EarthRisk Can Predict Extreme Heat Waves Up To 40 Days In Advance

When it gets hot, power companies can be pushed to the brink, but knowing when everyone is going to blast their AC at the same time can help them plan for all eventualities.

There's no getting around it; the number of extreme weather events has significantly increased over the past few years. Heat waves—along with their accompanying droughts and strains on the electrical grid—are some of the most common extreme weather phenomena. And with $485 billion a year of U.S. economic output affected by the weather, it's important to have a handle on when different regions are going to get hit with record high temperatures.

EarthRisk Technologies, a San Diego-based startup, thinks it can predict these events up to 40 days in advance (compared to standard two-week predictions), and potentially help energy companies prepare for a power grid strained by air conditioners.

The startup announced this week the release of HeatRisk, a piece of software that analyzes jet stream position, air temperature, thunderstorm activity, pressure patterns, and 60 years worth of weather records to predict the likelihood of a major heat wave. The subscription-based service will likely appeal to financial analysts, city planners, and perhaps most importantly, energy companies.

"By delivering reliable projections on the likelihood of a heat wave or extreme cold snap well in advance, energy companies can implement critical planning practices to meet air conditioning and heating demand more efficiently and at a lower cost," explains Stephen Bennett, founder and chief science officer of EarthRisk Technologies, in a statement. And if energy companies know that a heat wave is about to arrive, they can be ready—and possibly prevent crippling power failures.

So far, EarthRisk's technology has proven successful. The startup's other product, ColdRisk, accurately predicted over 80% of the severe cold fronts that formed in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. between November 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011 up to 20 days in advance, according to Reuters. HeatRisk also accurately predicted this past June's heat wave on the East Coast.

The software is still complex enough that it can only be used by skilled meteorologists, so don't think about using HeatRisk to plan your next summer vacation quite yet. But if your power company is using the software, perhaps your power won't go out the next time you're huddled next to the air conditioner in 110 degree heat.

[Images: Top, Flickr user sakeeb; Bottom, EarthRisk]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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