As if 2020 weren’t bad enough, thousands of local residents got their power cut late Wednesday and early Thursday by San Diego Gas & Electric.
And the worst may be yet to come.
SDG&E initially pulled the plug on about 24,000 customers with another 94,000 in the crosshairs. That number quickly grew to 61,609 without power as of 2:30 a.m. Thursday, and possibly through Monday, Dec. 5.
The roughly 61,609 customers lost power in dozens of communities, including areas in and around Escondido, San Marcos, Rancho Santa Fe, Alpine, Pine Valley, Santee, Rancho San Diego, Otay Mesa, Lakeside, Poway Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Descanso.
Winds died down a lot Thursday afternoon. SDG&E crews along El Camino Real at the Rancho Santa Fe-Del Mar borderline said they were checking lines for damage. If none were fund, power would be restored sometime that evening.
Power was back on along El Camino Real by 8 p.m. Thursday. The latest NWS forecasts pointed to the worst of the winds in that area abating by late Friday or early Saturday.
Bad as that may seem, potential power outage maps were posted on SDG&E’s website along with this annoucement:
“Due to a Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service and potentially strong and multi-day Santa Ana winds forecasted for Southern California, we have notified about 95,154 customers that they could be at risk of prolonged Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). Visit our NewsCenter for real-time updates.
Utility officials added: “We recognize losing power is disruptive, and we sincerely thank our customers for their patience and understanding,” the utility said.
The utility blamed sudden gusts of Santa Ana winds that were “going to last until Thursday afternoon; they’re not going to change much until then,” Miguel Miller, a forecaster at the National Weather Service, told the Union-Tribune at 12:20 a.m. on Thursday.
SDG&E first reported a round of safety outages when the utility tweeted that due to high winds, the power was shut off in certain areas. The following communities are without power: Alpine, Boulevard, Campo, Campo Reservation, Descanso, El Cajon, Encinitas, Escondido, Jacumba, Jamul, Julian, La Jolla Reservation, La Posta Reservation, Manzanita Reservation, Mesa Grande Reservation, Pauma Reservation, Pauma Valley, Potrero, Ramona, Rancho Santa Fe, San Marcos, Santa Ysabel, Santa Ysabel Reservation, Valley Center, Viejas Reservation.
Brian D’Agostino is providing today’s (12/2/20) daily video briefing as we head into the @NWSSanDiego Red Flag Warning tonight at 6 p.m. Visit our YouTube channel for additional resources (https://t.co/Sjz05NHfi0) and our NewsCenter (https://t.co/S5mtOmB54M) for real-time updates pic.twitter.com/wDFVG5jtzx
— SDG&E (@SDGE) December 2, 2020
The pre-emptive de-energizing of lines, called Public Safety Power Shutoffs, is something utilities in California have increasingly used to reduce the risk of high winds knocking down power lines and potentially igniting wildfires.
Southern California utilities cut the power to tens of thousands of customers to avoid the threat of wildfires as the region found itself whipped by Santa Ana winds that could turn sparks into catastrophes, according to KTLA5, Los Angeles.
Red flag warnings of extreme fire danger were in place Thursday throughout much of the region because of low humidity, bone-dry brush and the winds, which sweep down from the interior with sustained winds of up to 35 mph but gusts of 50 mph to 70 mph (112.7 kph) at times, the National Weather Service said.
The warnings are in place into Saturday, with the winds at their greatest overnight and in early morning hours, the weather service said.
Utilities in the populous region began cutting power Wednesday to customers as a precaution to prevent gusts from blowing tree limbs into electrical equipment or knocking down power lines, which in recent years have sparked devastating wildfires.
Southern California Edison cut power to about 15,000 homes and businesses by late Wednesday night and was considering de-energizing lines serving a total of about 271,000 customers in seven counties throughout the windy period, which could last into Saturday.
It was one of the utility’s largest precautionary blackouts.
California already has experienced its worst-ever year for wildfires. More than 6,500 square miles (16,835 square kilometers) have been scorched, a total larger than the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. At least 31 people have been killed and 10,500 homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.
The latest fire threat comes as much of California plunges deeper into drought. Virtually all of Northern California is in severe or extreme drought while nearly all of Southern California is abnormally dry or worse.
“Some years there’s some rain that tamps down the fire season. But not yet this year,” said meteorologist Adam Roser with the weather service in San Diego.
No rain is expected for Southern California for at least the next week and a half, he said.
Arid Santa Ana winds will increase in strength and become widespread across the county late Wednesday night, with 50-mph gusts possible in the mountains and the western valleys, according to the National Weather Service.
On Thursday, humidity levels dipping below 10%, sustained 30-plus-mph winds and gusts of 60 mph or higher will create “extremely critical” combustion hazards in local mountain communities into the early afternoon, the federal agency reported. Affected highland areas include those east of Chula Vista, El Cajon, Escondido and Fallbrook, meteorologists advised.
In response to the expected atmospheric conditions, the NWS issued a red-flag wildfire warning for local inland valley and highland areas, effective from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 10 p.m. Saturday. The most intensive critical fire weather conditions are expected to last from Wednesday night through Friday morning, meteorologists advised.
SDG&E issued this advisory:
Current Customers Affected
COMMUNITIES SHUT OFF CUSTOMERS SHUT OFF
- Barona Reservation
- Campo Reservation
- El Cajon
- Encinitas (Olivenhain)
- Ewiiaapaayp Reservation
- La Jolla Reservation
- La Posta Reservation
- Manzanita Reservation
- Mesa Grande Reservation
- Mount Laguna
- Pala Reservation
- Palomar Mountain
- Pauma Reservation
- Pauma Valley
- Pine Valley
- Rancho Bernardo
- Rancho Santa Fe
- San Marcos
- Santa Ysabel
- Santa Ysabel Reservation
- Valley Center
- Viejas Reservation
Potential Customers Affected
- POTENTIAL COMMUNITIES
- POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS
- Borrego Springs
- Chula Vista
- Ewiiaapaayp Reservation
- Jamul Reservation
- Rincon Reservation
- San Clemente
- San Juan Capistrano (East)
- San Pasqual Reservation
- Sorrento Valley
- Sycuan Reservation
- Warner Springs