.

Coffee makers, small microwave ovens, ceramic heaters, and electric hair dryers need a little more power supplied by a generator that can furnish up to 2000 watts.

P3000 PowerSmart Inverter Generator from Briggs & Stratton

Briggs & Stratton P3000 PowerSmart

If you want power for your trailer-camper rooftop air conditioner and perhaps run a few other things at the same time, you’ll need to step up the power. These generators are a little heavier, but still quieter than most RV generators and they get the job done. Briggs and Stratton offers their P3000 PowerSmart with 2600 running watts and 3000 starting watts. It can even operate in parallel with another P3000 to double the available power.

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Save up to 10% on Generac Home & Commercial Generators | June 3rd thru 9th Only [EXTENDED June 16th]

Save up to 10 percent on Select Home and Commercial Generac Standby Generators.For a limited time, Norwall PowerSystems is offering special savings of up to ten percent off selected Generac standby generator models. The special offer includes home standby models from the Guardian line, and two commercial models.

The offer is limited to purchases made from June 3 through June 16 and represent a cash savings of up to 10 percent.

Home Standby

Generac Guardian Home Standby Generators

Generac Guardian Home Standby Generators

The sale includes Norwall’s most popular standby generator package, the Model 6244 20-kilowatt Guardian packaged with Generac’s 200-Amp Service Entrance rated automatic transfer switch.

Guardian generators are equipped with an air-cooled Generac overhead valve v-twin industrial engine designed specifically for the tough requirements of a standby generator. They produce less noise than most central air conditioning units, meet rigid air pollution requirements, and National Fire Protection Codes.

Also included in the Guardian Generator sale lineup:

Which model is best for your home? Check out the Home Standby Generator Sizing Guide and get started with your purchase now.

Home standby generators operate on LP or Natural Gas and are permanently connected to the home’s electrical system. Within seconds after detecting a power outage, the automatic transfer switch isolates the home from the utility service, starts the generator, and begins to supply the home with electricity.

It all happens automatically, even if you’re on vacation or away for business. And with optional Mobile Link remote monitoring system, you can receive updates on smartphones, tablets, or personal or laptop computer via a web-based dashboard, free mobile app, or text message.

Commercial Standby

Commercial Standby Generators

Generac 22kW QuietSource

Also from Generac are the 22 kilowatt QuietSource Aluminum and the 25 kilowatt Commercial. These liquid-cooled generators were designed for small to medium business requirements or large residential homes and operate on four-cylinder liquid-cooled engines manufactured by Generac.

When a power outage strikes, a Generac Liquid Cooled Generator will keep your business doors open by providing essential emergency power. When everyone else is closing their doors, you will be open for business and operating as usual.

Liquid Cooled Models require separate automatic transfer switch purchase.

Model QT02515ANSX – 25 kilowatts of power, Generac Commercial with corrosion resistant steel enclosure.

Model QT02224ANAX – 22 kilowatts of power, Generac QuietSource with corrosion resistant aluminum enclosure.

Use of the optional Mobile Link Remote Monitoring System requires an additional cable.

Check out the savings today at Norwall PowerSystems, but act soon before this deal expires on June 9.

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Hurricane Preparedness Week: Put Your Emergency Plan to Work

Satellite imagery shows three positions of hurricane Andrew before, during, and after it hit Florida.

The Path of Hurricane Andrew

Surviving a hurricane requires planning before a storm threatens. The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins June 1, 2014, and the Eastern Pacific Season has already begun and has already seen the first tropical cyclone of the season.

It is important to understand the tropical storm and hurricane hazards and how they can affect your home. If you live on or near the coast where hurricanes are possible, then you should already have a plan in place in the event a hurricane or tropical storm threatens. When forecasters determine a storm threatens, the time has come to put that plan into action.

Put together an emergency disaster kit and stock it with supplies for at least one week. Plan your escape route ahead of time and if you are forced by the weather or ordered by authorities to evacuate, exit along the planned route and go to the safe haven you have chosen.

Storm Watches

Chart showing wind speed tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes.

Saffir Simpson Scale

Watches are issued 48 hours ahead of the arrival of tropical-storm-force winds. Tropical storms have sustained winds from 38 to 73 mph. Hurricane winds start at 74 mph.

