SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — If the excessive heat and unhealthy smoke-filled air was not enough for San Francisco Bay Area residents, two new threats were added to the Labor Day Monday forecast — shifting blazing hot winds, triggering a red flag wildfire warning and possible planned power outages from Pacific Gas & Electric in Wine Country.
The National Weather Service said the Red Flag Warning would go into effect from 10 p.m. Monday to 8 a.m. Wednesday. Fire danger in a region already ravaged by wildfires would be heightened by winds gusting from 30-50 mph. Of particular concern were the hills in the North Bay.
“Critical fire weather conditions are likely to develop across the region leading to rapid rates of spread for any new fire start,” forecasters warned. “Wind gusts of between 25 and 35 mph are likely in the hills of the North and East Bay late Monday night and Tuesday morning, with gusts of 45 to 65 mph possible across northern Napa and northeast Sonoma counties.”
People across the Bay Area grappled as the temperatures rose into the triple digits, plus poor air quality and a pandemic that’s limited their options for exercising inside and cooling off outside.
“We all have asthma and have had to stay indoors most of the time. With the two little boys here, they’ve been just bouncing off the walls,” says Joshua Lens who took his two sons for a bike ride in the morning to avoid the midday heat and poor air quality.
“We just have to make sure that we get out early in the morning. We checked the air quality index. If it’s too high or we can smell the smoke, it’s probably better for us to stay indoors,” says Joshua’s wife Erin.
Doctors warned the combination of extremely hot weather and poor air quality can be damaging to one’s health, especially for young children, the elderly and people with other health issues like asthma.
“I don’t want to be a joy kill but I’d like people to stay at home. Keep your masks on. Stay cool. It’s going to get really hot,” says Dr, Arthur Jey who works in Sutter Health’s Emergency Medicine Department.
Communities across the Bay Area open cooling and clean air centers to give people a respite from the heat and bad air.
“Normally, what I would do is if the outside temperature is cooler than inside then I would open a door and get a fan and suck the cool air inside. But with the bad toxicity of the air, I can’t do that,” says Richard Chin who spent part of the day at the cooling center in Milpitas.
The cooling center was re-designed to allow fewer people inside and promote social distancing.
The poor air quality according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District was primarily from smog. There was some lingering effect from the recent smoke and fires.
Strong winds throughout the day also brought the threat of planned PG&E power outages.
“The potential PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff) starting Monday evening could impact approximately 103,000 customers in portions of 18 counties in the Sierra foothills and North Bay,” utility officials said in news release Sunday night. “Specifically, customers in portions of the following counties are being notified: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Lassen, Napa, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba.”
When it came to possible Bay Area outages, PG&E said it could impact 5,656 customers in Napa County, including 186 medical baseline customers in Calistoga, Saint Helena and unincorporated areas. In neighboring Sonoma County, 210 customers faced the loss of power including 5 medical baseline customers in Cloverdale, Rohnert Park and unincorporated areas.
Officials said 48-hour notices had already gone out to customers who could be affected. Parts of all Bay Area counties except San Francisco were included in utility company maps of potential outages though PG&E said the changing weather conditions could alter those plans.
“We have worked the last year to enhance the PSPS program for our customers and it will be shorter, smaller, and smarter,” said PG&E spokesperson Katie Allen. “One of those things is shorter. We expect to restore customers twice as fast.”
While not immediately threatened with a shut off, many East Bay residents spoke with KPIX 5 at the Walnut Creek Farmers’ Market say they know the drill.
“We’re an upstairs condominium, and it’s an oven,” said Margaret Ryle of Walnut Creek. “So if we’re without our air conditioning, we’re in trouble, and we won’t have fans. I mean we’re talking total power shutdown, we won’t even have fans so we would have to leave our place.”
Michael Stein of Walnut Creek says he has a “getaway kit” prepared in case of an earthquake or other emergency.
“I have a generator, a small generator at home so if the power goes out I can at least power our refrigerator,” he added.
The power shutoff also comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic when when many people are working from home, and also relying on technology for distance learning.
“We work virtually, I’m in biotech industry. We need internet conference for all communication right now, and for meeting and for paperwork, for document writing,” said Li Long of Lafayette. “Without electricity I couldn’t get online, so I’ll be definitely affected.”
Meanwhile, a plume of smoke continued to stream over the Bay Area from wildfires already burning in the region. Local air quality officials issued a ‘Spare the Air’ alert for unhealthy breathing conditions for a record 21st straight day. They warned residents to limit their time outdoors.
While some relief would come late Monday from an ‘excessive heat storm’ that has gripped the Bay Area for several days, more records could possibly tumble on Monday.
The high in San Francisco touched the century mark Sunday for only the 12th time since record-keeping began in the 1870s, blasting past its previous Sept. 6 record of 92 set in 1904.
Both Livermore and Santa Rosa hit 111 degrees before 5 p.m. and an excessive heat warning remained in effect through 9 p.m. for the entire Bay Area.
Several daily record high temperatures were set across the #BayArea and Central Coast on Sunday. In addition, three locations tied their record high for the entire month of September. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/LjZYGxGttQ
— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) September 7, 2020
Downtown Los Angeles reached 111 degrees and a record-shattering high of 121 degrees was recorded in the nearby Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. It was the highest temperature ever recorded in Los Angeles County, according to the National Weather Service.
“By our calculations, over 99% of California’s population is under an Excessive Heat Warning or Heat Advisory today,” the weather service in Sacramento tweeted Sunday afternoon.