Standby Generator Installations Require Time and Planning

Standby generator with covers open for access.

Home Standby Generator Installations Require Planning

The season of severe weather is just around the corner. Everything from hurricanes and tornadoes, to floods, brush fires, and torrential rains will impact lives across the United States in the coming months. Every year, millions of utility customers do without power for periods that range from a few hours to a few weeks.

While not everyone in the country will be affected by the season’s power outages, there is no guarantee anyone will have uninterrupted power.

Norwall PowerSystems keeps standby generators in stock and ready to ship within a day or two, but that doesn’t mean you can order a unit today and plug it in tomorrow.

A standby generator installation requires planning, building permits, the services of at least two trades, inspections, and some units also require activation. When the next weather event threatens electrical power or even knocks it out, big-box home centers will sell out their entire stock of standby and portable generators within hours.

Planning Process

Cummins Onan Home Standby Generator

Cummins Onan Home Standby Generator

Before you purchase, select a location for the generator that meets local and national fire and electrical codes, and also the manufacturer’s recommendation. For most air-cooled residential standby generators, this means 18 inches away from the building, 36 inches of clearance on either side and in front of the unit, and a minimum of five feet horizontally to any window, door, vent, or other opening.

It is important that you speak with the local building department yourself. Being informed about local codes and what it takes to install the generator properly will help you spot shoddy work and avoid problems later. Take a plat of survey with you to the building department and show them where you want to install the unit. Some communities require an inspection to ensure the location and electrical system are up to code.

An electrical outlet and plug drawing with bolts of electricity.

Use an Electrician for a Safe and Trouble-Free Installation

Find an electrician. Even though any journeyman electrician is technically qualified to do the job, find one with generator installation experience. Ask how many standby generators they have installed and discuss the installation with them. It’s always a good idea to get references, and anyone with satisfied customers will be happy to provide a few references.

An experienced electrician will also know what local codes require and can navigate the sometimes complex task of acquiring building permits and having the work pass a final inspection.

In all likelihood, you will also need a plumber or other mechanical contractor to run a gas line to the installation location and connect the unit. They will also determine if your natural gas meter or LP gas regulator is large enough and can coordinate with the local gas company to make meter changes if necessary or install a new regulator.

Don’t forget to plan for delivery. The truck will arrive with the generator and they will place it at the entrance of your driveway. You’ll need to arrange help in advance to move it close to the installation location. A 20 kilowatt unit will need six strong people and two 3/4-inch black-iron pipes to carry it.

Lineman on a Utility Pole

Not A DIY Job

The installation of some automatic transfer switches requires interrupting the power from the meter. An electrician can safely disconnect the meter and make the installation, but dealing with live wires direct from the pole isn’t something most DIYers are qualified to do. In some cases, the electric utility requires notification, in others they may disconnect and then reconnect the meter after the install is complete. It’s just one more reason to employ the services of a qualified electrician.

If the install requires interruption of utility power, it’s a good bet you’ll do without power for several hours at a minimum, and possibly an entire day.

Plan Ahead

Don’t wait for the next weather event or local distribution problem to look for a generator. Plan ahead for severe weather and other utility disruptions and begin planning your standby generator installation today. You won’t be sorry when the rest of the neighborhood is dark and sweltering in the heat while your lights are on and your home is cool.

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Home Standby Generator Watts Comparison—What Can I Run?

A frequently asked question about generators is, “What can I run with my generator?”

Guardian 20kW Home Backup Generator

Guardian 20kW Home Backup Generator

The answer is, it depends. Norwall PowerSystems supplies standby generators with power capacities that range from 7000 watts to 150,000 watts, and many that fall somewhere in between. Since a standby generator represents a considerable investment in both the equipment and in the installation costs, buying the right generator to meet current and future needs is important.

Home standby generators for backup emergency power are permanently installed appliances and operate on an as-needed basis similar to a hot water heater or furnace that only runs when it is needed. When a power outage occurs, the system senses the outage immediately. A short wait confirms the outage isn’t momentary. The generator motor is started and comes up to speed, then the automatic transfer switch isolates the electrical system from the utility lines and connects it to the generator to provide the home with power. The entire process happens in seconds.

