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First flex alert of the year issued as heat wave sears California

Despite assurances that the power grid remains stable, California’s energy operator has issued a statewide Flex Alert for electricity conservation beginning Thursday evening as temperatures around the region continue to break records.

The mercury is soaring in the Southland, with some areas expected to see triple-digit highs for the fourth day in a row. Death Valley on Wednesday hit 125 degrees, surpassing the previous June 16 record of 123 degrees set in 1917, according to meteorologist Barry Pierce of the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

The weather service has issued excessive heat warnings and advisories across much of Southern California through 9 p.m.

In response, the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the electrical grid for most of the state, is asking residents to voluntarily conserve energy in hopes of reducing strain on the system.

The flex alert — a first in 2021 — will be in effect from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, during which time residents are asked to cut back on their energy use. According to Cal ISO, evening is the most difficult time of day for grid operations because demand for electricity remains high while solar energy generation diminishes.

The statewide call is critical because “when temperatures hit triple digits across a wide geographic area, no state has enough energy available to meet all the heightened demand,” the agency said in a statement, “primarily due to air-conditioning use.”

The alert was issued hours after Cal ISO said that the power grid is stable and that there is no anticipation of imposing rotating power outages.

“We project enough reserves to cover demand for tomorrow evening,” the agency said Wednesday, “but ask Californians to remain vigilant.”

As the heat sizzles, residents are also advised to stay inside, drink water and limit outdoor activities as much as possible.

The National Weather Service said Death Valley could reach 123 degrees Thursday, another potential record. Last August, the area hit 130 degrees, believed to be one the highest mercury readings on Earth in almost 90 years.

The Antelope Valley could hit 113 degrees Thursday, while parts of San Luis Obispo County and the Santa Clarita Valley could reach 108, forecasters said. Ventura County is expected to hit 103 degrees and Santa Ynez 101.

In Los Angeles County, temperatures in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys could climb as high as 102, said Rich Thompson, a weather service meteorologist in Oxnard. Downtown will near 90 degrees, while the coast will hit the mid-80s.

The temperatures are “very much above normal,” Thompson said.

In addition to the record in Death Valley, Thompson said records for the date were set Wednesday when the temperature reached 113 in Lancaste, 112 in Palmdale and 101 in Sandberg. Previous records for that day for all three were set in 1961.

There is some relief on the horizon, he said. The heat will start slowly dissipating Friday, and a cooling trend is expected over the weekend.

“In terms of the worst of the heat, probably today and tomorrow will be the last of it,” Thompson said.

Some areas on Thursday even experienced a welcomed bit of moisture as a brief and isolated rain shower popped up near the San Gabriel Valley around 9 a.m., meteorologist Mike Wofford said.

“It’s nothing organized or widespread,” he noted. “It’s kind of a rogue shower. … It’s not indicative of any major change in the pattern or anything that will be ending the drought.”

Ahead of Thursday’s flex alert, Cal ISO recommended that residents charge their electronic devices and pre-cool their homes. Once the flex alert begins, residents are asked to avoid using major appliances and unnecessary lights and set thermostats at 78 degrees or higher if health permits.

During similar heat waves in August and September, energy conservation likely prevented severe rotating outages, the agency said Thursday. But if demand still outpaces supply after flex alerts and other measures are taken, the ISO could again “order utilities to begin rotating power outages” in an effort to extend available supplies and prevent longer and more extensive disruptions.

“The public’s help is essential when extreme weather or other factors beyond our control put undue stress on the electric grid,” Cal ISO President and Chief Executive Elliot Mainzer said in a statement, adding that “their cooperation can really make a difference.”

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