Bay Area braces for Diablo winds, power outages and fire weather

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The weather in the Bay Area is expected to be cool and pleasant on Saturday, but experts warn this is the calm before the storm with strong, dry winds expected to arrive Sunday morning, potentially bringing the worst fire weather of the year and leading to power shutoffs for 466,000 PG&E customers.

Starting Sunday morning, off-shore winds — known as Diablo winds after the eponymous mountain range — are expected to bring dry, dangerous fire conditions starting at higher elevations, said David King, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The service is issuing a red flag warning for those areas, with wind gusts expected to reach up to 70 miles per hour at about 1,000 feet of elevation.

By Sunday night the red flag warning will spread throughout the Bay Area, with wind gusts in about 40 to 45 miles per hour. Strong wind and dry conditions will slowly subside throughout Monday and into Tuesday, according to forecasts.

King suggested people prepare by locking down or storing any outside furniture and make sure they have sufficient batteries in case of an outage.

“If there is a fire start, these are conditions where it could spread really fast. Have a go-bag ready, have a plan,” he said. “If you don’t have one, now is the time to make it.”

On Friday, PG&E warned that they will likely institute the largest public safety power shutoff of the year throughout Northern California ahead of the strong winds, cutting power to some 466,000 customers. That includes 39,401 customers in Alameda County, 20,148 customers in Contra Costa County, 4,458 customers in San Mateo County and 4,770 customers in Santa Clara County.

“We’re seeing four extremes in the weather for this potential PSPS event: extremely high winds, extremely low humidity, extreme dry fuels due to the hottest average temperatures over the last six months according to records that go back 126 years, and extreme drought across the territory given lack of rainfall,” Scott Strenfel, head of PG&E’s meteorology and fire science, said in a statement.

Those warnings, and notices from PG&E to expect power shut-offs beginning tomorrow and lasting until Tuesday, were driving some customers to stock up in parts of the East Bay.

“We’ve had customers coming in to ask for things like generators, and we’ve definitely had a lot of battery sales,” said Ellie Poling, a store cashier at Lafayette Ace Hardware. “We’re a pretty small store so it’s been hard to keep things on the shelf, even in general with COVID.”

Dylan Bliss, a clerk at Orinda Hardware, echoed there was an uptick in generator sales on Saturday morning.

“My friends who live around here are pretty nervous,” Bliss said of the area’s reaction to the latest potential for wildfire.

In Berkeley, where about 1,500 customers are expected to be affected by the shutoffs for the first time, the city said in a news release it is conducting additional fire and police patrols in the hills. It has also moved more vehicles and portable speakers to fire stations in case of an evacuation.

“Hills residents should consider pre-emptively evacuating to the homes of friends, family, or to hotels until dangerous weather subsides,” the city said in its news release.

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