7000 to 10,000 Watts

Generac's 7kW core power unit pictured with 8-position 50-amp ATS.

Generac 7kW Core Power with Automatic Transfer Switch

Air-cooled standby generators in this range provide enough power to keep essential home systems operating. Operating a sump pump, freezer, refrigerator, and furnace will use up to 4000 watts. Add in some lights, a small television, and a microwave oven, and a 7000-watt unit is working close to its continuous capacity. The larger 10,000-watt standby unit could probably handle the additional load of a 1-ton air conditioner.

This scenario depicts a home operating with only the bare essentials. There’s enough power to keep the home safe from flooding and the food from spoiling while providing the means for minimal lighting, some outside communication, and to heat some soup for dinner.

11,000 to 14,000 Watts

In addition to powering the basic essentials, the larger standby generators that supply 11 to 14 kilowatts can handle some larger loads that include well pumps, electric hot water heaters, and a larger central air conditioning unit. A transfer switch with a managed power can extend this capability to a number of appliances. At the top end, there’s usually enough power left over to keep the kids busy with a video game or a desktop computer.

Generac Guardian 11kW Standby Generator Pre Packaged with 200 Amp Service Rated ATS 6438

Generac Guardian 11kW Standby Generator Pre Packaged with 200 Amp Service Rated ATS 6438

With a generator of this size, it becomes possible to use multiple kitchen appliances such as electric fry pans, coffee makers, hot plates, and toasters. Each use 1000 to 1500 watts, so it is still easy to overload the system if you are not careful about your power use. Keep too many of these devices operating and you’ll find that your A/C unit won’t start or the well pump doesn’t run.

15,000 to 20,000 Watts

Mobile Link with Generac Guardian Standby Generator

Generac Guardian with Optional Mobile Link

Generators in this range are a good choice when the homeowner wants to keep all the essentials operating along with a number of conveniences. With transfer switches that manage power, a number of high-voltage appliances can operate. It is still important to understand that the generator isn’t the nearly-limitless supply that the electric utility offers. Even so, most of the people in a house won’t notice that the power is out once the generator is running.

Standby 15kW to 20kW generators are essential if you need to power multiple large air conditioners alongside hot water heaters and well pumps. Larger homes may require additional power.

22,000 Watts and More

Owners of larger homes will want to consider liquid-cooled standby generators that can supply more power than largest air-cooled models. These generators offer exceptional reliability.

Liquid-cooled generators use automotive style engines with a radiator, cooling fan, and coolant that circulates to keep the engine cool. Residential units of up to 60 kilowatts are available to keep even large, luxury homes supplied with power. If you need more power, commercial standby generators can supply up to 150,000 watts of power.

Run multiple air conditioners at the same time, use your electric range and the electric dryer too. All while keeping the lights on and everything else running too.

Before deciding which generator you will purchase, conduct your own power audit to size your generator, consult with the electrician who will install it, and confirm your plans with your local building and code enforcement agency.

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Be A Force of Nature: National Severe Weather Preparedness Week

An infographic showing various severe weather types that impacted the USA during 2012.

2012 U.S.A. History of Extreme Weather

March 2-8, 2014 is National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, an awareness campaign sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Preparing in advance for severe weather could save the lives of your family and even your neighbors. Last year alone, the United States experienced seven severe-weather events that took 120 lives. Each event was responsible for more that 1 billion dollars in damage. All too often, severe weather takes people by surprise even though they have advance warning—sometimes days or even a week ahead of the weather.

This year, NOAA and FEMA are encouraging everyone to “Become a Force of Nature” by being prepared, understanding the risks of severe weather, and by being an example to others. A letter from President Barack Obama states that “We all have a role in preparing ourselves and others for dangerous weather.” He also encouraged “all Americans to learn the type of hazardous weather that can affect your homes, schools, businesses, and places of worship.”

A key component of the message from the President, FEMA, and NOAA is that everyone should prepare an emergency kit that includes non-perishable food, water, a first aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, and other essential items.

Preparing Your Shelter

Shelter is of primary concern during any weather emergency. It can help you survive the storm, and provide a place to keep warm, prepare food, and stay safe after the storm.

Home Standby Maintenance

Prepare now for severe weather power outages by installing a standby generator.

