September’s relentless heat wave grips California and the western United States

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OAKLAND, Calif. – California and the western United States are in the grip of a historically severe September heat wave that is expected to intensify early this week. Record temperatures are straining power grids, fueling fires and putting health at risk.

The prolonged heat wave began on August 30 and is expected to peak Monday and Tuesday before gradually easing over the second half of the week. Dozens of high temperature records have already been broken from California to Montana and dozens more are expected.

On Saturday, many towns in Intermountain West experienced their highest temperatures on record not just for September 3, but for the entire month. Salt Lake City (which reached 103 degrees), Pocatello, Idaho, (102 degrees) and Great Falls, Mt. (102 degrees) were among them.

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“This is without a doubt the worst September heat wave in western US history,” tweeted Maximiliano Herrera, World Weather Historian, Saturday night.

In Death Valley, California, the temperature has topped 120 degrees for five straight days and is expected to approach September’s world record high of 126 degrees on Tuesday.

Climatologists have found that human-caused climate change increases the intensity, frequency and duration of heat waves like this one. Nearly 50 million people are subject to excessive heat warnings or heat advisories at the start of the week, from California to Idaho.

Energy conservation encouraged

With temperatures expected to soar into the 90s and 100s across much of the state on Sunday, California’s Independent System Operator (ISO), which oversees the power grid, issued the fifth “flexible alert” row calling for energy conservation between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. to avoid breakdowns. Demand on Thursday peaked at 47,357 megawatts, the highest load since September 2017, but usage fell slightly on Friday and Saturday.

“California consumers and businesses have responded to our Flex Alert calls with helpful reductions in their electricity use during the grid’s most challenging hours,” California ISO Chief Executive Officer Elliot Mainzer said Saturday in an update. video update. “Cooperation like this makes a real difference, so thank you all for the help.” The agency is bracing for peak demand Tuesday of more than 50,000 megawatts.

The oppressive heat fueled numerous rapid fires. In far northern California, near the town of Weed, firefighters battle blazes at the factory and nearby mountain. The factory fire, which was 25% contained Saturday evening, destroyed 50 structures, prompted evacuations and injured several people. Both fires broke out on Friday.

The Route Fire, which erupted east of Los Angeles on Wednesday, has scorched more than 5,200 acres and at least eight firefighters suffered heat-related injuries battling the flames. By Sunday morning, the fire was 87% contained.

Numerous fires have also broken out in Oregon, including the swelling plumes of smoke could be seen from the operational geostationary environmental satellite on Saturday. Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) declared a state of emergency a week ago due to the threat of fire.

The National Interagency Fire Center’s predictive services warn of “high risk” conditions in many parts of California and the Mountain West.

Burning conditions in the Central Valley

In the coming days, some of the most excessive heat is forecast for California’s Central Valley. Sacramento has already reached the century mark four days in a row and is expected to see six more. The National Weather Service says it has a 67 percent chance to match its September record of 109 degrees on Tuesday.

People who have to work outdoors during the heat wave are particularly at risk, and the California Department of Industrial Relations issued a notice earlier in the week reminding employers of their legal obligation to protect workers by providing enough water. , shade and rest.

Cynthia Burgos, a farmhand in Bakersfield, where 111 degrees are forecast on Tuesday, has plenty of experience working in the heat, harvesting carrots.

“Around 10 or 11 a.m. it is already very hot and the humidity in the ground starts to rise,” she said through an interpreter. “It’s just a miserable experience.”

Farm workers have collapsed and even died in these conditions. Last year, on a day that topped 100 degrees, Burgos and other workers called a work stoppage because the only drinking water available was extremely hot. She’s not working during this heat wave because she’s been on furlough campaigning for a state bill that would expand union voting rights for farm workers.

“It shouldn’t be the workers’ job. It is the responsibility of employers to provide a safe working environment,” said Elizabeth Strater of the United Farm Workers union. “The hotter it gets, the more it looks like they’re giving up.”

Beat the heat in the Bay Area

In the Bay Area, coastal regions saw cooler temperatures in the 60s to low 80s, but interior cities hit the 90s, with several areas expected to reach over 100 in the next few consecutive days. . As a precaution, the East Bay Regional Park District is closing most local parks Sunday and Monday to reduce the risk of visitors starting a fire.

“What makes this heat wave different is the duration,” said meteorologist Sarah McCorkle of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the National Weather Service. In some places, she says, 100-degree heat can last for more than seven days, which is unusual. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

In the city of East Bay in Dublin, Calif., on Saturday afternoon, the temperature was in the mid-90s, and three members of the Ting family were about to enter the movie theater for two feature films. in a row.

“Yesterday we had two power outages, one in the middle of the night and one during the day,” Mike Ting said. His wife, Nola Ting, teaches at a nearby primary school which closed early Friday due to a power outage. A national promotion offering cheap movie tickets for a day is what brought the family to the theater, but they said they appreciated the air conditioning.

“Whenever it’s hot, it’s always fun to do something cool in the middle of the day,” Mike Ting said. “Hopefully things will get better soon.”

Southern California Chokes

The heat has been unrelenting in Southern California since the middle of last week. Burbank soared to 112 degrees on Wednesday and has topped 100 degrees every day since. On Saturday, even the typically mild San Diego set a record 95 degrees.

UPS driver Jared Hamil of Los Angeles said he recorded a temperature of 131 degrees in the back of his truck on Friday. “It’s like being in an oven,” he says.

Hamil reports that his truck has no air conditioning or fan and that he sometimes has to spend several minutes in the back looking for a package. In the short term, to help reduce the load on drivers on hot days, he proposes that the company send out more trucks and break routes into smaller chunks to give workers shorter days. He adds that in his experience, managers don’t always understand the accommodations people make for their health. “Stop harassing people when they take a recovery break or go to the bathroom,” he said.

Matthew O’Connor, director of media relations for UPS, submitted an emailed statement from the company saying “the health and safety of our employees is our top priority.” He listed the company’s efforts during the heat wave to prevent employees from overheating, including providing water, ice, electrolyte drinks, fruit, absorbent uniforms and cooling towels, and said UPS is installing ventilators in vehicles.

Links to climate change

Research meteorologist Alexander Gershunov of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said heat waves have become more frequent and intense around the world and in California, in particular, wetter.

“With higher humidity, temperatures don’t really drop much at night,” he said. “And in terms of health impacts, it pretty much takes away the nighttime respite we need to cope with another scorching heat day.” He said these general trends come as no surprise to researchers. Of all extreme weather events, heat waves are “the most closely linked and most directly affected by global warming”.

Samenow reported from Washington.

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