Amid power grid concerns and record-smashing temperatures, San Franciscans have had a tough time finding ways to cool off.
Fans and air conditioning units have sold out at multiple electronics stores across the city.
Jovanny Caamal visited Best Buy SoMa on Tuesday morning in search of an affordable fan to cool down his home. Instead, he found empty shelves, a $500 luxury fan left on sale, an understaffed store, and a row of not-for-sale display models.
“I was coming in to buy a fan—at least a regular one—but there’s none,” Caamal said. “I just needed something temporary because it’s really hot out there right now. [The fans are] not here, so I’ll have to look for another one somewhere else.”
Camaal said he would look to Target next, but might run into the same issues: None of the San Francisco-based Target stores show fans in stock on their website, and the SoMa OfficeMax told The Standard they had already run out of fans too.
Vincent Myers, another San Franciscan on the hunt for a personal fan, said that he had tried to check the stock at multiple big-name stores over the weekend. Finding nothing, Myers sought other ways to cool down, with little success.
“There’s not many pools or anything that are outdoors and open that I know of,” Myers said. “I went and sat at the park because I was like, if it’s going to be hot and sunny, I guess I’d try to enjoy it.”
Locals might have more luck finding cooling equipment at smaller businesses. Staff at Duke’s hardware store say that they still have some fans on their shelves as of Tuesday afternoon, though they normally do not stock a large inventory.
“We’re not out of stock, but [fans] are moving a lot faster than usual, especially today,” said Duke’s sales associate Dylan Salgado. “A lot of people are actually getting screens made because they realize they can’t keep their windows open without a screen.”
Health experts and emergency services warn that excessive exposure to heat can cause illnesses as serious as strokes, exhaustion and cramps—all issues exacerbated by a lack of access to fans, air conditioning or adequate cooling areas.
San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) partnered with the city’s Department of Emergency Management to designate certain library branches and spaces as cooling centers during extreme heat events, such as this past weekend.
The result? More than 50 people came by to get a respite from the Labor Day heat—the busiest day ever for the cooling center, which has offered this service in the past during other extreme weather events.
And even though all of SFPL’s 28 branches were supposed to be shut down for the Labor Day holiday, they decided to open up the first floor of the main branch to serve as a special emergency cooling center on Monday.
“People were coming in all throughout the day, 11 to 4. It was 50 people, which is considerably more than we’ve had in the past,” said Casey Crumpacker, branch manager at SFPL. Staff members opened up the Latino/Hispanic room on the lower level, as the rest of regular library services remained closed during the holiday.
“People were really happy to be here. You know, it was an obvious relief for people, to come in and get cold water, sit down and stay for as long as a few hours to really cool off,” said Crumpacker.
Library personnel provided water and other basic necessities to patrons, but also offered some puzzles, games and power outlets.
An SFPL spokesperson said that the library’s collaboration with the Department of Emergency Management helped spread the word about SFPL’s cooling centers to the city’s residents, especially during the holiday weekend.
All SFPL branches are open today, though staff note that not all branches will have designated cooling centers. However, many of the city’s libraries are air conditioned and open to the public, and operate like cooling centers already.
Meanwhile, a Flex Alert remains in place as power outages plague the Bay Area. More than 20,000 Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) customers experienced heat-related outages on Monday, and the state’s power grid operator extended an Energy Emergency Alert through Tuesday night in anticipation of an energy deficiency. Officials ask that Californians continue to curtail energy use during peak-use hours in the afternoon and evening time.
Check out the table below to see where you can find a cooling center near you:
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the main branch of SFPL was the only location that had an emergency cooling center open on Labor Day.
Liz Lindqwister can be reached at [email protected]