Homes are the primary places of shelter during and after storms. Inside rooms without windows are best, preferably with four walls that support the overhead structure. Even better are rooms specifically reinforced to withstand severe weather. Commercially available storm shelters provide even more safety.

Keep your emergency kit in your shelter, and include a large, heavy-duty plastic sheet or tarp to provide emergency shelter in the event you have to leave your home or it is destroyed. Supply your home with emergency power from a standby generator. After a major weather event, it could be weeks before power is restored. An emergency generator can keep the lights on, the house warm or cool, and prevent stored food from spoiling. Generators also provide power for sump pumps to prevent flooding.

Know Your Risks

Severe weather can happen anywhere, at any time. We all know about hurricane season, tornado season, and storm season. New agencies often talk about them. As events in recent years have shown, severe weather doesn’t pay much attention to seasons or state boundaries.

A late fall outbreak of tornadoes in November of 2013 produced more than 70 storms in the Midwest and included two EF4 tornadoes that caused widespread damage and was the most active tornado day of the year.

Despite being warned days in advance of severe weather, many Moore, Oklahoma residents were caught by surprise when a devastating EF5 tornado with winds in excess of 200 MPH struck the town and mowed a 1.3-mile-wide path through 17 miles of the city’s landscape in May, 2013.

Super-Storm Sandy came ashore as a hurricane in New Jersey, flooded Manhattan and parts of Long Island, and blew across the Appalachian Mountains all the way to Wisconsin with gale force winds and 30 foot waves on Lake Michigan.

It’s not everyday that a hurricane affects the Midwest, but Sandy serves as a lesson that severe weather knows few boundaries.

Be Prepared with an NOAA Weather Radio

Throughout the country, NOAA provides weather alerts via more than 1000 transmitters. A weather radio with Public Alert capability is a good investment. Weather radios come with various features and choosing one with public alert capability provides around the clock protection. In the event of a weather emergency that could affect your location, the radio will sound a tone and then give emergency information.

Choose a model that operates on AC with a battery backup. In the event of a power failure, it will continue to operate off the battery or until you connect it to your portable or standby generator.

Unlike other services that provide alerts, the weather radio operates continuously to inform you of approaching severe weather.

Be a force of nature and prepare now for severe weather. You never know when it will strike.

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Raising Awareness: National Severe Weather Preparedness Week

Poster from the FEMA/NOAA severe weather preparedness campaign.FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) are helping to raise severe weather awareness and preparation during National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, March 2 through March 8.

Severe weather is a possibility during every season and each carries it’s own risks. As winter begins to meld into spring, it’s time to start preparing for spring, summer, and fall weather hazards. The National Weather Service invites you to contact your regional NWS office to learn more about risks specific to your area.

Severe Weather Risk

Every region has its own severe weather risks whether from tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, or other hazards. After a long period of drought, California is experiencing mudslides where heavy rains have inundated hillsides previously ravaged by wildfires. Wildfires are an annual concern throughout the West.

The Gulf and Atlantic Coasts are less than three months away from the hurricane season which begins June 1 and ends November 30. It would be a rare year indeed if no tropical cyclones came ashore to cause flooding, power outages, and force evacuations.

From the Rocky Mountains all the way to the East Coast, strong storms will spawn tornadoes. Last year an F5 tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma and carved a 1.3-mile-wide swath of destruction through the city and traveled 17 miles in 40 minutes. Three schools were among the buildings devastated along with a hospital and a movie theater.

Watches and Warnings

When severe weather threatens, a watch is issued to inform people of the weather risk. For example, when conditions are ripe for tornado, a tornado watch is issued. A warning indicates that the severe weather condition has formed into a threat. When a tornado forms, a warning is issued for the immediate area and path that the tornado is expected to take.

Understand the meaning of watch for each type of severe weather. A tornado watch means that a tornado could form at any time and any place within the watch area. The same is true of severe thunderstorms or winter weather.

Tropical cyclones are well tracked by weather services. Tropical storm and hurricane watches are issued 48 hours before the storm arrives. A warning means that arrival of the storm is imminent.

Plan for Severe Weather

Have a plan in place for dealing with severe weather. Prepare your home in advance of storm watches and know what you will do if severe weather threatens. Tornadoes sometimes give very little warning and having a shelter plan can save your family’s lives.

