110 degrees in September? Northern California faces smoke and record heat

Record-breaking heat combined with smoke from numerous wildfires burning across the region will make the air dangerous to breathe and push California’s electrical grid to its limits Friday and Saturday.

Temperatures will climb to 109 degrees in Sacramento on Friday and could reach 110 on Saturday, which would break an all-time record in Sacramento for September.

It’s going to be even hotter at the northern tip of the Sacramento Valley, where temperatures could potentially spike to 115 degrees on Saturday in the Redding area.

“It is hot, and it is historically hot,” said Bill Rasch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

The heatwave is going to put substantial strain on California’s electrical grid.

As Californians’ air conditioners work harder to keep homes and businesses cool, Friday may break the record set in July 2006 for power demand, said Steven Greenlee, a spokesman for the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s grid.

In the hopes of avoiding rolling blackouts, the state has called a Flex Alert on Friday that urges Californians not to run major appliances between the hours of 1 p.m. and 10 p.m. when the demand is highest.

Greenlee said the hope is rolling blackouts won’t be necessary. Pressure on the grid is expected to ease through the weekend when demand is typically lower.

But there’s one significant wild card.

“A wildfire is major concern,” Greenlee said.

If a fire knocks out transmission towers, it could cause a disruption in the grid, Greenlee said.

Several large fires are burning in the foothills and mountains on both sides of the Sacramento Valley. Major wildfires also are burning farther north along the Oregon border and in Oregon.

The same high pressure system that’s making temperatures so hot is going to fill the valley with a layer of smoke from the fires. Some smoke was already rolling into Sacramento on Thursday.

Smoke forecast for Northern California 

The smoky conditions, combined with dangerous ozone levels from the heatwave, will make air quality especially dangerous for the elderly, asthmatics and people with weakened immune systems in the Sacramento Valley. They’re urged to stay inside through at least Friday and Saturday.

“There may be some improvement next week when the high pressure starts to weaken when the winds pick up again, but that’s a ways out,” said Jason Branz, an air pollution specialist with the California Air Resources Board.

The smoke and heat were making things miserable Thursday in the Redding area, where a large fire had erupted overnight west of the city in Trinity County and was sending smoke into the valley below.

The prospect of potentially 115-degree “nuclear summer” temperatures and thick smoke had Redding area resident Susanne Baremore glad she’s leaving town for the long weekend.

“Oh my gosh,” she said, “it is horrible.”

In Sacramento, it will start to cool slightly on Sunday with a high temperature near 105. Temperatures on Labor Day are expected to peak at around 100 degrees. The 100-degree high temperatures are expected stick around through at least Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow