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California Braces for Another Day of Heat, Wind and Wildfires

Brian K. Sullivan and Mark Chediak
·4 mins read

(Bloomberg) -- The punishing heat gripping California will continue into Friday as dry winds threaten to fan fires across the already charred landscape and trigger another round of power outages.

Diablo winds roaring through Northern California prompted the state’s largest utility, PG&E Corp., to cut electricity to about 41,000 homes and businesses in a bid to keep downed wires from starting fires. The state’s grid operator, meanwhile, has called for utilities to postpone maintenance at power plants and on transmission lines Friday to avoid rotating blackouts as rising temperatures drives up demand.

Los Angeles is forecast to hit 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) Friday, and Oakland is expected to reach 94 degrees. Those temperatures would top highs seen in past Octobers, including in 2017 when Oakland reached 92 during an active fire season. Next week will be cooler, but the untimely warmth will remain.

“No relief coming,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster AccuWeather Inc. “It looks like it is dry through the end of the month.”

Extreme weather has battered California for months, ranging from heat, freak lighting storms, powerful gusts and an unprecedented rash of wildfires. The more than 8,500 blazes this year have scorched a record 4.1 million acres, killed 31 people and destroyed more than 9,200 homes and businesses, according to the state’s fire agency.

The unusual heat is a byproduct of La Nina, a cooling across the equatorial Pacific thousands of miles away that causes high pressure to build and stay along both the East and West coasts, Walker said. In the West, heat advisories reach as far south as Mexico through Friday while high-wind warnings were in effect Thursday from the Oregon border to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Stuck weather patterns, such as the high pressure system idling over the West, are often caused by a jet stream weakened by climate change. But the reason for the collapse of the annual monsoon across the U.S. Southwest this year isn’t clear yet, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

La Nina has already been blamed for the record Atlantic hurricane season that has seen 25 storms form across the basin. That’s the second most in records going back to 1851. The phenomenon’s effects peak between December and February and could include flooding rains across Indonesia and northern Australia, a cooler winter in Japan and the chances for dry conditions across the southern U.S. and parts of Peru.

Read More: It’s a Race Against Heat, and Humanity Is Losing

On Thursday night, PG&E began restoring power to some parts of the Bay Area that had been blacked out as part of the effort to keep live wires from blowing over into dry brush. The company expected 30,000 homes and businesses would still be without power by nightfall as winds were expected to resume, Mark Quinlan, incident commander for the utility, said during a media briefing Thursday evening. PG&E expects to restore service to nearly all customers by Friday night, he said.

Dryness in the U.S. will likely cause drought to expand in many areas. Almost 85% of California is abnormally dry. Rain is lagging for the year, with cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Modesto and San Diego dry since Oct. 1, according to the National Weather Service. Eight of the state’s 12 largest reservoirs are below normal levels, according to California’s Department of Water Resources.

“Heading into winter the big story is going to be drought,” Halpert said in a conference call with reporters Thursday “This is the most widespread drought we have had seen in the continental U.S. since September of 2013.”

All of which add to the fire danger when the winds start to blow.“It is unusual to be this warm at this time of year,” said Emily Heller, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.

La Nina is forecast to continue into early 2021, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said.

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