28,000 PG&E customers in Oakland lost power due to heavy winds beginning on Jan. 22, 2022. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Much of Northern California has been under a red flag warning since Sunday due to dry winds scouring the region. The climate is ripe for wildfires, and PG&E has already cut off power to more than 11,000 customers in the Oakland hills to avoid the possibility its equipment could emit sparks if damaged by the wind.

“The combination of gusty, offshore winds and hot, dry humidity creates conditions where any fires that develop can spread rapidly,” said meteorologist Anna Schneider, who works for the National Weather Service Bay Area.

Last night, humidity levels plummeted in Oakland, dropping from 70 percent to 14 percent in just two hours. “Anything really below 15 percent is just critically dry,” said Schneider.

Wind gusts at the Oakland Airport reached 58 miles per hour overnight, and some media outlets are calling last night’s weather a “20-year wind event,” but meteorologists say the Bay Area saw similar gusts during the Wine Country fires a few years ago.

The difference this time, said NWS Bay Area Meteorologist Brayden Murdock, is that the wind is “even more widespread than the conditions caused by the Wine Country fires in 2018 and Kincade Fire in 2019. This is a similar event to the Oakland Hills Firestorm [of 1991] due to a very strong pressure gradient causing dry, offshore winds.”

On Twitter, resident Christy Hanosh shared her experience flying into the Oakland International Airport on Sunday evening at 11:55 p.m. “The wind was crazy,” she tweeted, but people cheered after the plane landed safely.

While the wind advisory ended this morning at 10 a.m., the red flag warning has been extended until Tuesday, October 27 at 5 p.m.

As of this afternoon, power hasn’t been restored to customers who’ve lost it in Alameda County. According to PG&E, workers will first patrol power lines looking for damage before turning the power back on. The Oakland Fire Department tweeted today that power restoration is slated for tomorrow beginning at noon.

“PG&E’s overall goal is to restore power to most customers within 12 daylight hours after severe weather has passed,” said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian in an email.

A PG&E press release stated that a majority of customers will have power restored by late Tuesday evening. A total of 91,437 Bay Area customers were impacted by this public safety power shutoff (PSPS) event. There are four Community Resource Centers in Alameda County for people affected by power shutoffs. All centers are currently open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The centers provide ADA-accessible restrooms, handwashing stations, medical equipment charging, WiFi, bottled water, grab-and-go bags, and non-perishable snacks.

Where to get updates on power outages and fire weather

  • PG&E Power Outage Map: Information about current and planned power outages, including PSPS, and a list of community resource centers. Plug in your address to see if you’ll be affected.
  • PG&E PSPS updates: Stay updated on shutoffs using PG&E’s website. 
  • National Weather Service Bay Area: The official Twitter account for the federal agency that tracks weather and issues advisories, including red flag and high wind events.
  • NOAA Fire Weather Snooper tool: Used by the National Weather Service, the tool relays real-time information from 92 weather stations in California. A tip for Oaklanders: “North Oakland” (Oakland Museum of California) and “South Oakland” (Oakland International Airport) are our city’s stations.

Sarah Belle Lin is an independent journalist and photographer based in the East Bay.