Heat records fell throughout the Valley on Sunday as a relentless heatwave baked California and sapped the state’s power supply.
But Fresno’s record high of 112 degrees for Aug. 16 — which bettered the mark of 110 set in 1920 — was no match for the 130 degrees reported in Death Valley.
Unfortunately, there’s little relief in sight.
The Golden State will continue to feel like a blast furnace, and officials say they’ll continue struggling to supply energy for air conditioning.
The city of Fresno said this afternoon that blackouts are possible locally between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Due to the extreme heat and added pressure on its power grids, @PGE4Me has announced that Fresno residents may experience rolling blackouts rotating through the city today between 4:00-10:00 p.m. Outages are planned to be short in duration (1-3 hrs) to lessen impacts on customers
— City of Fresno (@CityofFresno) August 17, 2020
Fresno Power Outages on Monday
Monday morning, Central Unified School District reported via social media that distance-learning classes ended after one hour because of phone and internet issues caused by a loss of power.
Also on Monday morning, Fresno County’s main courthouse lost power and closed for the day. The court’s spokeswoman said the cause was under investigation.
On Tuesday, the spokeswoman said that the main courthouse would re-open on Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, PG&E is telling residents to cool their homes in the morning and raise the thermostat to 78 degrees in the afternoon.
But the company also said Monday that it might have to shut down power for an hour or two tonight and again on Tuesday evening.
“(We) urge customers to be prepared for power outages,” the company said in a news release.
Hottest Since 1913?
Death Valley’s report of 130 degrees (54.4 degrees Celsius) came at 3:41 p.m. at Furnace Creek near the park’s visitor center.
According to the National Weather Service, the temperature was preliminary and not considered official.
“If verified, this will be the hottest temperature officially verified since July of 1913, also at Death Valley. As this is an extreme temperature event, the recorded temperature will need to undergo a formal review,” NWS said in a statement.
Death Valley’s 1913 mark of 134 degrees is the world record, but that temperature is widely disputed.
The World Meteorological Organization said in a tweet that it will attempt to verify Sunday’s measurement.
“This would be the hottest global temperature officially recorded since 1931,” the WMO said. The 1931 mark of 131 degrees in Kebili, Tunisia, is also disputed.
Hanford, Madera, Merced Set Records, Too
Around the San Joaquin Valley, Hanford (109), Madera (111), and Merced (11) also set records for Aug. 16 on Sunday.
Over on the Central Coast, Paso Robles set an Aug. 16 high of 114.
Beach cities on the Central Coast reported droves of Valley visitors. Other Valley residents flocked to the Sierra to escape the heat. On Saturday and Sunday, both sides of Highway 168 in Shaver Lake were jammed packed with the parked cars and trucks of visitors. And the Camp Edison campground was filled.
Heatwave Triggers Rolling Blackouts, Challenges Newsom
On Friday, when the extreme heat began to kick in, the state ordered rolling power outages for the first time since 2001.
Those blackouts contributed to then-Gov. Gray Davis being recalled in a special election.
“People expect government to do basic things like keep people healthy and keep the lights on,” Steve Maviglio told The Sacramento Bee. “When that doesn’t happen, leaders get blamed, whether they deserve it or not.”
Maviglio was Davis’ spokesman during the 2001 blackouts and the Enron energy debacle.
This time, Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a more complicated political test: The state reported another 77 deaths related to COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing total deaths in California from the virus to more than 11,200. And, schools throughout the state are restarting; the vast majority of them with distance learning to avoid virus spread.
Friday night, the state’s three biggest utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric — turned off power to more than 410,000 homes and businesses for about an hour until the emergency ended about four hours later. It is believed that two million Californians were affected by the blackouts.
California’s Independent System Operator, which runs the power grid, ordered a second, but shorter, rolling outage Saturday evening that cut power to more than 200,000 customers.
The ISO sought to buy additional power to avert another rolling outage and issued a Flex Alert, urging utility customers to conserve energy during the late afternoon and evening hours.
“It’s going to be tight,” said Severin Borenstein, a board member of the ISO and energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “There is a real concern that they would have to do it again (Monday) and Tuesday,” he said Sunday about the rolling outages.
The power grid is mostly stressed during the late afternoon and early evening because of higher demand and solar energy production falling after sunset.
What Makes This Heatwave Different
It’s not just the 110-plus temperatures in the Valley and elsewhere that distinguish this heatwave, it’s the expected duration.
California heatwaves typically last three or four days, meteorologists say. But the NWS Hanford forecast calls for temperatures to hover around 108 degrees through Wednesday. That will be followed by a slight cool-off and a return to 106 degrees for the weekend.
Near record heat will impact the San Joaquin Valley, Sierra Nevada foothills, West Side Hills, and Kern County desert this afternoon, resulting in a very high heat risk for heat-related illnesses. Heat-related illnesses are likely today if precautions are not taken. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/TejNXXDgNy
— NWS Hanford (@NWSHanford) August 17, 2020
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)