Deadly Western Heat Eases After Two Days of Broken Records

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A home builder works at sunrise on Monday, June 20, in Gilbert, Arizona, in an effort to beat the rising temperatures.

Photographer: Matt York/AP Photo
  • State grid operator asks residents to conserve electicity
  • National Weather Service says the heat is ‘life threatening’

Residents of Southern California and the Southwest were looking for a break after some of the hottest weather in decades had utilities warning of power failures and cities opening pools and cooling centers.

At least four hikers died in Arizona, where on Sunday Phoenix set a record of 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) for that date, AccuWeather Inc. reported. It was 109 in Burbank, California, on Sunday, besting the mark set in 1973, and temperatures there reached another daily record of 108 at midday Monday, the first official day of summer.

The Los Angeles 911 service saw a 5 percent to 10 percent spike in the number of calls on Monday, said Chris Ipsen, public information officer for the city’s emergency management department.

The National Weather Service had posted excessive heat warnings across Southern California, southern Arizona and into central Utah. The heat began tapering off Tuesday, with temperatures in Burbank dropping to 89 degrees at 12:45 p.m. local time.

Ken Clark, a meteorologist at AccuWeather, said Tuesday afternoon that while the heat had moderated, the area isn’t out of the woods yet.

"We are expecting to have the heat return by the end of the weekend. We could see 105, 110 temperatures at the start of next week," he said of the Los Angeles area.

Conservation Urged

California’s main grid operator called on residents to turn off unneeded lights and avoid using major appliances to prevent blackouts. Los Angeles and other cities opened public libraries and senior centers to those in need of cooling. In Riverside, the city started operating water splash areas in public parks that had been shut because of an unprecedented drought that the region has been battling in recent years.

The heat wave is the first big test of the Southern California grid after a historic natural gas leak that resulted in constrained supplies of the power plant fuel. The state has warned that the region risks as many as 14 days of blackouts this summer due to the leak. The use of Sempra Energy’s Aliso Canyon storage facility has been restricted since methane spewed uncontrollably from a broken well for nearly four months starting in October.

“We are confident we have a strong plan in place to meet the operational challenges posed by the upcoming hot temperatures,” California Independent System Operator Inc.’s chief executive officer Steve Berberich said in a statement. “Conservation efforts by consumers are key to reducing stress on the system and to help avoid service disruptions.”

As of 10 a.m. local time on Tuesday, about 8,900 customers had lost power, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Vonda Paige said in a telephone interview. The outages were spread all throughout the grid, including 1,900 in Hancock Park and 1,600 in the San Fernando Valley.

Peak Demand

California’s electricity demand was forecast to peak at 40,881 megawatts on Tuesday, a decrease from 44,467 megawatts the previous day, California ISO said on its website at 2:04 p.m. local time. The forecast peak for Wednesday was 42,762 megawatts.

Spot electricity prices in Southern California surged amid the heat, and wholesale natural gas there traded at a premium of more than 22 cents per million British thermal units versus the benchmark Henry Hub on Monday, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Natural gas-fired power generators were supplied last week with fuel needed to meet demand during the high temperatures, said Steven Greenlee, a spokesman for the grid. The state has electricity capacity reserves and no reports of major transmission line failures or generation shutdowns, he said.

Edison International’s Southern California Edison, which operates the region’s biggest electric utility, said it had mobilized its emergency operation center and was deploying crews that can rapidly respond to service disruptions.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti extended hours at several of the city’s cooling centers so residents without air conditioning could remain as late as 9 p.m. on Monday. In Palm Springs, where temperatures had been expected to hit 123, special education summer school was canceled Monday, said Joan Boiko, a spokeswoman for the school district.

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