After a weekend of wild and scorching weather, California residents were warned Sunday to brace for the likelihood of rolling blackouts through Wednesday.
More than 200,000 PG&E Corp. PCG, -2.18% customers in Northern California lost power Saturday in the state’s first sequence of rolling blackouts since the Enron-stoked statewide energy crisis of 2000-’01. Another 200,000 customers apparently got a reprieve Sunday night, as PG&E tweeted that forecast evening outages — typically lasting an hour or two — would not be needed as demand was expected to be met.
Last year, broad swaths of California were intentionally blacked out to reduce wildfire risks on days with high winds, but the current blackouts are unrelated to that. This time around, “There is not a sufficient amount of energy to meet the high amounts of demand during the heat wave,” California’s Independent System Operator said Sunday. The nonprofit public benefit corporation urged energy conservation for the next several days.
Conditions were exacerbated, Cal ISO said, by the “unexpected loss” of a 470-megawatt power plant Saturday and a loss of 1,000 megawatts of wind power, as well as a greater reliance on solar energy, which can be disrupted by cloud cover.
The blackouts came amid a surge in energy usage as homes cranked up the air conditioning to counter a widespread and intense heat wave, straining the state’s energy grid even though a large number of businesses remain closed due to the pandemic.
Triple-digit heat gripped much of the state, topped by an eye-popping reading of 130 degrees in Death Valley on Sunday. If confirmed, that would rank as the first time Death Valley — historically the hottest spot in the country — has hit 130 degrees since 1913, the National Weather Service said.
In Northern California, the heat was accompanied by a rare summer thunderstorm that brought spectacular lightning strikes around the San Francisco Bay Area early Sunday, sparking a number of small fires. Wind gusts in some places reached 75 mph.
Nearly 5,000 lightning strikes were recorded around the state by 6 a.m. Sunday.
“This is probably the most widespread and violent summer thunderstorm event in memory for Bay Area, & it’s also one of the hottest nights in years,” tweeted Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist.
Forecasters said conditions were ripe for a repeat early Monday, potentially sparking more fires.
While lightning-caused fires around the Bay Area were mopped up Sunday, larger wildfires continued to rage in other parts of California. The Lake Fire, in the mountains north of Los Angeles, near Lancaster, had burned nearly 28 square miles as of Sunday night, with just 12% containment.
Another blaze, dubbed the Loyalton Fire, near the state line north of Lake Tahoe, has burned more than 45 square miles and spurred evacuation orders for remote communities.
That fire spurred the first-ever warning Saturday for a “firenado” — an event caused when ground winds whip flames higher, into a tornado-like spiral. The National Weather Service issued the warning for “fire-induced tornadoes” and warned fire crews to use extreme caution.