More Than 600,000 Californians Face Christmas Eve Blackout

Date: 2020-12-24 18:41:37

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Utility workers began cutting power Wednesday to thousands of Southern California customers as rising winds in the parched region raise the risk of wildfires heading into the Christmas holiday.

The blackouts may eventually affect more than 200,000 homes and businesses, leaving more than 600,000 people in the dark through Christmas morning, based on the size of the average household. They come as California officials are begging residents to stay home amid a surge of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

Edison International’s southern California utility cut electricity to about 17,000 customers and warned that another 165,000 may follow as wind speeds increase. Sempra Energy’s utility serving San Diego County is warning that it may need to switch off electricity to about 31,000 customers, or about 90,000 people.

California utilities have increasingly resorted to switching off power lines in advance of high winds rather than risk live wires falling into dry brush and sparking fires. Now a large winter storm that will bring snow across the Great Plains and drive rain into the Northeast is leaving a vast area of high pressure in its wake across Nevada and Utah. That’s creating the perfect conditions for dry, gusty winds — known as Santa Ana winds — to sweep across Southern California, potentially fanning wildfires.

A red flag fire warning has been issued for Ventura and Los Angeles counties, extending south toward the Mexican border, the National Weather Service said. Nearly 7.2 million people will face critical fire danger through Thursday, including in Riverside, Oxnard and San Bernardino, the U.S. Storm Prediction Center said.

While December is typically one of California’s wettest months, a La Nina in the Pacific Ocean has shifted weather patterns, starving Los Angeles of rain through the fall and keeping fire danger high.

Los Angeles International Airport has had only 0.11 of an inch of rain since October, according to the National Weather Service. All of California is abnormally dry, and drought covers more than 95% of it, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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