Soaring California Temperatures Prompt Record Power Use

July 24, 2006

Triple digit temperatures smashed records across California over the weekend, straining thermometers and air conditioners and prompting dozens of scattered electricity outages that left residents sizzling.

A major Northern California power plant tripped off line as temperatures climbed, reducing electricity reserves below acceptable levels and prompting the state’s grid manager to declare a “stage one emergency” while calling for conservation.

No relief was expected until at least midweek from a weather front that sent temperatures soaring even along the normally cool California coast and brought Midwest-style humidity into the usually arid Central Valley.

Heat records were set throughout the San Francisco Bay area, including Livermore with 115 degrees, San Rafael with 108 degrees, and San Jose at 102 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. San Francisco’s 87 degrees topped an 81 degree record set in 1917.

“All around the Bay area we’re breaking records today,” said Brooke Bingaman, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Monterey. Temperatures were expected to cool overnight, though it may take several days for the hottest areas to feel relief, she said on Saturday.

Emergency workers scrambled to help heat exposure victims in downtown Los Angeles, where 99 degree temperatures broke the 96-degree record set in 1960. Temperatures in Los Angeles’ Woodland Hills section were expected to top the all-time record of 116 degrees set in 1985.

Records were set or tied at all five Central Valley recording locations: 109 degrees in Sacramento, 111 in Redding, and 112 in Red Bluff, Stockton and Modesto.

Power use across the state broke records Friday and Saturday — unusual because it was the weekend.

“We are drawing on all available power,” said Paul Moreno, a spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which serves about 14 million people in northern and central California.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, isn’t predicting deliberate rolling blackouts of the sort that darkened the state during the shortages of 2000 and 2001.

But localized outages in the Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco Bay areas were blamed on high demand that overloaded equipment. More than 50,000 people in the Bay Area were without power Saturday afternoon, said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno.

Investigators believe Bakersfield gardener Joaquin Ramirez, 38, may have died of heat stroke after collapsing on the job late Wednesday, said division spokesman Dean Fryer.

The Kern County Coroner’s office was investigating whether scorching temperatures were responsible for four deaths over the past two weeks.

Heat waves left much of the country sweltering last week, with temperatures soaring into the upper 90s and higher from coast to coast and heat related deaths reported in Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, South Dakota and Tennessee.

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