A brutal heatwave sweeping the US west broke records on Tuesday, as high temperatures brought California to the brink of a rolling blackout order.
The western states are struggling through one of the hottest and longest September heatwaves on record. Temperatures began to rise last week and the National Weather Service (NWS) warned that dangerous heat could continue through Friday.
California’s state capital, Sacramento, hit an all-time high of 116F (46.7C), breaking a 97-year-old record on Tuesday. Six locations in the San Francisco Bay Area and the central coast set an all-time record maximum temperature with 115F (46C), including Santa Rosa.
In neighboring Nevada, Reno’s 106F (41C) on Tuesday was its hottest day ever recorded in September and broke the previous record to date of 96F (35.5C) in 1944. It came within two degrees of the all-time high for any day. or the month of 108F (42C), set in July 2002 and equated to July 2007 according to the National Weather Service.
In Salt Lake City, a city at more than 4,000 feet (1,219 meters), temperatures were nearly 20 degrees above normal, reaching 105F (40.5C) on Tuesday, the warmest September day ever recorded in 1874.
A severe heatwave warned California officials Tuesday that demand for electricity, some of those cranking up the air conditioning, could outweigh supply.
The California Independent System Operator (CASO), which oversees the electrical grid, issued a phase three emergency power alert, a step down to ordering utilities to begin rotating outages to reduce stress on the system.
But Grid managed to handle the record breaking demand. Caso said peak power demand reached 52,061 MW on Tuesday, far higher than the previous high of 50,270 MW set on July 24, 2006.
While there were no rolling blackouts in large areas, two outages were reported in the cities of Palo Alto and Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area, affecting several thousand customers for about an hour.
Jason King of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said Tuesday evening that some 35,700 people lost power in the southern and inland areas of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area and that most outages were related to heat. Nothing can be said about when power will be restored.
Meanwhile, higher temperatures fueled wildfires in both northern and southern California. Annalee Burlew, deputy chief of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said four deaths were reported over Labor Day weekend, as some 4,400 firefighters battled 14 major fires across the state, on Sunday alone. With 45 new blasts.
A wildfire that began Friday in the northern California community of Weed killed two and one flared on Monday and quickly spread to the Hemet area of southern California, killing two. Officials said they were found in the same area and died trying to escape the flames.
The extreme temperatures are the result of a “heat dome” impacting the region – a ridge of high atmospheric pressure that acts as a heat-trapping lid. Although the climate crisis does not cause heat domes, scientists expect it to drive more extreme weather.
Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Over the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most devastating fire in the state’s history.