- A record-setting heat wave made life miserable in much of the West on Tuesday, with California stretching into its second week of excessive heat that taxed the state's power supply with record-setting demand and brought it perilously close to ordering rolling outages while people were desperately trying to stay cool.
- The California Independent System Operator, the entity that oversees the state's electrical grid, issued a Stage 3 alert allowing it to draw on emergency power sources. The alert is one step below actually ordering rotating power outages.
- Even without intentional blackouts, however, tens of thousands of people found themselves without power in Northern California.
A record-setting heat wave made life miserable in much of the West on Tuesday, with California stretching into its second week of excessive heat that taxed the state's power supply with record-setting demand and brought it perilously close to ordering rolling outages while people were desperately trying to stay cool.
The California Independent System Operator, the entity that oversees the state's electrical grid, issued a Stage 3 alert allowing it to draw on emergency power sources. The alert is one step below actually ordering rotating power outages.
CAISO said the peak electricity demand on Tuesday hit 52,061 megawatts, far above the previous high of 50,270 megawatts set on July 24, 2006.
Demand dropped as dusk fell, businesses closed and CAISO sent out a message on its mobile phone app begging customers to cut back their use, warning that "power interruptions may occur unless you take action."
Even without intentional blackouts, however, tens of thousands of people found themselves without power in Northern California.
Some 35,700 people lost electricity in Silicon Valley and southern and inland areas of the San Francisco Bay Area and most of the outages were heat-related, said Jason King of Pacific Gas & Electric said Tuesday evening. There was no word on when power would resume.
Earlier in the day, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom urged residents to conserve, warning in a video message that "the risk for outages is real and it's immediate."
"This heat wave is on track to be both the hottest and the longest on record for the state and many parts of the West for the month of September," Newsom said. "Everyone has to do their part to help step up for just a few more days."
California's Department of Cannabis Control urged marijuana businesses to turn off their lights and power or use a backup generator.
California's state capital of Sacramento hit an all-time high Tuesday of 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 degrees Celsius), breaking the previous record of 114 F set in July 1925, according to the National Weather Service.
Sacramento native Debbie Chang was out walking in Capitol Park on Tuesday morning, pulling a wagon of Pop-Tarts and water to hand out to homeless people. She lives in an old house that relies on wall-mounted units that she says don't work so well. The temperature reached 91 degrees (33 C) in her house Monday night.
"The past few years in California, it's really rough," she said. "I really love this state. And growing up I never imagined I'd exactly want to live outside of California, unless maybe internationally. But this is very difficult."
In the San Francisco Bay Area, temperatures tied or broke all-time highs in a half-dozen cities. In Los Angeles, temperatures were in the 90s on Tuesday, prompting the nation's second-largest school district to limit the use of asphalt and concrete playgrounds.
In neighboring Nevada, Reno's 106 F (41 C) on Tuesday was its hottest day ever recorded in September and smashed the previous record for the date, 96 F (35.5 C) in 1944. It came within 2 degrees of the all-time high for any day or month of 108 F (42 C), set in July 2002 and equaled in July 2007, according to the National Weather Service.
In Utah's Salt Lake City — a city at more than 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) elevation — temperatures were about 20 degrees higher than normal, hitting 105 F (40.5 C) on Tuesday, the hottest September day recorded going back to 1874.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the last five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive fires in state history.
A wildfire that started Friday in the Northern California community of Weed killed two people and one that erupted Monday and spread rapidly in the Hemet area of Southern California also killed two people. Authorities said they were found in the same area and apparently died while trying to flee the flames.
Though the heat wave was likely to peak in most places on Tuesday, extremely high temperatures are expected to continue for several more days.
"It is a genuinely dangerous event from a human health perspective," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles Institute for Environment and Sustainability
Sacramento County officials were using the air-conditioned lobbies of some of their public buildings as cooling centers for people with nowhere else to go and offering free transportation for people who could not get there. Officials even handed out motel vouchers to some homeless people through a program they normally reserve for the winter, according to county spokeswoman Janna Haynes.
"While a lot of people can stay home, a lot of people do not have a home to stay in," Haynes said.
In state office buildings, thermostats were being set at 85 degrees (29 C) at 5 p.m. to conserve electricity.
Sacramento native Ariana Clark said she couldn't remember it ever being this hot for this long before. She said she turned her air conditioner off in the afternoons to conserve energy and kept her 9-month old son, Benito, cool by filling up a bucket for him to play in outside.
"As long as he's keeping cool that's all that matters," Clark said.
Juliana Hinch, who moved to Sacramento from San Diego 2 1/2 years ago said she has never seen heat like this before. She said some wetlands by her house have mostly dried up, so she leaves water in her front yard "for other random animals," including cats, squirrels and coyotes.
Hinch said she once lived in Washington state but moved away because it was too cold. Now, she said "that sounds like a good problem to have."