California roasts in record high temperatures as heat wave drags on

OAKLAND, Calif. — High temperature records continued to fall across California on Tuesday, as the most brutal heat wave of 2022 reached its peak, offering a grim preview of what climate change has in store for the American West.

After hitting a September record of 114°F on Monday, Sacramento, California's capital, was expected to reach 115°F on Tuesday, matching its all-time high. Fairfield, a town in the northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area, shattered its all-time high on Monday, hitting 117°F. San Jose, with a population of over 1 million, was forecast to reach 108°F on Tuesday.

"This will be the worst September heat wave on record for Northern California," University of California, Los Angeles, climate scientist Daniel Swain said in a press briefing on Twitter.

Computer models showed that even higher temperatures were possible in parts of Northern California as the heat wave that began over the weekend is expected to peak, and that dangerous heat would linger throughout the week.

"It may be above 110 degrees in parts of Northern California through Friday," Swain said.

With air conditioners cranked and residents seeking shelter from the heat indoors, California's power grid is struggling to meet the demand. The state's Independent System Operator, which runs the electricity grid, declared a Stage 2 emergency alert on Monday evening, but averted initiating rolling blackouts.

“We have now entered the most intense phase of this heat wave,” Elliot Mainzer, president and chief executive of the ISO, said Monday. “The potential for rotating outages has increased significantly.”

People gather under umbrellas on Santa Monica Beach.
People gather on Santa Monica Beach amid an intense heat wave in Southern California on Sept. 4. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Blackouts remain a possibility on Tuesday and a Flex Alert — a call for voluntary electricity conservation — would stay in effect from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., the Sacramento Bee reported. Residents have been asked to avoid using major appliances during that time, to keep thermostats set to 78°F or higher and to put off charging electric cars.

Many Republicans opposed to California's move to ban gasoline-powered cars by 2035 see the voluntary restrictions on charging electric vehicles as proving that such goals are unrealistic.

Yet climate scientists note that burning fossil fuel in cars, homes and power plants is what is causing the rise in the number of extreme heat waves around the world and has pushed average summer temperatures in California 3 degrees higher since the early 1970s. In order to keep temperatures from continuing their dramatic rise, a mountain of scientific research has concluded, mankind will need to quickly transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.

On Saturday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged the difficulty of keeping up with energy needs as the greenhouse effect continues to cause temperatures to rise, but took aim at states like Texas for sticking to policies that could make it worse.

"In the state of Texas, year to date, they have consumed some 22.9 million tons of coal, polluting the planet, making conditions worse, impacting climate, exacerbating the very conditions they're trying to mitigate in terms of their energy reliability versus California that has consumed just 18,000," Newsom said in a videotaped statement.

A burning house in the Fairview Fire.
A burning house as the Fairview Fire near Hemet, Calif., on Sept. 5. (Reuters/David Swanson)

Due to the scorching temperatures, the risks of wildfires has also dramatically risen. Two major fires in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border have so far killed two people, destroyed more than 100 homes, and forced thousands to evacuate.

Two people were also killed Monday in a Southern California blaze near the city of Hemet in Riverside County.

In the days leading up to many of the record-breaking temperatures, California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection urged residents to avoid starting fires that could quickly grow out of control, given the extreme heat and drought conditions that have plagued the state all summer.

The dangers from extreme heat are not limited to fire. The National Weather Service has repeatedly warned of the health risks due to dehydration.

“Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat-related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities,” the National Weather Service said in a bulletin. “[There is a] very high risk of heat stress or illness for the entire population."

It is not just California that is suffering from the latest heat dome to descend over the region. Roughly 52 million people across six states were under extreme heat warnings and advisories Tuesday.

"This is not just one section of California or even just California," Swain said. "Areas from British Columbia to Mexico have experienced all-time highs."

Research has shown that climate change has caused temperatures in heat waves to rise between 3°F to 5°F. "In many cases, that's the difference between record-breaking heat and non-record breaking heat," Swain said.