Californians Face Unprecedented Fire Blackouts in January

AZUSA, CA - DECEMBER 31: Burned trees are seen after the first winter storm of the season drops snow on the 115,796-acre Bobcat Fire scar in the Angeles National Forest on December 31, 2020 near Azusa, California. New Year's Eve concludes another devastating record year for wildfires in California with an excess of 4 million acres charred by more than 8,200 wildfires. California wildfires have been steadily growing bigger and more dangerous as climate change continues. The Bobcat Fire was one of the biggest fires in Los Angeles history. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

In an unprecedented move, California utilities are warning they may need to cut power to almost 300,000 homes and businesses to prevent live wires from sparking wildfires as high winds are set to sweep through the drought-weary state.

By Mark Chediak and Brian K. Sullivan

Word Count: 316
(Bloomberg) — 

Edison International’s Southern California Edison said 278,572 customers in six counties near Los Angeles face blackouts within 48 hours due to a forecast of a strong Santa Ana wind event. The utility still had 55 customers switched off in Los Angeles County Sunday, according to Southern California Edison’s website.

PG&E Corp. said that it may need to cut service starting Monday night to about 21,000 customers living in the southern part of the state’s Central Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills.

These power cuts are extremely rare in the winter and the utilities have never warned of a possible shutoff of this size in January. The blackouts planned this week could affect about 900,000 people, based on the average size of the state’s households.

The unusual prospect of January shutoffs underscores how wild California’s weather has become as climate change brings about increasingly extreme warmth and drought. Last year, record temperatures took down large swaths of the state’s power grid and wildfires torched more acreage than ever before.

During a regular winter, public safety power shutoffs “would not be under consideration, but this winter has been anything but normal,” PG&E meteorologists said on the utility’s website. Only 22% of the average rainfall this winter has fallen in the southern Sierra, they said.

High winds, along with low humidity that has dried brush and grasses making them easier to burn, will create critical conditions Monday and Tuesday, the U.S. Storm Prediction Center said in a forecast. There’s a less severe elevated risk for Sunday.

While the winter months usually mark California’s rainy season, much of the state remains gripped by drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

(Adds context on California’s weather pattern in fifth paragraph)
© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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