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Rolling Blackouts, Planned Power Shutoffs Possible As California Grapples With Heat Wave, New Wildfires

Creek Fire Sierra NF.jpg
Sierra National Forest
The Creek Fire burning in the Sierra National Forest Sept. 5, 2020.

Hundreds of thousands of Californians could find themselves without power over the Labor Day weekend, as both rolling blackouts and planned power shut offs could happen in the coming days.

Updated 9:03 p.m.

Both issues are fueled by a crushing heat wave that has hit most of the state and a new round of wildfires. (You can find ways to track current wildfires, including a map, here.)

On Saturday evening, Pacific Gas & Electric announced it may shut off power for around 103,000 customers starting Monday due to strong winds and potential fire danger, as it has the past two years. A red flag warning is in effect for much of the region starting Monday at 10 p.m.

The shutoff would affect customers in parts of 17 counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills, North Bay and East Bay. Customers are being notified in Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Sonoma, Tehama, Tuolumne and Yuba counties.

ORIGINAL POST: Much of California will be in a heat wave through Labor Day weekend. It's a return not only to the heat that scorched the state in August, but potentially further rolling blackouts and power shutoffs due to fire danger.

PG&E said it may issue a power shutoff starting Monday due to strong winds and potential fire danger, as it did last year. Here are some tips for preparing for power shutoff.

Monday's shutoff would impact around 103,000 customers in parts of 17 counties in the Sierra foothills, North Bay and East Bay. Customers are being notified in Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Sonoma, Tehama, Tuolumne and Yuba counties.

The manager of the state power grid, California ISO, has also issued a statewide Flex Alert to avoid electrical outages. It starts Saturday and ends Monday.

People are asked to take steps to conserve energy between 3 and 9 p.m. Officials recommend:

  • Setting air conditioning thermostats to 78 degrees
  • Turning-off unnecessary lights
  • Closing blinds and drapes
  • Deferring using major appliances
  • Unplugging unused electrical devices
  • Limiting opening refrigerator doors

California ISO issued a level 2 warning Saturday evening, saying power outages were possible but announced at 9:15 p.m. no shutoffs were needed.

The Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, which serves customers in the region, said Friday it would like customers to conserve energy, but expects to avoid blackouts.

Last month California ISO imposed rolling blackouts for the first time since 2001, affecting hundreds of thousands of customers throughout the state. It is separate from the potential PG&E power shutoffs.

On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, suspending some permitting requirements that will allow power plants to generate more electricity during the heat wave.

Temperatures are expected to peak on Sunday with a high in Sacramento of 110 degrees. National Weather Service Sacramento meteorologist Scott Rowe says we could see some all-time record highs.

"Especially if we look at daily record values,” Rowe said. “In fact, some stations could be looking at the potential for flirting with September monthly records, such as Sacramento and even Stockton."

He says overnight temperatures won't give much relief.

"Unfortunately the overnight hours look to be just as warm compared to that last heat wave we had the other week," Rowe said. "Limited Delta Breeze is anticipated and so we're going to see temperatures stay in the upper 60s to maybe even low 80s for some communities in the foothills.

Meanwhile, many beaches and state parks will remain closed over the holiday weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires that continue to burn in the state. California State Parks said 46 units are still completely closed, and urged travelers to plan ahead.

Authorities also are asking people to wear masks, socially distance and avoid large gatherings to prevent another COVID-19 surge, the Associated Press reports.

The heat wave comes as the state is still recovering from wildfires that struck following the mid-August temperature spike that was accompanied by dry lightning storms. Those fires have already burned 1.5 million acres statewide.

The weather service also expects smoke from those current wildfires to impact air quality throughout the region. You can check current air quality forecasts at airnow.gov.

The hot, dry conditions, low humidity, and light to moderate winds may lead to elevated fire weather concerns later in the week. Currently, red flag warnings are only along the California-Oregon border.

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