A rare and powerful heat wave in the northwestern United States has broken records and is causing serious damage to the region’s infrastructure, with highways curving, public transportation in trouble and rolling blackouts.
As temperatures soared, Avista Corp. served nearly 340,000 customers in eastern Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. This was the first rolling blackout in the company’s history. The company said that as of late Tuesday, the regular power outages had affected approximately 4,667 customers, and a total of 21,000 customers warned them of possible outages. The heat also distorted Seattle’s highways, scorched the tram lines in Portland, and suspended services.
The breakdown caused by the worst heat wave on record in the history of the Pacific Northwest is the latest sign that an unprecedented challenge this summer is imminent. The high temperatures, droughts, and wildfires associated with climate change make the authorities nervous as they try to maintain electricity and avoid more high-temperature-related deaths, which take the lives of about 650 Americans each year. President Joe Biden will meet with the governors of the western states on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to the threat of wildfires.
The National Weather Service said that in Portland, Monday’s temperature reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius), setting a third consecutive record, while Seattle hit a record high of 108 degrees. Lytton, British Columbia, a region of forests and glacial rivers, reached 118 in just one day after breaking the previous high since 1937, a new record for Canada.
“In my 40-year forecasting career, I have never seen anything like this,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist at AccuWeather at Pennsylvania State University.
Biden said on Tuesday that as climate change leads to more frequent and extreme weather events, the high temperatures in the Northwest show why a better power grid is needed.
Biden said in a speech in Wisconsin: “We need to invest to build a more resilient power grid,” he cited an unusual winter storm in Texas that almost collapsed the state’s power grid. “This is why we need to take action,” he said.
The National Weather Service said that at the same time, the Northeast is also setting off a heat wave from Pennsylvania to Maine, which may push New York into the early 1990s. Humidity will make people feel hotter this week, driving the region to rely on air conditioning to withstand the energy needs of the summer heat.
Consolidated Edison asked about 270,000 customers in Queens and parts of Manhattan to save energy when the company repaired equipment on Tuesday night. Users are encouraged not to use energy-intensive appliances such as washing machines and dryers. The New York-based utility company also stated that it has reduced the voltage level by 5% to protect the equipment.
Boston set a record of 97 days on Monday, which is the 10th time the city surpassed 90 points this year, while Newark set a record of 99 days. However, the heat wave on the East Coast will be different from the Northwest because it will reverse in the next few days, with rain and Friday’s forecast high in New York at only 77.
Scott Miller, executive director of the Western Power Exchange Forum, said: “It’s hot everywhere, which places a demand on already strained resources.” “The mobile generation has limited transmission. People are not used to such high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest .”
The rising heat pushed natural gas futures to the longest winning streak in nearly three years, raised electricity prices, and even triggered rare grid warnings in eastern states. An independent system operator in the Mid-Continent from central Canada to the Gulf Coast warned that due to forced power outages, capacity shortages may occur at night.
Miller said that due to the continued high temperature this week, other utilities besides Avista may need to take rolling outage measures, and as pandemic restrictions relax and the economy reopens, demand may also increase.
Data from Wood Mackenzie shows that the average price of day-ahead peak electricity in New England on Tuesday rose 13% to the highest level since 2008, while prices in New York City rose 20% to the highest seasonal level since 2012.
A municipal utility representative said that the temperature in Seattle has also caused some power outages in the underground power infrastructure, which is difficult to repair due to overheating in the equipment warehouse. Later on Monday, about 11,000 customers were out of power for about an hour.
In California, grid operators may demand protection to avoid power outages, and dry vegetation helped the lava fire near Mount Shasta to erupt overnight. The authorities ordered the evacuation of people and the closure of roads, indicating that the dry winter will usher in a difficult summer.
For the Northwest, some cooling in Seattle and Portland is coming as wind from the Pacific pushes heat eastward towards the Cascade Mountains, although many parts of the region will still be in the 90s. It’s rare at this time of year in Seattle, where it usually doesn’t get hot until the end of summer, and June is usually mild or even gloomy.
In Vancouver, residents who fled their homes without air conditioning flocked to downtown hotels and queued for hours to check in. Air conditioners are sold out in stores and online. Peak power demand broke the previous record by more than 600 megawatts, roughly equivalent to the capacity of some coal-fired power plants.