CSAC Bulletin Article

“Heat Dome” Leads to Energy Crisis, Wildfires

August 20, 2020

This week California has experienced an unprecedented “heat dome” hovering over the western states. With moisture from a tropical storm over Baja, California, the state experienced 10,849 lightning strikes over a 72 hour period. At the same time, a world record 130 degree temperature was observed in Death Valley. Every county in the state has been impacted by the extreme weather that lead to rolling blackouts on Friday and calls for conservation throughout this week.

As of Wednesday, the state has 367 known fires burning statewide and several have merged into 23 major fires and complexes. While there is some good news—the Apple Fire in Southern California is 95 percent contained—many others fires have zero or very low containment, including the CZU August Lightning complex in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties; the LNU Lightning complex in Napa and Sonoma Counties; the Carmel fire in Monterey County; and the Jones fire in Nevada County.

“We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme conditions,” said Governor Newsom. “California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions.”

The magnitude and breadth of the fires statewide lead to an unprecedented statement by CalFIRE: “My recommendation is that all the citizens in California be ready to go if there is a wildfire,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynnette Round said Wednesday. “Residents have to have their bags packed up with your nose facing out your driveway so you can leave quickly. Everybody should be ready to go, especially if you’re in a wildfire area.”

While it was close, requests from the Governor’s Office and the California Office of Emergency Services for demand reduction on the electricity grid paid off, and rolling blackouts were avoided during the final days of the heat wave. Flex Alerts from the California Independent System Operator on consecutive days required the Investor Owned Utilities to prepare for blackouts by organizing any potential rotating outages by circuit blocks dispersed across service areas and sequenced to minimize the amount of disruption for each customer.

The state reduced energy through a series of actions including working with major consumers to reduce usage, and implementing an emergency proclamation and executive order so energy users and utilities could temporarily use backup sources. More on the energy crisis and community engagement tools are available here.

The next few days may see slightly lower temperatures, and more important lower overnight temperatures, across much of the state. However, smoke from the fires is widespread resulting in poor air quality in many regions. Residents again are asked to remain inside for their health.

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