Heat wave sweeps Pacific Northwest, U.S. Southeast

(Reuters) – More than 60 million Americans across the Pacific Northwest and the U.S. Southeast were under a heat advisory on Friday, facing temperatures well into the 100s and near-record high temperatures in parts of Idaho and Washington.

The temperature in Spokane, Washington, could climb to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9° C) on Friday, tying a record high from 1929, while Lewiston, Idaho, could see a near-record of 108 F, National Weather Service forecaster Bob Oravec said.

High-temperature records were shattered across the Pacific Northwest last month when a days-long heat wave killed hundreds of people and paralyzed a region accustomed to temperate summers, and where many residents do not have air conditioning.

The cities of Portland and Salem in Oregon, and Seattle in Washington all set new temperature records above 110 F in late June.

A study published earlier this month found that the region’s devastating heat wave would have been “virtually impossible” without the impact of climate change.

Such record-smashing heat waves may become two to seven times more frequent around the world over the next few decades, scientists found in another study published this month.

While summer heat waves are more common in the U.S. Southeast and the parts of the Great Plains that were experiencing high temperatures on Friday, the National Weather Service warned that the high heat index – a combined effect of high temperature and humidity – could lead to dangerous conditions.

“Extreme heat and humidity will significantly increase the potential for heat related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities,” the National Weather Service’s Mobile, Alabama, office said in a Friday advisory.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

California urges power conservation in heat wave, prices soar

(Reuters) – U.S. power prices for Wednesday jumped as homes and businesses crank up air conditioners to escape another heat wave, prompting the California electric grid operator to urge conservation.

The United States has been beset by extreme weather events this year, including February’s freeze in Texas that knocked out power to millions and record heat in the Pacific Northwest this summer.

High temperatures were expected to reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) on Friday in Portland, Oregon, where the normal high is just 80 degrees F (27 C) at this time of year, according to AccuWeather.

Meteorologists also forecast hotter-than-normal weather in Central California, which is used to temperatures over 100 F (38 C).

The California ISO, the grid operator for most of the state, issued a flex alert urging consumers to conserve electricity Wednesday evening to reduce strain on the grid and avoid outages when solar power stops working as the sun goes.

Last August, a heat wave forced California utilities to impose rotating blackouts that left over 400,000 customers without power for up to 2-1/2 hours when supplies ran short.

Next-day power prices for Wednesday more than doubled to $198 per megawatt hour at the Mid Columbia hub in Washington. In 2020, the hub averaged $26.

The California ISO forecast power demand would peak at 41,579 megawatts (MW) on Wednesday before easing to 41,483 MW on Thursday. That is below July 9th’s peak for the year of 43,193 MW and the all-time high of 50,270 MW in July 2006.

One megawatt can power about 200 homes in the summer.

The ISO has said it expects to have about 50,734 MW of supply available this summer, but some of that is solar, which is not available when the sun sets.

The ISO had 14,628 MW of solar capacity in June that produced a record 13,205 MW in May.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Texas power grid passes test, more to come as heat wave lingers

(Reuters) – The Texas power grid passed the first of what could be many tests over the next week by meeting very high demand on Monday without problems as homes and businesses cranked up their air conditioners to escape the latest heat wave.

The United States has been beset by extreme weather events this year, including February’s freeze in Texas that knocked out power to millions, and record heat in the Pacific Northwest earlier this summer.

High temperatures over the next week were expected to reach the mid 90s Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) in Houston and the low 100s in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, according to AccuWeather.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the grid in most of the state, said power use hit a preliminary 72,856 megawatts (MW) on Monday and would reach 72,925 MW on July 30, 73,275 MW on Aug. 1 and 74,160 MW on Aug. 2.

Those peaks were lower than ERCOT forecast on Monday and would remain below July’s 74,244-MW record and the all-time high of 74,820 MW in August 2019. One megawatt can power around 200 homes in the summer.

Officials at ERCOT were not immediately available to say if Monday’s peak was the highest this year.

ERCOT has already broken monthly records, including 70,219 MW in June and 69,692 MW in February when millions of Texans were left without power, water and heat for days during a deadly storm as ERCOT scrambled to prevent an uncontrolled collapse of the grid after an unusually large amount of generation shut.

Despite Monday’s high demand, real-time prices remained below $100 per megawatt hour (MWh).

That compares with an average of $208/MWh at the ERCOT North so far in 2021 due primarily to price spikes over $8,000 during the February freeze. The 2020 average was just $26.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Brutal heat wave persists in U.S. West as Oregon wildfire rages

(Reuters) – A punishing heat wave was again forecast to bring near-record temperatures to much of the U.S. West on Monday, as a wildfire in drought-stricken Oregon continued raging out of control.