Be prepared with food, water, and supplies to last for three days following severe weather. FEMA has a list of items to include in an emergency supply kit.

Briggs & Stratton Elite 7000 Watt Electric Start Portable GeneratorA source of backup power such as a portable or standby generator can keep your lights on and your home safe until utility companies are able to restore service. Portable owners should store enough fuel and know how to keep it fresh until needed.

People with special dietary needs may find it difficult to purchase food in the event of a widespread disaster and should plan accordingly.

Know evacuation routes in the event you are forced to leave the area, and know where you will go as well. Don’t wait until the last minute to leave. Roadways will become clogged with traffic and fuel becomes difficult to purchase when everyone is leaving the area.

The Aftermath

Severe Weather is unforgiving and often leaves destruction in its wake. If you’re prepared with water, supplies, and food, you’ll find life more manageable. It is a little easier to focus on recovery when you’re not worried about drinking water, how to feed your family for the next few days, or whether you can keep warm in the winter or cool in the summer.

Having a plan and the supplies you need such as food, water, electricity, and many other items will get you through the storm’s aftermath until relief efforts reach you.

Be prepared for the next time severe weather threatens.

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Standby Generators Increase Home Resale Value

Transmission tower supporting high-voltage electrical transmission cables.

High-Voltage Transmission Towers Support Cables that Carry Electricity Across the Continent’s Electrical Grid

Every major storm only serves to highlight the fragile nature of the nation’s power grid. According to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, Hurricane Sandy disrupted power to 8.5 million people 2012, including three-quarters of New Jersey utility customers. It took more than a week (CNN) to restore service for most people, but after three weeks some were still waiting for service.

As bad as the aftermath of Sandy was, it was nothing compared to the previous year when power outages lasting more than 24 hours affected more than 21 million electric utility users across the country. Natural events cause extended, widespread power outages every year.

Standby Generator Value

We rely extensively on electricity to heat and cool our homes and to keep them dry and safe. It keeps our food cold or frozen, we cook with it, and heat water with it. Without electricity, homes are dark and swelter in the summer heat or freeze in the winter cold.

The intangible value(Generac Power Systems) of a standby generator becomes starkly apparent when your home is the only one in the neighborhood with lights, heating or air conditioning, and you’re not worrying about the basement flooding or the food spoiling.

Don’t be surprised when the next door neighbor shows up with extension cord in hand to ask if he connect his sump pump.

Return on Investment

Home improvement projects are often rated on the return they offer, and the installation of a standby generator system qualifies as a mid-range project. Few remodeling or home improvement projects return all the investment to the homeowner, but some do better than others.

Like almost every project, how much you can expect to recoup depends largely on where you live. A recent study of home projects across the United States compared the cost of various home improvement projects to their added value at the time of sale.

According to a 2014 report by Remodeling Magazine, on average, homeowners across the country can expect to increase their resale value by 67.5 percent of the cost of purchasing and installing a standby generator. The study included the costs of the standby unit (approx 17kW), the automatic transfer switch and other electrical hardware, connecting to existing gas lines, and the mounting pad.

Costs can vary widely by region, but so can returns. If you’re looking for a home improvement project guaranteed to return everything you invest and more, a new front door is your best bet with an average return of 105 percent. Few other projects will return more than they cost.

But if you live in the right area, a standby generator can not only improve the selling price of your home, it can return the investment cost and then some.

A sampling of cities from the 2014 report returned some surprising results that far exceeded the national average.

City Cost $ Value $ ROI %
El Paso, TX 10,849 18,135 167.2
Miami, FL 11,441 13,035 113.9
Albany, NY 11,842 14,348 121.2
Cincinnati, OH 11,548 13,838 119.8
Providence, RI 12,049 16,071 133.4

(Cities surveyed varied between a low of 35 percent and a high of 167.2 percent)

Other cities are closer to the average, and of course, some are well below the average too. The main advantage of a standby generator for most people is the improvement in living conditions during extended outages, and the safety of their families and homes.

According to the report, the return on investment for most cities and regions will fall somewhere between 67 and 85 percent. A few areas are significantly lower. If you’re looking for a project solely to improve your home’s value and return most or all of the investment do your research carefully. The most important benefits of a standby generator system are the safety and piece of mind they provide.

