A new severe weather index could help municipal utilities prepare for the worst. 

Now being tested at 10 of the 122 National Weather Service (NWS) offices throughout the country, the Sperry-Piltz Ice Accumulation (SPIA) Index can give municipal and private utilities, as well as emergency responders, more lead time to prepare for power outages and to provide shelter and care to those in distress, according to National Geographic. If the tests show promise, the SPIA Index may soon be used to help prepare for winter weather disasters, like the ice storm that last week ravaged the Southeast, killed four and knocked out power to more than 200,000, according to reports from the field.  

The SPIA Index is a forward-looking prediction index that, when combined with National Weather Service forecast data, predicts the projected footprint, total ice accumulation and the potential damage from approaching ice storms, according to the index’s website. It is a tool to be used by risk management personnel and/or for winter weather preparedness. Think of it as the winter weather equivalent of the Fujita Scale for tornadoes or the Saffir-Simpson Scale for hurricanes.

NWS offices in Tulsa, Okla., Springfield, Mo., and Paducha, Ky., were the first to test the new index, National Geographic reports. Seeing the measureable successes of using the SPIA index in these cities, more, including Nashville, Tenn., and Little Rock, Ark., began using the system this year.

One of the most practical ways the new index works is by helping utility companies prepare for storms before they hit, according to National Geographic, such as by ordering the necessary lumber to replace power poles. Sidney K. Sperry, a co-founder of the index and chief meteorologist at the NWS office in Tulsa, says that though preparedness, the index can help save lives.

“There was an incident where one of our service areas was hit by a major ice storm, and people were without power for 21 days,” Sperry told National Geographic. “There was an elderly lady who literally froze to death in her own home because she didn’t have power.” 

He added, “The SPIA index can be used to help utilities prepare,” and warn residents that their power may be off for extended periods.

For more information on the index, visit the program's website.

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