Extreme heat takes a toll on Bay Area infrastructure

The heat can also take its toll on some of our regional infrastructure that you probably never even think about – at least when everything is operating normally.  Things like power transformers, roads, even airport runways can be impacted by extreme temperatures.   We don’t often stress the system with this kind of heat this many days in a row – so things can, and do, happen.

At the main Pacific Gas & Electric yard near downtown San Jose, crews were busy loading up transformers onto big trucks. Transformers are one of the weak points in the electrical distribution system especially on hot days when customers are using a lot of power.  "We know today is going to be the hottest day, it is going to be the most challenging day for the grid. People are back at work, people are using air conditioning and it is also impacting the entire west, so there is nowhere to find relief and the grid is working extra hard," said Teresa Alvarado, regional vice-president for PG&E for the South Bay and Central Coast regions. 

Alvarado said calls to use less electricity during peak demand hours not only helps maintain a steady electrical supply for all customers it can also prevent heat-related stress on sensitive equipment. "It is really transformers. Transformers get overheated. We saw that before in August 2020 there was another heat event we had many transformers go out that we had to replace," Alvarado said. 

By 6 p.m. California Governor's Office of Emergency Management blasted alerts to smartphones urging residents to "conserve energy now" to protect public health and safety due to the strain of the heat wave on the state's power grid. The alert reiterated that there could be power interruptions. Residents were asked to turn off or reduce nonessential power as health allows.  

At 5:17 p.m., California Independent System Operator declared an Energy Emergency Level 3 Alert. However, they have not yet called for rotating outages. 

At Mineta San Jose International Airport there have been no reported problems with the asphalt on the airport runways so far during this heat wave. Airport operations personnel are constantly monitoring the condition of the airfield in case any issues -- heat or otherwise – do crop up.  "They go out in trucks. They drive around the runway. They drive around the platforms checking if everything is OK. They check for foreign objects, what is the temperature at the level of the platform?" said Ana State, spokesperson for SJC. 

On BART the system is running trains on some of its East Bay lines more slowly than usual. BART says this mostly impacts the Antioch, Warm Springs and Dublin-Pleasanton lines where the hottest temperatures are expected.  In June of this year, hot temperatures contributed to a train derailment between the Concord and Pleasant Hill stations.  The heat caused the tracks to curve and about 50 passengers were evacuated from the train in this incident. 

SEE ALSO: 'Miserably hot:' Triple digit temps to last all week

And Tuesday afternoon, on Southbound Highway 101 just north of the Highway 156 turnoff to San Juan Bautista and Hollister, Caltrans crews are working to repair some raised asphalt in the number two and three lanes.  The road work caused long delays in the commute direction as people leave work in Santa Clara County bound for Salinas and the Monterey Bay Area.