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Compare Important Home Standby Generator Features Before Purchase

Automatic Home Standby Generators

Automatic Home Standby Generator

Good comparisons are an important part of the decision making process prior to any large purchase, and standby generators are no different.

Making comparisons will help you determine which generator to purchase for you home and ensure the model you choose best meets your needs.

The first step in making a selection: do a power audit of your home to help you determine how much backup power your generator will have to supply. Then make choices based on which generator has the features to most efficiently supply that amount of power.

Power Management

A standby generator can supply a fair amount of power for a home, and since many major appliances don’t need to run all the time, or don’t have to run during a power outage, usually it is not necessary to purchase and install a generator that can supply enough power to run all appliances 24/7. Instead, a system that automatically manages power can substantially lower the cost of purchase and operation.

Power management prevents too many appliances that draw large amounts of power from operating at the same time. For example, a home with two air conditioners may only have enough backup power to start one at a time. Power management allows one unit to run, then starts the other if the generator isn’t at capacity.

Different manufacturers use different power management techniques, and some will control more devices than others, which makes comparing methods and capability important.

Fuel Considerations

Most home standby generators operate on either LP Gas (propane) or on Natural Gas. Some models run on diesel, making frequent refueling during extended outages necessary.

An important factor is the continuous power rating and how it relates to fuel. Generators that can operate on either LP Gas or Natural Gas are often less efficient while operating on Natural Gas. They produce more power while running on LP Gas, sometimes making it necessary to choose a larger generator if natural gas is the fuel of choice.

Larger capacity generators also use more fuel than those with less capacity. This becomes an important consideration when operating on LP Gas because the available fuel supply is limited by the size of the storage tank. Increasing the size of the fuel tank may be necessary to provide a fuel supply that lasts more than a few days.

Fuel use on all generators is directly related to electrical load. The size of the engine sets the minimum fuel use without an electrical load. As the electrical load increases fuel use also increases as the engine has to provide more power while running at the same speed.

Important comparisons to make are the specifications for full-load and half-load fuel consumption.

Transfer Switch Options

The automatic transfer switch is a key component to any standby generator system. Standby generators connect to homes via an automatic transfer switch, which automatically selects between utility power for normal operation or generator power during an outage. Choosing the correct transfer switch is an essential consideration for all installations. Most residential standby generator manufacturers offer automatic transfer switches designed to work specifically with their standby generators.

Ultimately, it is the transfer switch that controls what receives power during an outage and what does not. Choosing the right options may mean the difference between taking a hot shower, staying warm in the winter, or cool in the summer.

Location

Before you buy, determine the best location for your generator. Some models are better suited to small yards and install closer to the home or take up less space. Locate standby generators away from windows, doors, and vents. Other considerations include the prevailing wind and your neighbor’s home. It is just as important to keep carbon monoxide out of their home as it is yours. Some states have air quality standards that also limit what generators you can purchase

Extreme environments are also a consideration. Coastal areas have salt in the air which causes corrosion. Select models with good corrosion resistant enclosures or materials that don’t corrode in harsh environments.

Purchasing a standby generator is an important step to keeping your family and home safe during an outage. Do your research and choose a model that meets your home’s unique requirements.

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New Briggs and Stratton Product Offerings By Norwall PowerSystems

Norwall PowerSystems is adding more Briggs & Stratton Standby Generator Products to give business and home owners additional options for standby power. Included are two air-cooled, three-phase standby generators, and three liquid-cooled, three-phase standby generators.

Maintenance and cold weather kits keep standby generators operating smoothly and make starting easy, even in cold weather. Stay informed wherever you are with generator status alerts via Infohub alerts on smart phones, tablets, or computers, or choose Basic Wireless Monitor.

25kW Managed Whole House Power

This liquid-cooled standby generator joins the Briggs & Stratton lineup of residential liquid-cooled generators offered by Norwall. Powered by an automotive-type liquid cooled engine, the generator supplies 25 kilowatts of power while operating on either LP or Natural Gas to supply your entire home with emergency power.

