Forecasts of stronger Bay Areas winds starting Tuesday, combined with historically dry late-autumn conditions, are leading Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to advise North Bay customers – thousands of whom endured public safety power shutoffs in October that lasted up to several days – that another shutdown may be possible on Wednesday and Thursday.
In a statement posted to its website Sunday morning, the utility listed an “elevated” chance of a pre-emptive power cut in Napa, Sonoma, Solano and 13 other counties, saying it is monitoring an expected increase in wind speeds in the coming days.
An announcement of “elevated” risk is one level below a “watch,” in which PG&E’s emergency operations center announces it may begin a shutoff within 72 hours. A power shutoff “warning” is issued when PG&E begins notifying customers in a certain area that a shutdown is probable.
As of 11 a.m. Sunday, no customers had yet received telephone calls or other alerts giving them 48 hours’ notice to prepare for a loss of electricity, according to PG&E spokesperson Cynthia Garcia.
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Up to 16 counties could be affected by a planned shutoff, though that number may change based on updated weather forecasts, Garcia said. Outside the North Bay, a shutdown could affect customers in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Tehama, Yolo and Yuba counties.
PG&E pinned the possibility of dangerous weather conditions to the extremely dry condition of both living and dead vegetation that could ignite more easily in the event of a toppled or damaged power line. Fuel moisture levels, having already decreased after a nearly rainless October, are expected to drop further this week as temperatures away from the Pacific coast rise into the 70s or low 80s, the utility reported.
The National Weather Service had not issued any alerts for Napa County as of Sunday morning, but did forecast increased wind speeds from Tuesday night into Wednesday night in the North Bay and East Bay hills.
Still unclear as of Sunday was weather higher temperatures this week may add to the fire risk. PG&E’s announcement indicated that inland Bay Area temperatures may be 10 to 20 degrees above seasonal averages – from the 70s into the low 80s – but the weather service forecast for Napa indicates highs in the mid-to-upper 60s from Tuesday to Saturday.