When a watch is issued for your area, the time has come to activate your plan immediately. Check your emergency disaster kit, identify missing items, and replenish them if necessary. Of utmost importance are medications, food, and water for at least three days, and a week is better.

Fill your car with fuel so you can evacuate if necessary without stopping to wait in long gas station lines. Check supplies of fuel for portable generators and top off supplies if necessary. Ensure that standby generators have an adequate supply of liquid propane if they run off the home’s tank. Perform any necessary maintenance and restock maintenance supplies like oil, filters, and plugs.

If you have a boat moored at a marina, you may have to move it to a safer location.

Storm Warnings

Hurricane Get Ready

Hurricane Get Ready

A hurricane or tropical storm warning means that tropical-storm-force winds will occur within 36 hours or sooner. You should already have put your emergency plan into action.

Listen to local news for updates and notifications on evacuation orders. Stay informed by listening to your NOAA radio and by visiting the National Hurricane Center website.

If evacuation becomes necessary:

  • Close storm shutters or board up windows and doors.
  • Turn off the gas and water.
  • Take your emergency disaster supply kit with you, along with clothing, medications, and personal items. Pack your car and leave along the evacuation route you have planned. Go to the planned location where you will wait out the storm in safety. Do not return until authorities have declared an area safe.

If you stay home:

  • Do not venture outdoors during the storm. Stay in the room previously chosen as your shelter until the storm ends.
  • Don’t be fooled into believing the storm is over before authorities give the all clear. The eye of the storm passes quickly and the high winds return suddenly.
  • Stay alert and informed. Listen to your weather radio for information. Remember that cell phones often work when regular land lines do not, but cell networks may become overwhelmed in the aftermath.
  • Stay close to your shelter after the storm has ended. Be aware of post-storm hazards including flooding and downed power lines. Although it is tempting to move around and survey the damage, remember that putting your own life in danger may also put a rescuers life at risk as well.
  • Monitor your standby generator and be sure to check the oil on a regular basis according the manufacturer’s instructions. Standby generators can operate a long without refueling, but they need regular maintenance when run for extended periods.
  • Conserve fuel if you’re using a portable generator. Lowering the electrical load will reduce fuel use, and running the generator only when necessary is a good idea. Keep refrigerators and freezers closed except when the generator is running, and only open them when necessary. A freezer can easily keep food frozen for twelve hours or more if the door is not opened.

Are you ready put to your plan into action? Visit Ready.Gov for more infomation.

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Hurricane Preparedness Week: Get a Plan and be Ready to Act

National Hurricane Preparedness Week 2014 Banner for May 25th to May 31st.

National Hurricane Preparedness Week

The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins on June 1 and runs through the end of November. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, if you live on the coast or inland from the coast you should take steps to formulate a plan now before a storm threatens your community. Be informed about the hazards associated with hurricanes and tropical storm and know what you can do to protect your family and home before, during, and after a weather-related disaster.

Know the Hazards

Direct hazards are components of a hurricane that threaten life and property and include extreme winds, storm surge, and inland flooding. Indirect hazards are caused by the hurricane, but are not part of it. They include tornadoes spawned by the hurricane, rip currents that pose a danger to swimmers and beach goers, waves that are higher and travel further up the shore than normal, and power outages caused by damage to the distribution system.

Most people are familiar with the direct hazards, but rip currents can occur long before the hurricane threatens land, even when it is hundreds of miles offshore. Some hurricanes spawn tornadoes by the dozens and by the time storm dissipates, they may total in the hundreds.

Tropical storms, though less intense than hurricanes, can inundate inland areas with incredible amounts of rainfall that overwhelms waterways and flood control systems to cause widespread inland flooding. Weaker storms have a history of producing the most rain and causing some of the worst inland flooding.

Get a Plan

Take the first step in forming a plan and visit, a website by FEMA that provides information on preparing for disasters like hurricanes and tropical storms. You will find information on putting together a disaster kit, planning for evacuation, and how to live safely in the days and weeks following a disaster.

Find out if you live in an evacuation zone. Learn the evacuation routes and plan to leave as soon as an evacuation notice is issued. Part of your evacuation plan should include knowing where you will go when you evacuate. Your plan might include sheltering at relatives, a motel or hotel, or in some cases you may need to stay at an emergency facility.

Emergency Disaster Kit

Put together an emergency disaster kit. Disaster kits should be portable so you can take them with you in the event you are required to evacuate.