Briggs and Stratton 25kW NG LP Liquid Cooled Home Standby Generator and Dual 200 Amp Split 400 Amp Automatic Transfer Switch 76107

Briggs and Stratton 25kW NG LP Liquid Cooled Home Standby Generator and Dual 200 Amp Split 400 Amp Automatic Transfer Switch 76107

When power from the electric utility is interrupted, the generator begins to supply your entire home with power within seconds after detecting the outage. The 25kW generator is sold as a stand-alone unit (model 76180) or pre-packaged (model 76107) with a dual 200-amp automatic transfer switch. The transfer switch automatically selects utility power for normal operation or emergency standby generator power during an outage.

Integrated into the automatic transfer switch is the Air Conditioner Control Module which handles the management of two central air conditioning units. Adding a Load Control Center allows management of six additional heavy loads such as electric dryers, well pumps, and electric hot water heaters.

Air-Cooled Three-Phase Commercial

The new 17 kilowatt (model 40415) and 19 kilowatt (model 40422) air-cooled generators provide three-phase (240V Delta) power during an outage. Briggs & Stratton 993cc Vanguard V-Twin engines power the generators on either LP or Natural Gas.

Eliminate your customer's lossess from power outages. Backed by one of the best commercial warranties in the industry, the three phase 19kW1 is perfect for businesses with increasing electrical demands. Designed to offer you more options, you can trust that this standby generator is a reliable choice for backup power

Eliminate your customer’s lossess from power outages. Backed by one of the best commercial warranties in the industry, the three phase 19kW1 is perfect for businesses with increasing electrical demands. Designed to offer you more options, you can trust that this standby generator is a reliable choice for backup power

Less than thirty seconds after sensing an outage, the generator starts automatically and the GE Zenith automatic transfer switch isolates the building from the electric utility and begins supplying power from the generator.

While operating on Natural Gas, expect the 40415 to supply about 15.3 kilowatts and 17.1 kilowatts from the 40422.

Both three-phase generators include the Briggs & Stratton 4-year limited parts and labor warranty.

Liquid-Cooled Three-Phase Commercial

Also new to the Norwall product line are three-phase liquid-cooled standby generators in 35 kilowatts, 48 kilowattes, and 62 kilowatt models. These B&S standby generators offer three voltage configurations: single-phase 120/240V, three-phase 120/208V, or three-phase 139/240V.

Pair the commercial standby generators with Briggs & Stratton automatic transfer switches for single phase operation, or with a GE Zenith ATS for three-phase operation.

Designed for long-term reliability, the standby generators come with the most comprehensive and longest commercial warranty in the industry—four years (1600 hours) parts & labor. The corrosion resistant enclosure eases servicing with swing-open doors that allow easy access to the engine for maintenance.

Powered by GM Vortec Engines in 8 and 4 cylinder configurations, these units are factory set to run on natural gas, but easily convert to LP gas in the field during installation. They operate at lower speeds for less wear and tear, low noise, and better fuel efficiency. Look for an approximate 10 percent reduction in available power while operating on natural gas.

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Prepare Now for the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Photo from space of a hurricane-class tropical cyclone showing circular motion and storm bands.

Hurricane

The National Hurricane Center reminds us that the hurricane season is just a few months away, and the time to prepare for that season is now. Although the direct force of a hurricane directly affects the coastal region where it comes ashore, effects can reach far inland. Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and traveled over the Appalachians to affect Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. Gale warnings were issued for Lake Michigan where waves in excess of 21 feet, with some some reaching 33 feet in height, were recorded.

Good Preparations for a hurricane begin with understanding the dangers and then forming a plan and putting that plan into action.

Atlantic Season Begins June 1

The official season begins on June 1 and runs through November 30. Long range forecasts can predict the intensity of the season, but not individual storms. Such forecasts are useful to gauge what to expect, but can’t offer insight into where storms will hit or how often. They are often publicized because they are newsworthy and help governmental agencies prepare for the worst.

Examining the records for Atlantic Basin Tropical Cyclones reveals that storms form during every month of the year, not just during the storm season.

Tropical Storm Risk, an organization headed by Prof. Mark Saunders and Dr. Adam Lea of the University of London Department of Climate and Space Physics, issued their long-range prediction for the 2014 season in December. This season could see as many as five intense hurricanes (category 3-5), nine hurricanes (category 1-2), and 18 tropical storms.

