California on the verge of rolling blackouts amid heat wave
California on the verge of rolling blackouts amid heat wave

California’s electric grid operator issued its highest-level energy emergency alert Tuesday evening — a sign that the state’s electrical needs can’t be met and rolling blackouts are coming.

The California Independent System Operator issued a level 3 alert at 5:17 p.m., in effect through 8 p.m.

“The ISO is anticipating high loads and temperatures,” according to an announcement on the grid operator’s website. “CAISO is forecasting an energy deficiency with all available resources in use for the specified time period. Maximum conservation efforts are urged.”

While the alert is in place, participating customers will be directed by utilities to use generators approved for emergencies, or reduce their consumption of electricity, the officials said.

The agency noted that “electricity demand is currently forecast at more than 52,000 megawatts (MW), a new historic all-time high for the grid.”

Shortly before 4 p.m., officials with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said the utility had told more than 525,000 customers to prepare for possible rolling blackouts “out of an abundance of caution.”

Ben Gallagher, a Southern California Edison spokesperson, referred The Times to the Independent System Operator for questions on rolling blackouts. He said the utility has been preparing for the heat wave.

“It’s critically important during a prolonged heat wave like this to conserve, especially during the hours of 4 to 9 p.m.,” Gallagher said.

The heat wave is now expected to last through Friday, but the worst of it could be over for the southern half of the state — even as temperatures remain dangerously high.

For much of Northern California, the heat was expected to peak Tuesday but temperatures are predicted to remain well above average through the week, according to the National Weather Service.

By late Tuesday afternoon, the weather service confirmed that downtown Sacramento had set an all-time temperature record. The high of 115 degrees broke the previous record of 114 degrees set on July 17, 1925, meteorologists said.

The weather service office in Hanford reported that as of 3 p.m., “all major weather reporting airports in the San Joaquin Valley have set daily record temperatures.”

A day earlier, Livermore broke its all-time record, hitting 116, one degree higher than the previous record of 115, set Sept. 3, 1950.

In a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called the heat across California unprecedented, and warned that the state is headed into the most severe stretch.

“The risk for outages is real, and it’s immediate,” Newsom said. “These triple-digit temperatures throughout much of the state are leading, not surprisingly, to record demand on the energy grid.”

He said the heat wave is “on track to be the hottest and longest on record” for California and parts of the West for September.

Power woes

California officials called for a Flex Alert again Tuesday, hoping voluntary power conservation can prevent rolling blackouts as demand peaks.

Key to avoiding blackouts Monday and Tuesday, officials said, is reducing energy use in the hours of greatest consumption: late afternoon and evening.

Californians are strongly urged to lower electricity use by setting thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, health permitting, avoiding use of major appliances, and turning off all unnecessary lights, officials said.

“We need two to three times as much conservation as we’ve been experiencing to keep the power on with these historically high temperatures and demand,” Elliot Mainzer, chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s power grid, warned at a Monday news conference.

In response to a Flex Alert first issued Wednesday, Californians have lowered their energy use by about 2%.

“Everyone has to do their part to help step up, for just a few more days … to help reduce strain on the grid,” Newsom said.

The governor encouraged people to pre-cool their homes earlier in the day Tuesday and Wednesday, to keep out sunlight by keeping blinds closed, and especially to limit electricity use after 4 p.m.

Heat tips

Stay informed

You can monitor your area’s forecast by going to the National Weather Service’s website and searching by city, state or ZIP Code for the latest weather updates and alerts. Follow local officials and agencies on social media for tips and information on available resources in your area. Keep an extreme heat checklist to make sure you are prepared.

Stay indoors and dress in light clothing

Officials from the National Weather Service and public health offices advise people to stay indoors as much as possible, particularly between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun is strongest. If you exercise outdoors, it’s recommended to do so early in the morning or later in the evening.

If you don’t have air conditioning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends going to a mall or public library. You can also refer to your county’s website or call the local health department to learn about cooling centers in your area. Other options include taking a cool shower twice a day or even finding a shaded yard or park. (Health officials at UCLA say electric fans will not prevent heat-related illnesses when temperatures reach the high 90s and above.)

Watch out for heat-related illnesses

According to the CDC, heat-related illnesses can range from heat rashes and sun burns to more serious conditions, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and result from the body’s inability to cool down by sweating. Signs of heatstroke, the most serious of the heat-related illnesses, include a temperature of 103 degrees or higher; hot, red, dry or damp skin; fast, strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion and losing consciousness. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. The CDC advises against drinking anything and recommends moving to a cool place and into a cold bath or using a cold cloth.

Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; muscle cramps; fatigue; dizziness; headaches and fainting. If you’re showing these symptoms, get out of the sun immediately, seek a cool place or cool towels and sip water. Monitor your symptoms and get help if you are vomiting, if the symptoms worsen or if they last longer than an hour.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly before going outdoors, is critical in preventing heat-related illnesses. Officials at UCLA warn against waiting until you’re thirsty to drink. During times of extreme heat, it’s best to drink at least two to four cups of water per hour. (For those working outside, the CDC suggests one cup of water, or 8 ounces, every 15 to 20 minutes.) Health officials also advise against drinking alcohol during times of extreme heat, as it causes dehydration and increases the risk of heat-related illnesses.

It’s also important to replenish the salt and minerals your body loses when it sweats by drinking low-sugar fruit juices or sports drinks. Dietitians also recommend eating foods with high water content — think watermelon, celery and cucumbers — along with drinking the right fluids.

Signs of dehydration in adults include extreme thirst; fatigue; dizziness; lightheadedness; dry mouth and/or lips, and infrequent urination. In infants or young children, look for dry mouths and tongues; no tears when crying; no wet diaper for more than three hours; sunken eyes and cheeks; a sunken soft spot on top of their head, and irritability or listlessness.

(If your doctor has you on a particular diet, or regulates how much water you drink, ask about what steps you should take during heat waves to stay properly hydrated.)

Check on the most vulnerable

In addition to keeping yourself safe and healthy, check in frequently with those who are at high risk, including seniors, children, pregnant women, the unhoused, those who work outside and those without air conditioning. Heat also affects your pets, so keep them indoors, or if they will be outside, make sure they have plenty of water and a shaded area. Never leave a child or pet in the back seat of a car, as temperatures inside a vehicle can quickly skyrocket, even with windows cracked.

To help homeless people, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health suggests donating water, electrolyte packages, light and loose-fitting clothing, tents, towels and other supplies to local organizations.

Times staff writer Gregory Yee contributed to this report.

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