Wildfires, Heat Waves and Blackouts Are Back to Haunt California

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Extreme heat across California is once again shattering records. Hundreds of thousands of people are facing the prospect of more blackouts. And making matters worse: New wildfires are spreading uncontrollably, knocking out power plants, triggering evacuations and threatening to take out the lights no matter how much the state conserves.

$69.​9B Renewable power investment worldwide in Q2 2020 -37.​94% Today’s arctic ice area vs. historic average

Temuco, ChileMost polluted air today, in sensor range

50,​820 Million metric tons of greenhouse emissions, most recent annual data 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 4 3 2 1 0 .0 0 9 8 7 6 0 4 3 2 1 0 0 4 3 2 1 0 0 0 9 8 7 6 0 7 6 5 4 3 0 7 6 5 4 3 Parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 9 8 7 6 5 Soccer pitches of forest lost this hour, most recent data

Those who thought the Augustheat wave that triggered California’s first rotating blackouts since the 2001 energy crisis and helped set the state ablaze with hundreds of fires was a one-off were gravely mistaken. As climate change contributes to ever extreme weather, the region’s heat, wildfire and blackout woes are only getting worse.

Climate scientist Daniel Swain shared one “sobering thought” onTwitter Saturday: The only thing stopping some parts of California from seeing record high temperatures may be the “dense pall of smoke from explosively growing wildfires” blocking the sun.


A sobering thought: only thing stopping a number of California cities from hitting new all-time record high temperatures Sun may be dense pall of smoke from explosively growing wildfires. Also, I expect CA to set new record for acres burned in modern era by…Monday.#CAwx #CAfireDaniel Swain

@Weather_WestSerious situation developing in foothills of Fresno County near #Oakhurst. #CreekFire has exploded in size & intensity at a time when 1000s of visitors have crowded area. Massive pyrocumulus cloud indicative of extreme fire behavior, & #pyrotornado may have occurred.#CAwx #CAfire

5:48 AM · Sep 6, 2020


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The heat forecast to suffocate California through Tuesday is expected to grow even worse than the August one. Los Angeles is set to peak at 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) on Sunday and Sacramento at 111. Temperatures have already broken daily records in places including Napa and Paso Robles.

“More than 100 high-temperature records are at stake across the West,” said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group.

Read More:California’s Climate Tinderbox: A Scientist on the Fire Crisis

California’s power-grid manager had been warning of rotating outages and pleading for conservation for days, but it wasn’t until early Saturday evening — when temperatures climbed above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts — that it declared a grid emergency and said another round of blackouts were expected.

In a tweet that has since been deleted, the system operator said a wildfire had taken down a power plant and a solar farm, wiping out 1,600 megawatts of electricity generation — enough to power 1.2 million homes.


At around 8:30 p.m. local time, as temperatures crept lower and electricity demand came off, the California Independent System Operator sounded the all-clear and lifted its warning of outages. But the situation is almost certain to replay itself on Sunday and every day until the heat subsides.

“Temperatures during this heat wave are expected to peak tomorrow, pushing demand for energy beyond levels of available supply,” the California ISO said in a statement late Saturday. “The ISO is planning for the potential for rotating power outages throughout the state.”

Read More:Weakening Jet Stream Is Making Californians Sweat in the Dark

Electricity prices for delivery Saturday evening into Southern California jumped to $800 a megawatt-hour, signaling extremely tight supplies.

If the heat doesn’t take out California’s lights, the prospect of wildfires might.


Utility giantPG&E Corp. which powers much of Northern California, warned on Saturday that it may decide to cut power to about 103,000 customers in parts of the San Francisco Bay area and Sierra Nevada foothills starting Monday to keep its power lines from igniting fires. Hot, dry winds are forecast to blow across the region, threatening to knock tree limbs into power lines.

This is the first time PG&E has warned of shutoffs during this year’s fire season. Last year, when California’s utilities first began carrying out widespread blackouts like this, some homes and businesses were left in the dark for days. That drew outrage from state and local officials, triggered investigations and prompted PG&E to reassess the scope of future shutoffs.

The utility’s weather models show that warm, offshore winds will develop Monday evening on the heels of the heat wave. The soaring temperatures will further dry out grass, bushes and other vegetation, PG&E said.

Years of deadly fires started by PG&E’s wires in wind storms forced California’s largest utility to declare bankruptcy last year. The company emerged in July after agreeing to pay $25.5 billion to settle wildfire lawsuits. The state has since set up a wildfire liabilities fund, essentially an insurance pool for the region’s utilities, but just one catastrophic blaze could wipe it out.

— With assistance by David R Baker

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