TSR will update their assessment in April.

Know the Dangers

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

Saffir Simpson Scale

High winds make for good headlines and are widely publicized, but they are not the most devastating effects of tropical storms. The winds normally begin subsiding when the storm crosses over land as the storm loses its primary energy source, which is warm ocean water. When a storm becomes extra-tropical however, it receives energy from other sources, as was the case with Hurricane Sandy which wreaked havoc all the way into the Western Great Lakes.

Storm surge is a double mound of water. A large mound is formed by the cyclonic winds pushing water ahead of the wind and forms just behind the eye of the storm. A second surge forms in the eye of the storm where barometric pressure is the lowest. The surrounding area has a higher pressure, which pushes down on the water and forces it up into a mound in the eye of the storm. Storm surges can reach 25 to 30 feet and inundate coastal bays, lakes, rivers, and estuaries.

Records for the past 30 years show that inland flooding causes more deaths than high winds and storm surge combined. Torrential rains easily measured in feet—not inches—inundate the land away from the coast and cause widespread flooding. Hurricane Claudette dropped nearly four feet of water on some areas of Texas after it moved inland.

Widespread power outages last for days and weeks after a hurricane. The extreme winds knock trees down onto power distribution lines and tornadoes spawned by the storm cause even more damage to transmission lines and substations. Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, crews were still working to restore power to West Milford, New Jersey customers. Some customers waited more than five weeks.

Make Your Hurricane Preparedness Plan Now

Now is the time to take action and get ready for hurricane season. Formulate an evacuation plan if you live on or near the coast. Know the evacuation routes and put together an evacuation kit that includes non-perishable food, clothing, water, and personal items to take with you.

Understand the dangers of tropical cyclones as they pertain to where you live and how they will affect you, so that you can be prepared ahead of time. Stock non-perishable food supplies and a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person, per day, for at least one week. Provide for an alternative source of electrical power. Standby generators are best; portables offer a less-expensive option, but fuel for portables may be scarce during a widespread power outage.

Remember that Hurricane Preparedness Week begins May 25th. The time to begin preparedness is now, before the season begins.

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Generator Safety During Winter Storm Power Outages

Snow and Ice prediction by NWS for Georgia and Atlantic Coast

Ice and Snow Blanket the SE in a February Storm

As the United States records 2014 as one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory, the number of winter-weather-related power outages may also be one for the records. Major ice storms have plunged large portions of the southern half of the country into darkness, while the East Coast and Midwest have been pummeled regularly with snow and ice.

The most recent storm cut power to nearly one million utility customers, and some waited days for restoration. Lack of heat was the cause of at least one death this winter. Damage to homes from outage-related flooding or freezing is always a problem during winter outages.

Note: Anyone using a generator for emergency home power should install carbon monoxide detectors in the home’s living areas.

Backup Generator Use

The most common solution to a power outage regardless of the season is a generator. The safest, easiest option is a standby unit. Permanently installed and connected, standby systems continuously monitor the utility power and automatically start and run within seconds after detecting an outage. The automatic transfer switch that connects the generator to the home transfers the power source from the utility lines to the generator while simultaneously isolating the system from the utility. When power is restored, the process is reversed and the generator shuts down.

Standby generators usually run on either propane or natural gas, but some diesel models are also available.

Another option is the portable generator. Portables are not automatic and require a human to connect them, start them, and refuel them, each of which carries its own safety risks. Portable generators can connect directly to appliances with extension cords, or to the home via a dedicated cord, inlet box, and manual transfer switch.

Standby Safety

Most safety issues for standby generator systems are addressed during installation. There’s no connections to make in the rain or snow, positioning is taken care of, and fuel storage and supply are eliminated for natural gas or LP systems.

Keep the generator vents and exhaust clear of snow and ice. Do not allow snow and ice to build up on the generator enclosure.

During extended outages, the generator may require service. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance intervals.

Stock up on maintenance supplies such as oil and filters. Shut the generator down for maintenance and follow the manufacturer’s safety steps to ensure it won’t start or attempt to start during servicing.

Never allow children to play on or around the generator.

Diesel standby units require refueling at regular intervals. Shut the unit down for refueling and follow all safety precautions.