The agency that manages California’s power grid, the California Independent System Operator, issued a “flex alert” urging residents to conserve power between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. local time on Monday, after the Bootleg Fire in Oregon disrupted electric transmission lines.

The fire had burned through more than 153,000 acres (nearly 240 square miles) as of Monday morning, mostly in Oregon’s Fremont-Winema National Forest.

Hundreds of residents in the Klamath Falls area are under mandatory evacuation orders, and the Klamath County Sheriff’s Department has begun issuing citations and will consider the unusual step of making arrests if necessary people to enforce them, county officials said.

Other states have also confronted fires amid the heat. In California along the Nevada border, the Beckwourth Complex Fire had grown to around 89,600 acres (140 square miles) as of Monday morning, with approximately 23% containment, according to the state’s fire incident reporting system.

The National Weather Service predicted additional record highs on Monday in some areas, a day after Death Valley, California, hit a scorching 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 Celsius), one of the highest temperatures ever recorded on Earth.

But forecasters said the intense heat had likely peaked across much of the region, ahead of more seasonable temperatures later this week.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

‘Wither away and die:’ U.S. Pacific Northwest heat wave bakes wheat, fruit crops

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – An unprecedented heat wave and ongoing drought in the U.S. Pacific Northwest is damaging white wheat coveted by Asian buyers and forcing fruit farm workers to harvest in the middle of the night to salvage crops and avoid deadly heat.

The extreme weather is another blow to farmers who have struggled with labor shortages and higher transportation costs during the pandemic and may further fuel global food inflation.

Cordell Kress, who farms in southeastern Idaho, expects his winter white wheat to produce about half as many bushels per acre as it does in a normal year when he begins to harvest next week, and he has already destroyed some of his withered canola and safflower oilseed crops.

The Pacific Northwest is the only part of the United States that grows soft white wheat used to make sponge cakes and noodles, and farmers were hoping to capitalize on high grain prices. Other countries including Australia and Canada grow white wheat, but the U.S. variety is especially prized by Asian buyers.

“The general mood among farmers in my area is as dire as I’ve ever seen it,” Kress said. “Something about a drought like this just wears on you. You see your blood, sweat and tears just slowly wither away and die.”

U.S. exports of white wheat in the marketing year that ended May 31 reached a 40-year high of 265 million bushels, driven by unprecedented demand from China.

But farmers may not have as much to sell this year.

“The Washington wheat crop is in pretty rough shape right now,” said Clark Neely, a Washington State University agronomist. The U.S. Agriculture Department this week rated 68% of the state’s spring wheat and 36% of its winter wheat in poor or very poor condition. A year ago, just 2% of the state’s winter wheat and 6% of its spring wheat were rated poor to very poor.

On top of the expected yield losses, grain buyers worry about quality. Flour millers turn to Pacific Northwest soft white wheat for its low protein content, which is well-suited for pastries and crackers.

But the drought is shriveling wheat kernels and raising protein levels, making the some of the crop less valuable. “The protein is so high that you can’t use (it) for anything but cattle feed,” Kress said.

Low-protein “soft” wheats have lower gluten content than the “hard” wheats used for bread, producing a less-stretchy dough for delicate cakes and crackers.

The Washington State Agriculture Department said it was still too early to estimate lost revenue from crop damage.

The heat peaked in late June, in the thick of the harvest of cherries. Temperatures reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) on June 28 at The Dalles, Oregon, along the Washington border, near the heart of cherry country.

Scientists have said the suffocating heat that killed hundreds of people would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change and such events could become more common.

The National Weather Service posted weekend heat advisories for eastern Washington.

NIGHTTIME CHERRY HARVEST; SUN NETS FOR APPLES

On the hottest days last month, laborers who normally start picking cherries at 4 a.m. began at 1 a.m., armed with headlamps and roving spotlights to beat the daytime heat that threatened their safety and made the fruit too soft to harvest.

The region should still produce a roughly average-sized cherry harvest, but not the bumper crop initially expected, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers, a grower-funded trade group representing top cherry producer Washington and other Western states.

“We think we probably lost about 20% of the crop,” Thurlby said, adding that growers simply had to abandon a portion of the heat-damaged cherries in their orchards.

The heat wave’s impact on Washington’s $2 billion apple crop – the state’s most valuable agricultural product – is uncertain, as harvest is at least six weeks away. Apple growers are used to sleepless nights as they respond to springtime frosts, but have little experience with sustained heat in June.

“We really don’t know what the effects are. We just have to ride it out,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

Growers have been protecting their orchards with expansive nets that protect fruit against sunburn, and by spraying water vapor above the trees. Apples have stopped growing for the time being, Fryhover said, but it is possible the crop may make up for lost time if weather conditions normalize.

