Subscribe to The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date on the most essential Texas news.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Friday afternoon for all counties in Texas as a massive winter storm threatens to wreak havoc on the state’s power grid, power lines and highways.
“Texas must heed the guidance of its local leaders and be alert to changing weather conditions in its area,” Abbott said in a press release.
The state’s power grid could see unprecedented winter electricity demand from Texans trying to keep warm this weekend. That means the capacity of the Texas electrical grid, most of which is managed by the Texas Electrical Reliability Council, will be tested. It is not clear if this will result in continuous blackouts in Texas, or “rolling outages” as ERCOT calls system power outages.
“We have maybe seven days of very serious stress here,” said Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston.
Abbott’s order comes as the National Weather Service issued winter storm watches or warnings for most of the state. The freezing weather is expected to last through the weekend and into Monday night. The Dallas-Fort Worth and central Texas areas could see light ice and snow accumulations of 3 to 6 inches, according to a warning.
Some areas have already experienced power outages or icy roads. In Fort Worth, more than 130 vehicles were involved in a fatal highway collision Thursday.
The North Texas advisory said wind chill is expected to drop to minus 15 degrees. The service also predicts record single-digit temperatures across much of Texas over the next several days. The forecast of 6 degrees Tuesday in Austin would be the coldest low since December 1989, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
“Traveling will be dangerous,” said the alert from the National Weather Service. “The dangerous conditions will persist for several days given the long expected duration of extremely cold temperatures. The cold wind of up to minus 15 degrees could cause hypothermia if precautions are not taken. “
In the statement, Abbott wrote that the weather would pose an “imminent threat” of property damage, injury and loss of life due to freezing temperatures, snow and rain.
Abbott directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to deploy a variety of state resources, including through the Texas Department of Transportation to prepare roads, the Texas Highway Patrol to assist stranded drivers, and the Public Utilities Commission. to monitor and report power outages.
Grid regulators expect electricity demand in the coming days to remain just below the record demand typically seen in the summer, when Texans turn on the air conditioning to cool off. But the Texas electricity market is primed for the demand for summer electricity. It’s not set for winter, experts say.
Additional generators, such as natural gas plants, are in operation to support the increased demand for power during the Texas heat.
Some of those energy sources are turned off during the winter, when demand for electricity typically doesn’t rival that of the summer months, according to Hirs, the energy economist. And freezing temperatures have left many wind turbine farms idle while operators grapple with idle icy blades.
ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko urged Texans to follow the agency’s Twitter page and website for updates on the condition of the network.
Businesses that supply wholesale power to homes and businesses are preparing for emergencies. They keep crews stationed throughout the state on the weekend, when crews normally return home.
American Electric Power’s Texas branch, called AEP Texas, provides power to more than 1 million Texas homes and businesses throughout South and West Texas. Larry Jones, a spokesman for the company in Austin, said that ongoing blackouts are an ERCOT-designated last resort.
“We would issue rotating outages in parts of our service territory,” Jones said Friday. “They can last between 45 minutes and an hour. You can rotate them in an effort to minimize the impact on customers. “
If an outage occurs, Jones said, AEP Texas typically tells customers to turn off major electronic devices in their home, such as washing machines and heating and ventilation units.
“This will show people the difference between a cold snap and a cold snap,” said Andrew Barlow, director of external affairs for the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, an agency that oversees ERCOT, of the coming weather. . “Texans are used to having our normal mild winter weather: a day below zero, maybe a layer of snow, some ice. But weather models show that this could last two or three days. That takes you from a snap to a spell. “
Correction, Feb 12, 2021: Due to an error from Reuters, an earlier caption for the image in this story incorrectly indicated where the photo was taken. It represents Corpus Christi, not Robstown.