Bay Area dodges bullet during Sunday night wind event

As of 6 p.m. on Monday there are 250,000 Pacific Gas and Electric customers still without power from the utility's largest Public Safety Power Shutoff this year. Only now is the utility considering beginning the restoration process.

Though 34 counties are caught up in this set of outages, Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma have been cleared for pre-restoration inspections with Marin likely to follow soon.

Monday night, the Bay Area dodged not only dodged a bullet, but a high-speed meteorological freight train.  

Pushed by 50 to 89 mile an hour wind gusts, Cal Fire says 27 new fires sprang up statewide last night, fires that firefighters beat back; a truly amazing outcome.

"So, our increased staffing, the local pre-positioning and even, more importantly, the public's help being prepared and helping to prevent fires, all of that has helped us get through, so far, this red flag warning," said Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant.

More than 90,000 Bay Area PG&E customers in eight counties were without power; the overwhelming number of them in North and East Bay counties.  

PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoffs seemed to do a good job in preventing blow torch fires; another amazing outcome. But, Golden Gate Weather's Jan Null says in such weather conditions, nothing is patently obvious.

"It's hard to prove a fire that didn't start and what the cause of that was unless there's some evidence of a tree branch that broke someplace and it was a circuit that was turned off but even they wouldn't know that that would have caused a fire," said Mr. Null.

Nonetheless, he lauds PG&E's latest PSPS approach.

"To PG&E's credit that they are turning off smaller circuits areas," said Null.

Red flag warnings, for the higher altitudes of the North and East and Bay, are set to last until Tuesday at 5 p.m.; others sooner. 

"Some areas will be getting the all clear, so to speak, before other areas; meaning that it's safe to start patrols and start inspecting the lines and start making repairs for any wind driven damage," said PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras.

That means that PG&E crews will not be able to inspect lines and equipment until they get the all clear, to do so and then restore power.  

"So, even when these winds dissipate, we're still gonna be left with  incredibly dry conditions. So, until we get a good amount of rain, fire conditions are still gonna remain elevated," said Cal Fire's Berlant. 

Without soaking rains, what lies ahead wind wise, is sobering. "All the way through November and into December, even late on in the year. But, once we start getting some rain, they aren't as much of an issue," said meteorologist Null.

"So really, there is no end in sight, In fact, it's very likely that this fire season will really be a fire year and it will roll right into 2021," said Berlant.

As compared to the 1970s, California fire season is now two and a half months longer and lengthening.