Ahead of winds expected late Sunday night with gusts of 70 mph and higher, approximately 222,000 PG&E power accounts have been turned off as part of the utility's latest Public Safety Power Shutoff, and approximately 136,000 more customers are expected to lose power before midnight, PG&E officials said Sunday night.
"Public Safety Power Shutoffs" are PG&E's intentional deactivation of power lines in selected areas in 36 Northern California counties (and 17 tribal communities) to minimize the chances of starting wildfires during highly hazardous conditions.
These power shutoffs, though affecting fewer customers than did last year's larger public safety power shutoffs, figure to be PG&E's most widespread intentional power shutoffs this fire season. And that is after planned shutoffs have been scaled back from an originally anticipated 400,000 or more customers.
In Alameda County, there were 16,304 customers estimated to be impacted by the shutoffs as of 9:20 p.m. Sunday, including 709 in Dublin, four in Livermore and 519 in Pleasanton. In neighboring Contra Costa County, there 15,482 customers impacted, including 59 in San Ramon and one in Danville, according to PG&E.
"This by far the largest (planned outage) we've experienced this year, and the most extreme weather," said Aaron Johnson, vice president of wildfire safety and public engagement.
While the strong winds expected to land late Sunday night are expected to dissipate by midday Monday, another series of strong winds, sustained 25 to 40 mph winds in the mountains and along ridges with gusts of up to 70 mph, is expected to hit Northern California's higher elevations by Monday night. The outages are expected to last well into Tuesday, as PG&E crews do safety inspections of transmission lines and other facilities before they are reactivated, said Mark Quinlan, PG&E incident commander.
The power shutoffs are being prompted by the combination of high winds, relative humidity levels in the mid- to high single digits in many areas of Northern California.
"This is happening on top of extremely dry fuels out there," said PG&E chief meteorologist Scott Strenfel, noting that fire seasons have become longer and more extreme. "This is shaping up to be a critical fire weather day."
Virtually all of Northern California is under a "Red Flag Warning" as called by the National Weather Service. The Bay Area, in particular, will come under a Red Flag Warning starting at 8 p.m. Sunday and running until 11 a.m. Monday.
For the next few days of power shutoffs, PG&E has opened 106 Community Resource Centers to people who lose power, each open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. while the outages continue. These centers provide ADA-accessible restrooms, hand-washing stations, medical-equipment charging, WiFi; bottled water, grab-and-go supply bags and non-perishable snacks. In the Bay Area, there are four each in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Santa Cruz counties;
seven in Sonoma County; five in Napa County; three in San Mateo County; two in Santa Clara County and one in Solano County. For more specific information, go to the PG&E website.
Though the power shutoffs this year have been more narrowly targeted this year, affecting fewer people than last year, Quinlan said it's always possible that conditions could also cause unplanned power outages.
Editor's note: Story by Bay City News Service, with Weekly editor Jeremy Walsh contributing localized details.