Portable Safety

Portable generator users are at risk for a number for safety hazards and special precautions are required, especially in wet, icy, or snowy winter conditions.

Never connect a generator to an appliance outlet. Back feeding is extremely dangerous.

Never operate a portable generator indoors or inside an enclosed space. Even if the doors and windows are open, the deadly exhaust fumes can kill within minutes.

Keep the generator 10 feet away from the house and away from vents, windows and doors. Even a small opening can allow carbon monoxide to enter the home.

Shut the engine off and allow it to cool before refueling. Follow maintenance schedules and keep maintenance supplies on hand.

Store fuel in containers made for fuel storage. Storage locations should be well ventilated and local laws for fuel storage followed.

Make all electrical connections with the generator off and the circuit breaker in the off position. After connections are made, start the generator and then turn the breaker to the on position after it warms up.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper grounding.

Photo by National Weather Service

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Winter Storm Impacts South and Northeast States

Map showing ice accumulations in the south.

Expected Ice Accumulation in Georgia

By 9am Wednesday, the winter storm impacting the south had already accumulated more than 1/2 inch of ice in some areas. Ice accumulation rates of 0.1 inches per hour were expected to add even more ice, and the storm isn’t in a hurry to leave.

Road travel is extremely hazardous, and six people have been killed in Texas and Mississippi highway accidents attributed to the slick conditions.

Map showing snowfall prediction for the NE

Heavy Snowfall Predictions for the Northeast

Power outages had topped 100,000 customers by mid morning and increased to more than 200,000 homes and businesses by early Wednesday evening. Ice has damaged local distribution lines and long-distance transmission equipment.

Update: Friday February 14, 2014. The number of electric utility customers without power due to the storm peaked at nearly 1 million by late Thursday afternoon. Efforts were expected to restore most customers by Friday Evening, but some will remain without power into next week.

Overnight, more than a foot of snow is expected in parts of Georgia, but the ice accumulation along with 30 MPH gusts of wind will have greatest impact. As the storm moves up the coast, heavy snow is expected all the way to Maine.

Besides highway accidents, two deaths due to hypothermia are blamed on the storm. In once case, a 68 year-old woman was found dead in her unheated home. In another, a man was unable to make it back indoors, possibly due to a medical emergency, and was found dead Wednesday morning by his wife.

Update: Friday February 14, 2014. The storm is now being blamed for the deaths of more than 20 people.

Ice Storms

Three layers of air are necessary for an ice storm. The clouds make up the first layer where snow forms and begins falling toward the earth. The flakes reach a layer of warm air and melt into rain. The rain falls further and enters a sub-freezing layer of air close to the earth. The drops of water are already close to or at the freezing point.

When the water touches a surface below freezing, it quickly turns to ice and coats everything it touches.

A single electric wire between two poles can gather more than 500 pounds of weight from 1/2 inch of ice, and utility poles commonly support three electric utility wires in addition to cable distribution, and telephone. Combined with strong winds, the heavy weight can snap lines and poles.

Trees gather ice easily, and as the ice builds, large trees are burdened with thousands of pounds of ice, and branches snap and fall, damaging homes and power lines.

Surviving the Storm

Ice storms are dangerous, and despite widespread warnings, they often claim lives unnecessarily.

Don’t travel. Stay home and stay indoors. Don’t let children play outside under trees or power lines. Bring your pets indoors too. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.

If you lose power, keep the refrigerator closed and it will maintain it’s cold temperature for about four hours. Freezers will keep food frozen for about two days if they remain shut.

Generators can supply power, but use them safely. Position portable generators away from the home and use approved outdoor extension cords to power appliances. Never run a portable generator indoors or inside a garage. Carbon monoxide in the fumes can kill within minutes. Make sure that the vents on standby generators remain clear of ice and snow.

Fortunately, the impact of this storm on the south will likely only last a few days as the weather warms quickly into the 40s on Thursday, and the 50s on Friday. Ice on the lines and branches will melt, road crews will clear away the ice and snow, and children will return to school. Although a foot or more of snow is nothing new to the Northeast, the impact of power outages is still a risk because some areas expect a wintry mix before the snow.

This storm will pass and we can begin to get ready for the next one.

Images by National Weather Service

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