The state wine board in Oregon, known for its Pinot Noir, said the timing of the heat spike may have benefited grapes. Last year, late-summer wildfires and wind storms forced some West Coast vineyards to leave damaged grapes unharvested.

Washington’s wine grapes also seem fine so far, one vineyard manager said. “I think wine grapes are situated well to handle high heat in June,” said Sadie Drury, general manager of North Slope Management.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)

Heat wave drives U.S. West power prices to highest since February freeze

(Reuters) – Extreme heat expected to blanket the U.S. West next week caused power prices for Monday to soar to their highest since the February freeze when natural gas pipelines and wind turbines froze in Texas leaving millions without power.

High temperatures will reach the low 90s F (about 34 C) in Los Angeles on Monday-Wednesday, which is about 20 degrees higher than the city’s normal high for this time of year, according to AccuWeather forecasts.

Last summer, a heat wave in August forced California utilities to impose rotating blackouts that left over 400,000 homes and businesses without power for up to 2-1/2 hours when energy supplies ran short.

The group responsible for North American electric reliability has already warned that California is the U.S. region most at risk of power shortages this summer because the state increasingly relies on intermittent energy sources like wind and solar, and as climate change causes more extreme heat events, drought and wildfires across the U.S. West.

Power traded on Friday for Monday delivery jumped to $151 per megawatt hour (MWh) at Palo Verde in Arizona and $95 in SP-15 in Southern California, their highest since the February freeze caused prices across the country to soar.

In addition to soaring power prices, gas for the rest of 2021 in California has traded at its highest in years on expectations an extreme drought in the U.S. West will cut hydropower supplies and force the state to rely more on gas-fired power plants this summer.

That would make it tough for California to reduce carbon dioxide emissions this year and shows how difficult it would be for the most-populous U.S. state to keep the lights on if it starts shutting gas-fired plants in the coming years as it moves toward getting all electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Wildfires rage in California, stoked by extreme heat in U.S. West

(Reuters) – Three large wildfires burned in California and a fourth was growing quickly on Monday as a weekend heat wave lingered across large swaths of the western United States.

The Creek Fire, which has engulfed the Fresno area in central California and caused the emergency evacuation over the weekend of more than 200 people vacationing at a popular reservoir, was still not contained as of Monday afternoon, fire officials said.

The blaze, growing under “extreme weather conditions,” had devoured nearly 79,000 acres (32,000 hectares) of land, while a cause remained under investigation, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said in a statement.

Officials in Madera County issued evacuation orders and urged the county’s 157,000 residents to leave if they felt unsafe.

A hiker who had just embarked on a multi-day trip when the Creek Fire broke out and had to find a way out of the blaze shared the harrowing experience on social media.

“We’re safe and we’re out, but wow, we hiked our way out of the #CreekFire yesterday,” Asha Karim posted on Twitter.

The Oak Fire in Mendocino County started burning around 1:26 pm on Monday afternoon, according to CalFire, and three hours later it had already torched 1,000 acres (400 hectares) and destroyed one structure.

Videos on social media showed the fire consuming pick-up trucks as it spread along Highway 101 near Willits, California.

“If you’re trying to get out of an evacuation area please call 911 for help. Don’t delay!” the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter.

San Francisco-based power provider PG&E said late on Monday that it began turning off power in “high fire-threat” areas. The outages will impact 172,000 customers in 22 counties, mostly in the Sierra Foothills, PG&E said, adding the shut off was a safety measure due to the extreme high and dry winds.

The California Independent Systems Operator, which runs most of the state’s power grid, again urged consumers to cut back on energy consumption and said it was monitoring wildfires throughout the state threatening power lines.

In Southern California, east of San Diego, more than 400 firefighters battled the Valley Fire, which burned more than 17,000 acres (6,900 hectares)in Cleveland National Forest. Video shared on social media showed firefighters dousing the flames, the air thick with ash and fire embers.

The blaze was 3% contained on Monday evening. Officials announced the deployment of military aircraft on Monday afternoon to help fight the flames.

A fire in San Bernardino County, southeast of Los Angeles, that officials said was caused by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party, kept burning through the night and was 7% contained as of Monday morning.

On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego counties due to the wildfires, which also prompted the U.S. Forest Service to temporarily close some national forests including the Sierra National Forest, the Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Leslie Adler, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

‘Rare, dangerous’ heat wave to hit California, U.S. West

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – A record heat wave with temperatures of up to 125 Fahrenheit (49 Celsius) was set to punish California starting on Friday as another extreme weather event raised risks of more forest fires and rolling blackouts.

The “deadly heat wave” of “rare, dangerous and very possibly fatal” temperatures was forecast across Southern California for the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Los Angeles said.

Record or excessive heat was also expected in Nevada and western Arizona with “brutal” temperatures set to peak on Sunday and continue into Monday, the service said.

