SDG&E and emergency services warn: Prepare for power outages as storm approaches

Chris Heiser, executive director of the City of San Diego's Office of Emergency Services
Chris Heiser, executive director of the City of San Diego’s Office of Emergency Services, speaks Friday at a news conference with Mayor Todd Gloria as a powerful storm barrels toward San Diego.
(Rob Nikolewski/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Residents urged to charge cell phones, secure items like patio furniture and trash cans


Officials with emergency services and San Diego Gas & Electric warn that power outages should be expected as the San Diego area braces for high winds and heavy rain from a fast-approaching tropical storm.

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9:15 a.m. Aug. 20, 2023This story has been updated, giving more details about the approaching tropical storm and quotes from Caroline Winn of SDG&E and Chris Heiser of the City of San Diego’s Office of Emergency Services.

“Heavy rainfall, flash flooding and high winds have the potential to cause a significant number of unplanned and prolonged power outages to our grid,” SDG&E chief executive officer Caroline Winn said during a news conference Friday at the San Diego City Hall.

Winn said it helps that more than 60 percent of SDG&E’s circuits are underground but the overhead power lines can be vulnerable when wind speeds are excessive.

The storm is predicted to generate from 2 inches of rain at the coast to 5 to 10 inches in the mountains and deserts, and winds gusting to 80 mph

Aug. 18, 2023

“If you see downed power lines, you need to ensure that you’re not touching it,” she said. “Always assume that there’s electricity flowing through those (lines). Call 911 if you see downed power lines.”

Chris Heiser, executive director of the City of San Diego’s Office of Emergency Services, said residents should anticipate that power outages will come this weekend.

“This is not like the other storms we’ve experienced,” Heiser said. “It’s a huge footprint. It goes all the way from the desert out into the ocean.”

Heiser’s office monitored a briefing at 2:30 p.m. Friday from the National Weather Service that predicted winds this weekend reaching 50 mph along the coast and in downtown San Diego, kicking up to the 70 mph range in the mountains.

“Be prepared,” Heiser said. “We’re telling you, this isn’t an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when’ — and the when is this weekend.”

SDG&E officials urge residents to secure all loose items around their homes. That includes items such as trash cans, patio furniture, umbrellas and flotation devices in pools.

“Anything that can be picked up by the wind and flown into a power line,” utility spokesman Alex Welling said, could cause a power outage.

With Hurricane Hilary headed toward San Diego County -- and expected to turn into a tropical storm, here’s what to know about local cancellations and closures.

Aug. 20, 2023

Welling said SDG&E’s team of meteorologists is working together with the weather service to track the effects of Hilary, a Category 4 hurricane churning south of the Baja California peninsula.

“They’re providing the situational awareness to our different operational districts throughout the service territory to make sure that we’re not only staffed up, but that our teams have the equipment and resources that they need to respond to any potential outages as quickly and safely as possible,” Welling said.

For now, SDG&E has no plans to issue a Public Safety Power Shutoff — in which utilities turn off the electricity in strategic areas when weather conditions are dry and extremely windy to avoid the chance of downed power lines igniting a wildfire.

“If we weren’t expecting rain, that would be a different story,” Welling said. “But fortunately it looks like the rain’s going to come first and then the wind’s going to come after that. At this point, we do not anticipate any proactive Public Safety Power Shutoffs.”

The utility and emergency responders advise residents to make plans in case of emergency.

This includes fully charging your cell phones before the storm hits.

“Make sure that you have battery-operated radio, so if the power does go out and you don’t have cell service or your cell phone battery dies, you’re still able to receive emergency alerts,” Welling said.

Customers can also go to to get updates if they do experience any unplanned outages.