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Western US heat wave putting pressure on energy use

California getting hit the hardest

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

A scorching heat wave has been spreading across the western United States since last weekend, with record triple-digit heat in many places.

SONAR Critical Events: Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, 5 a.m. EDT; Excessive heat

The high reached 130 degrees in Death Valley, California, on Sunday. This is a preliminary reading, but if verified by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) it would not only set a record for the date, it would also tie for the third-hottest global temperature on record. Those global records were all set in Death Valley:

•134 degrees on July 10, 1913
•131 degrees on July 13, 1913
•130 degrees on July 12, 1913

Triple-digit record highs were tied or set in other parts of California over the past several days, including El Centro, which hit 115 degrees Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as Fresno, Riverside, Palmdale and Bob Hope Airport (ICAO code: BUR) in Burbank, California, about 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

The heat has been so intense that California state officials have been asking people to cut back on their energy use in an effort to decrease the number of customers that would be affected by rolling blackouts.

The unrelenting heat wave has pushed the power grid to the brink of collapse in recent days, and it has fueled wildfires from Los Angeles to Napa.


“We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme conditions,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday in a statement declaring a statewide emergency. He also ordered an investigation into the reliability of the electric grid.

Also on Monday, grid operators warned they would have to cut power to as many as 10 million people, which would have been one of the largest outages in California’s history. But that crisis was averted as consumers throttled back their energy use.

Advisers in Newsom’s office made personal telephone calls to refineries, industries and the state’s port authorities, asking them to reduce their power consumption. This is according to Steve Berberich, chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the grid.

“If we can get the same sort of response that we got yesterday, we can minimize this or perhaps avoid it all together,” Berberich said.

The request means that container ships may have to use their diesel engines while in California ports until the heat breaks as opposed to plugging into onshore power sources.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is keeping excessive heat warnings posted through Friday evening for southern California, the Sacramento Valley, Death Valley and El Centro, in addition to the Phoenix and Las Vegas metropolitan areas.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.