  • Three days of non-perishable food and three gallons of water for each person.
  • Battery-powered or crank-powered NOAA weather radio with extra batteries.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • First aid kit.
  • Dust mask for each person.
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to create temporary shelter if required.
  • Moist towelettes, toilet paper, garbage bags and plastic ties for human waste disposal.
  • Tools for turning off utilities—channel-lock pliers or wrenches.
  • Hand-held can opener.
  • Local map.
  • Cell phone, charger, and inverter.

If your local officials recommend evacuating, don’t wait. It is better to leave and return later than to be trapped in a situation that grows worse and makes leaving impossible.

Before you leave, turn off your natural gas at the meter (requires a wrench or large pliers) or your propane at the tank. Shut off the water (some homes require a wrench or large pliers to turn the valve.) Turn off the electricity at the main disconnect. Lock your doors and windows and board them up if possible.

Plan to Stay

If you are not in an evacuation zone, you still must act to ensure your safety. Areas that flood are highly susceptible to flash flooding during a hurricane or tropical storm, even if you live inland from the coast.

  • Store at least seven gallons of drinking water for each person—a weeks supply.
  • Keep seven days of non-perishable food for each person. Include a can opener.
  • Flashlights, cell phones, NOAA weather radio and extra batteries.
  • Portable generator for emergency power and seven days worth of fuel. Include two maintenance kits with oil, filters, and spark plugs.
  • Have a standby generator installed. They provide emergency power automatically, run on natural gas or propane, and reduce your reliance on liquid fuels.
  • Build the FEMA emergency disaster kit, keep it handy, and take it with you if conditions make it impossible to stay.

If you’re in the direct path of a hurricane and hurricane warnings have been issued, don’t wait. Take your emergency kit, your clothing, medicine, and personal items, and leave. There is no better plan of action than to get out of a hurricane’s path.

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Hurricane Preparedness Week: Forecasting Tropical Cyclones

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is a division of the National Weather Service (NWS), an agency within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NHC is responsible for forecasting and tracking tropical cyclones and their associated hazards in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Eastern Pacific Ocean.

National Hurricane Preparedness Week 2014 Banner for May 25th to May 31st.

National Hurricane Preparedness Week

Tropical cyclones are the largest cyclonic weather event on the Earth and a large storm can span more than 1000 miles in diameter. Storm classifications include depressions, storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes. The most intense tropical cyclone on record was Hurricane Allen in 1980. It was the first and strongest hurricane of the season and formed on July 31. Allen had sustained winds of more than 190 MPH, the highest of any hurricane on record.

Collecting Data

The NHC collects data to determine when and where tropical cyclones are likely to form. They forecast storm intensity and direction, and determine a likely path the storm will follow from a number of hypothetical models that use current and historical data to formulate a storm track.

Data is collected from satellites, ships, buoys, air craft, radio soundings, radar, and automated surface observation stations from all over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico and includes factors like pressure systems, wind speeds, ocean temperatures, humidity, and much more. The formation of a tropical cyclone is dependent on all these factors, and once formed, how they also affect how the storm will grow and how intense it will become.

The information gathered is added to computer models which use a combination of current and historical data to determine what chance a weather system has of forming a tropical cyclone.

Categorizing a Storm

Chart showing wind speed tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes.

Saffir Simpson Scale

Tropical cyclones get their energy from warm ocean water and the warm air over the ocean. Storms over the warm water intensify and begin to rotate. As organization (the horizontal rotation and the circulation of air into, up and out from the system center) increases, the storm becomes a tropical depression and is given a number. Tropical depressions have sustained winds less than or equal to 38 mph.

Increased organization will allow the sustained wind speed to exceed 38 mph. The storm will have circulation that is apparent in the shape of its cloud structure. Satellite imagery clearly shows this rotation. Once sustained winds reach 39 mph, the classification changes to a tropical storm and the system is assigned the next name in the list for that year.

If organization continues, the storm may intensify into a hurricane with sustained winds of 74 mph. Major hurricanes have sustained winds greater than 110 mph.

Forecast Cycle

The NHC updates forecasts on tropical cyclones every six hours. Data collection from all the sources is synchronized at various times to increase efficiency, which reduces the amount of time needed to update the forecast. Forecast times are at 00:00, 06:00, 12:00, and 1800 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). It takes time to put together a forecast and coordinating data collection at specific times allows forecasters to issue advisories on a regular schedule.

