California Hit With Record Highs, Unprecedented Humidity, Rolling Thunderstorms, and Wildfires

Image courtesy of Dennis Stanworth/Flickr

On Friday, Weather West’s Daniel Swain warned that the state of California was in for over a week of very intense and prolonged heatwave that would likely be “one of the most significant widespread California extreme heat events in the past decade, if not longer.”

Swain’s predictions came true as record-breaking heat, humidity, and even a pattern of massive thunderstorms pounded a state that generally sees very rainfall in the month of August. Lightning from the thunderstorms sparked several small wildfires (including fire tornadoes) across the state and stoked the massive Lake Fire just north of Los Angeles.

As the New York Times reported, “Californians used so much electricity to try and stay cool Friday night that the agency that oversees much of the state’s power grid declared an emergency and, for the first time in 19 years, shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers for several hours to avoid a damaging overload.”

Why This Matters: Extreme weather that’s being fueled at least in part by climate change has wreaked havoc across the country in the past week. Blackouts from Hurricane Isaias, a derecho across the midwest, and now California’s extreme heat have come at a time when people are stuck home due to the coronavirus and have been forced to compromise their safety by evacuating or seeking reprieve from the heat outside their homes.

True Record Heat: As the Washington Post reported, on Sunday afternoon a temperature reading in California’s Death Valley came in at 130 degrees. Which, if verified, could set a world record for the highest temperature ever observed during the month of August and would also rank among the top-three highest temperatures ever reliably measured on the planet at any time and may, in fact, be the highest.

California’s Surprise Blackouts: The state’s heatwave came on without much warning and while temperatures in the 90s and 100s aren’t unusual in summer months, the prolonged intensity along with the fact that temperatures weren’t dropping at night put an added stress on the electric grid which caused unexpected power blackouts. As Bloomberg reported, “before Friday, California hadn’t imposed rolling blackouts since the energy crisis of 2001, when hundreds of thousands of customers took turns being plunged into darkness, power prices surged to record levels and the state’s largest electric utility went bankrupt. (It went bankrupt a second time last year in the face of crippling wildfire liabilities.)”

Rolling Thunder: Thunderstorms fueled by tropical storm remnants in the Pacific Ocean swept over much of California, especially the Bay Area on Sunday morning. As the LA Times explained, another set of impending storms and a plume of moisture fueling the storms can be traced to Tropical Storm Fausto in the Pacific southwest of Baja California.

  • Red flag warnings for dry lightning are widespread in Northern California, along with excessive heat warnings and heat advisories.
  • By late Sunday morning, isolated showers and thunderstorms were shifting northward, but another — possibly wetter — round of thunderstorms was expected, peaking in the overnight hours and into Monday morning, the weather service said.

Check the National Weather Service’s visual of Tropical Storm Fausto driving humid weather and thunderstorms in California:

Rolling thunderstorms through San Francisco and the East Bay. Image: Miro Korenha

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