California Christmas Eve Blackout Ends as Winds Give Way to Rain

After cutting power to more than 26,000 homes and businesses during a Christmas Eve wind storm, Southern California utilities started restoring service Thursday afternoon as the gusts gave way to the region’s first rain this month.

It marked a welcome change in a region that has battled drought and fires for much of the year, and where one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks has cast a pall over the Christmas holiday.

The blackout, intended to prevent live power lines from sparking fires in the high winds, affected far fewer people than feared. Utilities in advance of the storm had warned they might need to shut off electricity to more than 200,000 homes and businesses, or about 600,000 people, considering the size of the average household.

With gusts above 60 miles (96 kilometers) per hour, the Santa Ana winds fanned one new fire overnight, a blaze in northern San Diego County that quickly grew to 3,000 acres and forced some residents to evacuate. But the winds faded after daybreak, and by afternoon, light rain showers drifted across the region.

By mid-afternoon, only 3,000 customer accounts of Edison International’s Southern California utility remained without power, down from a peak of 19,902. Sempra Energy’s utility serving San Diego County had 346 homes and businesses without electricity, after cutting power to 6,797 earlier in the day.

California utilities have increasingly resorted to switching off power lines in advance of high winds rather than risk live wires falling into dry brush and sparking fires. And while December is typically one of California’s wettest months, a La Nina in the Pacific Ocean has shifted weather patterns, starving Los Angeles of rain through the fall and keeping fire danger high. All of California is abnormally dry, and drought covers more than 95% of it, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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