Feb 2, 2022 - News

Texas prepares for winter test of electric grid

A twitter screenshot of a weather report.
Screenshot: @NWSSanAntonio/Twitter

It's about to get very cold — though hopefully not losing-power-for-days-on-end cold.

Driving the news: An arctic cold front is bearing down on Central Texas starting Wednesday evening, bringing the chilliest temperatures we have seen so far this winter.

  • Expect a mix of freezing rain and sleet by Thursday morning and dangerous driving conditions — with as much as a quarter-inch of ice on the roads.

What they're saying: "We can see the storm clouds on the horizon, and we need everyone to ensure they are prepared," said Juan Ortiz, director of the Austin's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Between the lines: This storm is shaping up to be a political event as much as a climatic one.

  • "No one can guarantee there won't be [power outages]," Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday, about two months after he pledged that lights would stay on this winter.
  • Abbott says the state grid operator is "well-prepared" for the cold snap.
  • Likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O'Rourke has been trying to attach Abbott's re-election prospects to the reliability of your electricity and heat in time of crisis.
  • Top of everyone's mind: The abysmal performance of the electric grid a year ago, as Winter Storm Uri left millions of households and businesses without electricity and killed 246 people.

Yes, but: "This will not be a repeat in severity and impacts of the Feb 2021 winter storm," reads a dispatch from the National Weather Service.

Flashback: Little has been done to address one of the underlying causes of the blackouts — namely, preparing gas facilities for ice-cold conditions.

  • And Bloomberg reported that natural gas output in Texas slipped by as much as 7% during a cold spell at the beginning of January.

Details: Approximately 4,000 Texas Transportation Department employees started treating roads Sunday to prepare for the icy conditions.

  • "The roadways could become very treacherous," Abbott said during a news conference yesterday.

How to prepare: Charge that cellphone and dress in layers.

  • Turn off outside faucets and wrap them with towels or a Styrofoam insulator.
  • Protect indoor faucets. Open cabinets beneath kitchen and bathroom sinks to allow warmer air to circulate around pipes. Turn a cold-water tap to a drip.
  • Cover any outdoor plants that can't be moved indoors.

The bottom line: Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.

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