Location of the storm, size of the storm, and strength of the storm are considered when issuing advisories. During the forecast cycle, if observations warrant immediate updates, the NHC will issue special advisories between usual forecast times.

The forecast cycle increases accuracy and allows forecasters to fine tune the forecast as a storm approaches land. This increases public confidence in the forecast and in the process saves lives.

Public Response

Timely and accurate forecasts with warnings and watches allow government officials time to respond and evacuate areas in the direct path of a storm. They also give residents advance warning and allow them time to respond by boarding up homes, checking supplies of food, water, and fuel for electric generators.

With 24 to 36 hours of notice, people have time to make last minute preparations or evacuate in a timely manner ahead of clogged roadways. It is important to have a plan and to be able provide for yourself in the hours and days after a hurricane makes landfall and devastates cities, towns, and rural areas.

Formulate Your Hurricane Response Plan Now.

Get a Plan – Take Action – Be Prepared With:

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Hurricane Preparedness Week: Torrential Rain and Inland Flooding

A flooded Houston freeway with just the top of a crane sticking out of the water.

The Southwest Freeway Near Downtown Houston after Tropical Storm Allison

Tropical cyclones produce copious amounts of rain. The energy released when rain drops condense are what provide the storm with it’s high winds. Conversely to wind speed, it is the less intense tropical cyclones that produce the most rain.

It is not uncommon for a major hurricane to dump 12 inches of rain across a wide area, but a weaker storm can easily produce local amounts that exceed two feet or more. Torrential rains cause inland flooding when waterways and flood control systems are overwhelmed by the influx of rain.

Don’t be caught unaware. Visit the National Hurricane Center website for more information.

Extreme Rain

One-quarter of all deaths associated with hurricanes are caused by inland flooding. One characteristic of tropical cyclones is their slow movement, and weaker storms can stall or move even slower than strong storms. This allows more rain to fall in localized areas and the result is catastrophic flooding.

In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison formed out of a tropical wave over the Gulf of Mexico in early June. It struck the Texas coast and moved inland, eventually reaching Luftin, Texas where it met a high pressure system and stalled before it changed direction and moved back over the Gulf of Mexico.

While over Texas, Allison dropped more than 40 inches of rain. Houston had 70,000 flooded homes and more than 30,000 people were left homeless. Forty-one people died as result of the storm. Damage estimates in Texas topped 5.5 billion dollars.

But Allison wasn’t finished. It’s remnants stalled again over the Gulf of Mexico. It then moved to the northeast and strengthened. It made landfall a second time at Morgan City, Louisiana with winds of 45 MPH.

Twenty one tornadoes added to the destruction.

Inland Flooding

Tropical Storm Allison is a good example of why coastal and inland residents should not rely on the Saffir-Simpson Scale as a measure of a tropical cyclone’s strength. Allison was a relatively weak tropical storm that formed very early in the season, but it had a long history and a track that took it across a wide swath of the Gulf and Mid Atlantic States.

Photographer Jim Occi captured these photos of gas lines in Cranford on Thursday following Hurricane Sandy.

Photographer Jim Occi captured these photos of gas lines in Cranford on Thursday following Hurricane Sandy.

More than 230 flash flood warnings were issued by the National Weather Service while the storm was over land. Even after Allison crossed the southern states and moved over the Atlantic Ocean, it continued to dump rain over a wide land area all the way to Long Island and Massachusetts, and inland flooding followed the rain, resulting in road closures and evacuations.

The Red Cross opened nearly fifty shelters and served more than 300,000 meals during the disaster. Because of the extreme rainfall and the extent of the inland flooding, Tropical Storm Allison was the deadliest and most costly tropical storm in the history of the United States, even though it was a relatively weak tropical cyclone.

Inland Flooding Preparation

NOAA logo for the all hazards weather radio systemWeather radios are an essential piece of equipment for every household in the United States. Weather alerts issued by the NOAA and the National Weather Service are invaluable information tools, and knowledge can save your live and the lives of your family.

Flash flood warnings saved hundreds of lives in Texas during Tropical Storm Allison. The average advance notice before a flood was just 39 minutes, and a weather radio can give you the most up to date information available ahead of local news stations who must receive the information, interpret it, and then rebroadcast it.

