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Severe Drought Conditions Grip Northern California; Red Flag Fire Warning, Power Outages Set To Begin

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- With a new round of Red Flag Warnings and power outages less than 24 hours away, San Francisco Bay Area residents were once again wrestling with the impact of months without a measurable rainfall that have transformed green hillsides into tinder-dry fuels for fire.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the vast majority of Bay Area communities were in an area of severe or extreme drought conditions as of Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service said San Francisco has received just 0.06 of rain since May 18th. The 155-day span is the 27th longest span without rain on record. The longest stretch was 213 days in 1987.

And conditions are predicted to actually worsen this winter as a La Nina weather pattern settles over Northern California.

NOAA issues its winter climate outlook for 2020-21 by NOAAClimate on YouTube

The weather service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the North Bay hills beginning at 10 p.m. Wednesday to 8 a.m. Friday morning.

"The overarching weather pattern prevails around the Bay Area, providing a continued risk of new wildfire starts and rapid wildfire spread this evening and through the end of the week," the weather service said in its forecast. "Gusty northerly winds and dry conditions provide the threat of new wildfire starts through Friday morning. After a brief lull, wind gusts will strengthen on Wednesday evening affecting the North Bay Mountains, East Bay Hills and Valleys."

Winds were forecast to be northeast 15 to 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. Daytime humidity in the 12-20 percent range.

In response to the Red Flag conditions, PG&E has announced it expects to shut off power to 19 counties in Northern California including six in the Bay Area. About 50,000 customers could be affected.

In the Bay Area, the utility said as of Tuesday afternoon the outages could impact 494 customers in Alameda County, 608 in Contra Costa, 4,491 in Napa, 245 in Santa Clara, 53 in Solano and 995 customers.

Livermore's Mayor John Marchand says the city has been preparing for such emergencies for years.

"We were severely impacted during the power failures, during the lightning storms, the high heat, the lightning storms. So we're learning to be more resilient, we're using a lot of solar, we've got emergency generators in place," said Marchand.

He says the city has been able to maintain services without interruption through past shutoffs.

"I have a motor home, fire that up if I have to. It's got a generator, so I'm okay, you know watch out for my neighbors," said Livermore resident Glenn Melanson.

A seven-day PSPS forecast indicates potential outages beginning on Wednesday in counties close to the Oregon border, extending to North Bay and East Bay counties Thursday and Friday with highest probability in the North Bay mountains and near Mt. Diablo. Other regions under the PSPS Watch included the Northern Sacramento Valley and adjacent elevated terrain, and the Northern Sierra Nevada generally north of I-80, PG&E said.

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