“There is a high risk for heat illness along with heightened fire weather concerns,” the NWS Los Angeles office reported, forecasting record high temperatures on Saturday and Sunday.

Climate scientists blame human activities for a two to three degree Fahrenheit rise in average temperatures in California since the early 20th century and say extreme wet-dry cycles are creating abundant parched vegetation to supercharge wildfires.

The long weekend’s heat event is expected to be hotter than the one in mid-August that helped trigger the second and third largest forest fires in California history that are still burning.

Death Valley in California’s Mojave desert recorded one of the hottest air temperatures ever on the planet of 130F on Aug. 17, and highs of around 124F were expected there on Sunday, the NWS said.

The California power grid asked power generators to delay any maintenance until after the weekend to prevent blackouts like the two nights of rolling outages seen in mid-August as residents cranked up their air conditioning.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown)

‘Lightning siege’ sparks wildfires across California wine country

By Steven Lam

VACAVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – Dozens of lightning-sparked wildfires caused thousands of evacuations in Northern California’s wine country on Wednesday, and Colorado battled its second-largest fire ever as a heat wave supercharged blazes across the U.S. West.

A group of fires in Northern California covering over 46,000 acres (18,615 hectares) has destroyed at least 50 structures in a hill and mountain area near Vacaville in Solano County, authorities said.

The city of 100,000, about 30 miles southwest of Sacramento, was under a partial evacuation order after flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fire raced through homesteads and ranches on its west flank. Social media videos showed a number of houses on fire, and residents were forced to flee their homes during the night.

The blazes follow devastating fires across Northern California in 2017 that killed 44, wiped out numerous wineries and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes and other structures.

“In the last 72 hours we’ve experienced an historic lightning siege with 10,849 strikes causing more than 367 new fires,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynnette Round.

So-called red flag high winds are fanning flames caused by the lightning in scrub and woodland parched by record-breaking heat and low humidity.

Another group of fires called the SCU Lightning Complex more than doubled in size overnight, and is now burning over 85,000 acres, while the CZU August Lightning Complex has grown to over 10,000 acres and forced evacuations in Santa Cruz County.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency on Tuesday and California requested 375 fire engines from out of state to fight the blazes.

To the east, at least four large wildfires burned in drought-stricken Colorado. The state’s Pine Gulch Fire grew to over 125,000 acres overnight to become the second largest in Colorado’s history, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. The fire remains at 7% containment, according to the InciWeb fire data site.

(Reporting by Steven Lam, additional reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Steve Orlofsky and Andrea Ricci)

Governor worries cooped-up Californians will hit beaches on warm weekend

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Californians locked down for weeks during the coronavirus pandemic have trickled back to local beaches as the weather warms, prompting Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday to plead for social distancing during a heat wave expected this weekend.

Newsom, in his daily remarks on the response to the outbreak, appeared to concede that the state’s beaches would be an irresistible lure to residents, who have been largely confined to their homes since mid-March.

“We’re walking into a very warm weekend. People are prone to want to go to the beaches, parks, playgrounds and go on a hike, and I anticipate there will be significant increase in volume,” the governor said.

“But I also think if there is and people aren’t practicing physical distancing, I’ll be announcing again these numbers going back up,” Newsom said, referring to a slight downward tick in new hospitalizations and admissions to intensive-care units.

California, the nation’s most populous state, recorded its deadliest day yet in the pandemic, with 115 fatalities in the 24 hours from Wednesday to Thursday.

Newsom has been credited with taking early action to lock down the state as cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, spread in early March, and California has seen fewer cases than New York and other East Coast states.

California’s beaches are under a patchwork of state and local jurisdictions, which means some have remained open while others were shut.

Los Angeles County closed all its beaches – including parking lots, bike paths, showers and restrooms – during the coronavirus outbreak, but leaders in neighboring Orange County voted to keep some open.

Amid a debate over whether residents are safer in open spaces such as the beach, officials in San Clemente in southern Orange County voted this week to reopen city beaches that they closed two weeks ago, the Orange County Register reported.

This week in Huntington Beach, an Orange County city that has both state and local beaches as well as the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, surfers could be seen in the water on either side of a closed pier as sunbathers watched from the sand and joggers used pedestrian paths.

Lifeguards at Huntington Beach’s main stretch of shoreline counted about 9,000 people on the sand and in the water on Thursday, according to local CBS television affiliate KCBS.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore urged residents to avoid flocking to beaches and trailheads as summery weather returns, the Los Angeles City News Service (CNS) reported.

“Save police the awkwardness of us having to admonish you and advise and direct you for something that you already know,” CNS quoted Moore as saying. “With that, our men and women can stay focused on public safety.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Lucy Nicholson in Huntington Beach; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Daniel Wallis and Gerry Doyle)