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Environment & Nature

As Texas prepares for an arctic cold front, the power grid is expected to weather the winter storm

Power lines near Houston on Feb. 16, 2021.
David J. Philip
/
Associated Press
The impending cold temperatures have prompted concerns about the reliability of the Texas electric grid, nearly one year after Winter Storm Uri.

An arctic cold front will be moving through Texas on Wednesday bringing freezing temperatures to Central, West, and North Texas. But, the winter weather will not be nearly as severe as last February’s deadly storm.

The National Weather Service forecast a massive winter storm will spread across much of Texas, bringing with it the state’s coldest weather conditions of the season this week. The NWS has issued winter storm watches for most of West Texas, the Panhandle, the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin areas.

“We have a very substantial winter storm coming into Texas that will be in the state of Texas for the remainder of the week,” said Gov. Greg Abbott during a news conference Tuesday on the state’s preparations for a winter storm system that is forecast to sweep across the Rockies and Texas.

Christopher Daniel, a meteorologist with the NWS office in San Angelo, says the Big Country and Concho Valley could see sleet, freezing rain, and some snow on Wednesday and Thursday. He added winter storms in December, January, and February are typical in the region.

“But, in terms of the temperatures, it does look to be well below normal for this time of the year,” Daniels said. Low temperatures in San Angelo are forecast to drop into the low teens on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

North Texas is also in the path of freezing precipitation on Wednesday with snow accumulations up to three inches possible by Thursday.

Below freezing temperatures are expected to reach as far south as the Texas Hill Country and parts of the Austin and San Antonio areas where a winter storm watch takes effect early Thursday.

"We are not expecting anything nearly as severe as what we had last February, however, it will be quite cold for several days,” said Mack Morris, a meteorologist for the regional NWS office in New Braunfels.

The impending cold temperatures have prompted concerns about the reliability of the Texas electric grid, nearly a year after Winter Storm Uri. However, Doug Lewin, who is president of the consultant group Stoic Energy, said this week’s winter storm does not compare to the extreme winter weather conditions in February 2021 that knocked out the state’s electric grid leaving millions of residents without power for days. Hundreds of Texans also died from hypothermia and other causes related to the disaster.

“The storm last year was statewide, where we were under freezing [temperatures] in every corner of the state. That is not the case this time,” he said, explaining South Texas and the Houston area are not expected to sustain below-freezing temperatures this week.

Lewin added state utility regulators have implemented new requirements for power generators in response to last year’s widespread blackouts, including new weatherization standards and mandatory inspections.

“If nothing else goes out, if nothing breaks, then they’re right at the level they expected and that would be great,” he said. “But if the freeze comes and power plants start dropping offline, then that’s a sign that the inspections are not working.”

Gov. Abbott responded to concerns about the reliability of the state’s power grid amid the winter weather on Tuesday. He assured the public that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the state’s electric grid operator, anticipates having an excess power capacity of 15,000 megawatts available at the peak of the state’s energy demand this week, which is expected Friday morning.