Sonoma County heat records fall as Santa Rosa hits 111 degrees, red flag warning issued
The hottest day of a punishing statewide heatwave toppled records in Sonoma County and across California on Sunday, with peak temperatures as high as 114 degrees reported in several local cities, forcing residents to either shelter inside or seek some outdoor refuge even as historic wildfires continued to fill the skies with smoke.
At the Sonoma County Airport just north of Santa Rosa, the official reading hit 111 degrees, the hottest there since record keeping began in the 1990s. An unofficial temperature reading in east Santa Rosa showed a peak of 114 by 4 p.m Sunday.
In Sonoma, the mercury topped out at 116, also an unofficial high-mark as the National Weather Service doesn’t maintain historic records beyond Santa Rosa.
Healdsburg and Windsor hit 114, Geyserville and Cloverdale both reported 113, and Rohnert Park hit 112.
In downtown Santa Rosa, where the record books cover about a century, there was no official reading available Sunday, for the second straight day.
Though National Weather Service meteorologist Duane Dykema was frustrated by that data gap, he said it wouldn’t be close in Sunday’s searing heat: “I can say with a great deal of confidence that Santa Rosa broke a record today.”
The previous record at the airport was 110 degrees, set Sept. 2, 2017, about a month before the city’s catastrophic firestorm.
Sunday’s scorching temperatures hit amid a three-week run of lighting-sparked wildfires, pervasive smoky conditions across the state and new blazes, including an inferno in the drought-parched Sierra National Forest east of Fresno that forced the nighttime rescue by helicopter of more than 200 people stranded at popular reservoir.
Throughout the day, local residents were put on alert by authorities of increasing fire risk and the possibility of rolling blackouts to stabilize the state’s strained power grid. No blackouts were needed, the grid’s operator announced about 9 p.m.
But before 3 p.m., as temperatures continued to climb into the triple digits, the National Weather Service upgraded its fire weather notice to a red flag warning. The warning, from late Monday to early Wednesday, covers much of Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Lake and Mendocino counties, as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains and East Bay hills. Dry winds of 10-25 mph are expected out of the northeast, with gusts of up to 35 mph, topping out at 50 mph in the highest elevations.
Planned shutoffs to curb wildfire risk were set to impact as many as 103,000 customers in parts of 17 counties, including Sonoma County from the upper Mark West Springs area south in the Mayacamas Mountains to about Oakmont on the eastern outskirts of Santa Rosa.
The red flag conditions are set to be most severe in the North Bay mountains, the weather service said, including east of Rohnert Park atop Sonoma Mountain, in the Mayacamas Mountains above Alexander Valley and in much of the northwestern portion of the Sonoma County, including the Walbridge fire zone.
Existing fires degraded air quality over much of the region on Sunday, though winds drove smoke from the Creek fire in eastern Fresno County and the August Complex in the Mendocino National Forest mostly to the north, said Roger Gass, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Monterey.
“In general we’re starting to see a reduction in air quality,” Gass said at mid-day. “With ongoing fires from across the state, there is a possibility for conditions to worsen.”
As the mercury soared to 114 in Healdsburg, residents and tourists alike huddled in shady patches along downtown sidewalks and in the Healdsburg Plaza.
Children made earnest efforts to savor their ice cream cones before the heat had them running onto the pavement.
Santino Valverde, who turns 7 on Monday, and was celebrating in town with his family, said they planned to get seconds.
“Apparently we’re going to have more ice cream after this,” his mother Ana Valverde said with a smile.The Cloverdale family laughed.
Shortly after 2 p.m., Brett Burton called it a day after eight hours working on the roof of his Calistoga Road home in Santa Rosa. Burton, who works in construction, started putting new asphalt shingles on the home last month, just as another heat wave preceded the historic lightning storms that sparked wildfires across the state.
His work started at 6 a.m. Sunday, when it was just below 70 degrees and “near perfect weather.” By 9 a.m. it was sweltering and several hours later it was unbearable.