California electrical utility PG&E is warning they may kill power to their entire service area this weekend due to the weather forecast. Of the 9 geographic zones PG&E covers in California, 8 of them are in a Public Safety Power Shutoff Watch; the remaining one is in an elevated risk potential. This means that most of the electric grid PG&E controls in this area could be shut-down beginning Saturday through Monday; it may take days or weeks for power to return on in some service areas. At the very least, large portions of each of these service areas could see shut-downs ahead of the storm system’s arrival.
In a forecast update just released by PG&E today, they warn, “All attention now turns a major offshore wind event expected to unfold this weekend into Monday across northern and southern California. Unfortunately, this system will be right on the heels of the most recent event and fuels will be critically dry and receptive for fire. In addition, this system will be the strongest of the year and likely will be stronger than the October 2017 northern CA fire event. This event has potential and energy to be the strongest in years. Northern Operations Predictive services is projecting ”an unusually strong 99th percentile” event, and the National Weather Service Bay Area has stated ”this will be a long duration and potentially extreme/historic event across the North Bay”. PG&E Meteorology’s analyses of forecasted pressure gradients from the ECMWF weather model suggest a near 1 in 15 year return period event. Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings as well as Wind Warnings have been issued for most areas north of a Monterey to Yosemite line valid from Saturday afternoon through Monday morning and will likely be upgraded to Red Flag Warning status later this afternoon. ”
Such a massive shut-down would be unprecedented in California’s history.
Just weeks ago, on October 9-10, more than 2 million people were plunged into darkness when utilities cut power preventatively in high wind risk areas to reduce the threat of wildfires.
Last spring, fire officials concluded that equipment operated by PG&E caused the most destructive wildfire in California’s history last November: the Camp Fire of 2018. That fire killed 85 people, left several firefighters injured, and destroyed more than 150,000 acres across portions of northern California. Investigators determined that PG&E-controlled electrical transmission lines near the community of Pulga, located nearly 100 miles north of Sacramento, sparked the fire. Dry vegetation, strong winds and low humidity created a perfect fire weather scenario, creating a fast-moving conflagration that burned through the communities of Concow, Paradise and Magalia. Due to that fire, utilities have adopted a controversial policy of killing portions of the grid to prevent future tragedies from occurring.