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Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Heat Brings Outages and Emptied Offices


Warm inland temperatures triggered a moderate statewide power emergency Monday, snarling schedules at some schools and county offices after Southern California Edison cut power to them to keep up with demand elsewhere.

The California Independent System Operator, a nonprofit agency that is the state's electricity supply watchdog, declared a statewide Stage 2 emergency after power reserves fell below 5%. In such an emergency, utilities are asked to interrupt power to customers that have agreed to such interruptions in advance, in exchange for lower rates.

In Santa Ana, power was cut at the county treasurer-tax collector and assessor's offices. Treasurer John M.W. Moorlach said frustrated callers phoned in with questions, only to be told that the computers were down. Moorlach said he finally sent affected staff members home.

All told, 1,500 Edison customers were faced with enduring the heat without air conditioning, or paying as much as $10,000 an hour in penalties. Southern California Edison ordered one Santa Clarita Valley high school to let out early or be forced to pay thousands of dollars in higher power rates. A bell rang at the school at noon Monday, alerting William S. Hart school district officials that it was time to turn off the power. The district's discount rate plan with Edison calls for the officials to cut power usage when state reserves are low.

Supt. Robert Lee chose to pay the higher rate, or fines if necessary.

"We want to do what we can to keep the students in school as long as it's possible," Lee said. "We want to do what's right where it concerns the state's [power] resources, but only when we can."

Cities that were more than 15 miles from the ocean have been smothered in heat the past few days, while coastal cities were socked in by cool fog and haze.

"Mother Nature has been at war with herself," said Bill Hoffer, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "The marine layer by the beach has kept things cool there. A high-pressure area has been dominating inland areas and keeping things hot. It's cooling off a bit because that marine layer has been moving a little further inland."

In Orange County, residents experienced sharp variations in temperatures--from the mid-60s along the coast to the lower 80s inland. The county's inland areas, including Santa Ana, were affected by the same high-pressure ridge warming much of the West Coast.

But along the coastal areas, a Catalina eddy--described as a huge counterclockwise circulation of air hovering from Baja to Point Conception--pushed in low clouds and fog, which kept temperatures low.

Times staff writers David Reyes and David Haldane contributed to this report.


-- (, May 23, 2000

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