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850,000 Californians could lose power ahead of potential "absolute mess" weekend

High wind warning issued in California
High wind warning issued in California 00:25

California's largest utility announced Friday that 850,000 customers could lose power this weekend as a preventative response to hot, dry, windy conditions that the utility fears could spark additional fires. The announcement came after California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Sonoma and Los Angeles Counties in response to fires that are already wreaking havoc in the region. 

"PG&E will need to turn off power for safety several hours before the potentially damaging winds arrive," the company said in a statement. PG&E said the "potential Public Safety Power Shutoff" will affect approximately 850,000 people in 36 counties. PG&E representatives said Friday night that they will make a final determination about shutting off power at 8 a.m. local time on Saturday. If implemented, the shutoff is expected to begin between 6 and 10 p.m. that evening. 

"Customers should prepare for a shutoff lasting 48 hours or longer, given the long duration of the wind event," PG&E said. "Power cannot be restored until the dangerous weather has passed, safety inspections of de-energized lines are complete, and damage to the system has been repaired." 

"These places we all love have effectively become tinderboxes," PG&E Utility CEO Andy Vesey said Friday night at a press conference. "Any spark, from any source, can lead to catastrophic results. We do not want to become one of those sources." 

CBS News weather producer David Parkinson said an offshore wind event could spell trouble for northern California starting late Saturday night and all day Sunday. The situation there, he said, could be "an absolute mess. … We're talking possible 80 or 90 mph gusts, which is why it is absolutely imperative that crews in Sonoma County get a handle on things on Friday."

"This has the potential for record strength," he added. "We're more than four standard deviations above a normal wind event, which is well above record territory."

"We do think that it will be the strongest offshore wind event of the season by a large margin, and if models are correct, possibly the strongest offshore winds we've seen in years," said Pacific Gas & Electric chief meteorologist Scott Strenfel.

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