Purchase flood insurance. Most homeowner insurance policies explicitly deny coverage for damage caused by flooding. Flood insurance is government guaranteed insurance program that mitigates damage and loss of property from a flood.

Inland flooding also contaminates water supplies. Each person needs a minimum of one gallon of drinking water per day, and another gallon for personal hygiene. Stock potable water in containers, and store it above rising water levels.

Isolated by flood waters, a backup generator for emergency home use can keep your food cold, your sump pump running, and even run your air conditioner. Standby generators work with an automatic transfer switch to isolate your home from the electrical grid and local distribution system while supplying you with the power you need to keep your family and property safe. They are automatic systems that operate on a home’s natural gas or propane supply and can run for extended periods without the need for refueling.

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Hurricane Preparedness Week: Extreme Wind Hazards

Palm trees bent nearly horiztonal by hurricane-force winds.

Palm Trees Bent by Hurricane-Force Winds

Mention hurricane and the first thing people think of is the extreme wind that impacts structures and landscapes when the storm comes ashore. Television images depict reporters leaning into the wind and horizontal rain.

The winds associated with a tropical cyclone can shred structures, uproot or snap trees, and turn just about anything into a deadly missile. Coast dwellers typically board up their windows and doors when a hurricane threatens in order to keep the glass intact and keep the rain out.

The high winds, the debris they carry, and the trees they topple are all closely related to the widespread power outages as distribution systems are damaged and in some cases, destroyed.

Storm Intensity

Chart showing wind speed tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes.

Saffir Simpson Scale

Tropical cyclones are graded by intensity using the Saffir-Simpson scale which has three classifications: Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, and Hurricane.

All three storms are cyclones, but the hurricane is the most organized and the strongest of the three. Hurricanes are categorized on a scale of 1 to 5, with five being the most intense. The Saffir-Simpson Scale excludes information about locations, barometric pressure, storm surge and inland flooding, all which effect the amount of damage the storm is capable of.


Less known are the tornadoes that a hurricane can spawn after it makes landfall. As the tropical cyclone begins to decay, the low pressure and difference in wind speed between the upper and lower levels in the atmosphere make conditions ripe for tornado formation. This also makes it likely that tornadoes may form far inland from the coast, and before the eye reaches land. Most tropical-cyclone related tornadoes form 50 to 200 miles from the eye, but some storms have had tornadoes within the eye or the eye wall.

Tropical-cyclone tornadoes may form out of small storm cells that appear harmless on radar, especially if they are far away from the radar equipment.

Nearly all tropical cyclones that make landfall cause at least one tornado to form, but the number is often much higher. Hurricane Ivan spawned at least 117 tornadoes which by themselves caused eight deaths and 17 injuries. Tornadoes formed when a tropical cyclone comes ashore are typically weaker and shorter lived, but they are still a force to be reckoned with and planned for and inland residents should take precautionary measures to keep themselves safe.

Prepare for High Winds

If you live near the coast, invest in a supply of plywood for boarding up your house. It’s a good idea to cut and label plywood for each window and door in the home. Have sufficient fasteners on hand and a battery powered drill to drive screws with. Screws hold better than nails and should be long enough to reach well into the home’s structural frame.

Visit for information on preparing an emergency disaster kit and formulating a plan to help your family safely survive a tropical-cyclone-related disaster.

Choose a shelter room away from exterior walls, preferably at ground level and without windows. Ideally, the room should not be open to other rooms and have wooden doors. The shelter room will help protect you and your family from flying debris and shattered window glass.

Stay indoors, in your shelter room, and don’t go outside. Stay away from windows.

Power Outages

Generac model# 5875Tropical storm and hurricane force winds can damage the utility lines and equipment directly, while flying debris slices through transmission and distribution lines and wrecks transformers and substations.

Power outages during and after a hurricane or tropical storm are very common and usually widespread. They often affect millions of utility customers and many residents will wait a full week after the storm for the utility to restore power. Some will wait much longer.

Emergency power supplied by a standby generator will turn on automatically and continue to run for an extended period of time without frequent refueling. Standby systems use municipal natural gas supplies or may run on propane supplied by the home’s tank. If a standby system is impractical, portable generators can operate appliances via extension cords. A manual transfer switch and inlet box allows a portable generator to power furnaces, air conditioners, and other permanently wired appliances.

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