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California Could See Even More Blackouts as Weekend Winds Worsen

Brian K. Sullivan and Mark Chediak

(Bloomberg) -- Weekend winds worse than those that spurred blackouts in California this week are forecast to sweep across a bone-dry landscape starting late Saturday, spurring new warnings by PG&E Corp. that the power cutoffs could be even more widespread.

The hot, dry winds now rolling across the state are pulling much of the last bit of moisture from trees, shrubs and grasses, boosting chances for a wildfire, according to a report by the company’s meteorologists. The utility warned that the elevated risk on Sunday and Monday may force it to cut power to eight of the utility’s nine zones.

“There is a pretty high threat Saturday night into Sunday and possibly Sunday night into Monday,” said Spencer Tangen, a weather service meteorologist in Monterey, California. “And it’s looking like the winds could be stronger than what we are seeing with this current one.”

There is also a chance California could catch a break, Tangen said, noting that a “small shift in the track” of the high pressure system pushing the winds could make “a big difference.”

The threat posed to power lines by high winds has created a new reality for California residents. On Wednesday, PG&E began shutting off power to 179,000 homes and businesses in 17 northern and central California counties. Meanwhile, in Southern California, Edison International is warning it may cut service to more than 300,000 homes and businesses

The threat of widespread shutoffs is hitting just two weeks after PG&E carried out the biggest planned

blackout in California history, plunging about 2 million people into darkness, knocking out traffic lights and forcing businesses to shut across the Bay Area.Last year, PG&E transmission lines ignited the state’s deadliest blaze yet, the Camp Fire that leveled the town of Paradise and killed 86 people. The estimated $30 billion in liabilities from that fire and earlier ones forced PG&E to declare bankruptcy in January.

A low-pressure system developing across Nevada’s Great Basin will set up the perfect conditions for high winds to rake Northern California.

The weeks long cycle of dry winds now sweeping across California has left vegetation ready to burn, said Idamis Del Valle, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento. Those fuels are “drier than normal,” she said. “That can lead to easier fire starts, as well as rapid fire spreads.”Tangen and Del Valle said the extent of the threat will become clearer as time goes on. There is hope the models begin to arrive on a solution that will bring certainty to the forecast.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net;Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina Davis at tinadavis@bloomberg.net, ;Lynn Doan at ldoan6@bloomberg.net, Reg Gale

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