Axios Houston

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Happy Wednesday!

☀️ Today's weather: High of 67, low of 54.

🧊 Sounds like: "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice.

Today's newsletter is 942 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Houston readies for Arctic blast

ERCOT says it will have sufficient supply during next week's cold snap. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Houston is in for some bitter cold next week as a major Arctic outbreak strikes the majority of the country.

Driving the news: Temperatures are forecast to dip into the low 20s and teens at their coldest early next week, setting Houston up for its first hard freeze of the season, according to National Weather Service meteorologists.

  • The cold spell is forecast to last from Sunday night to Wednesday morning.
  • Monday morning will start off with lows in the upper 20s and mid-30s, with temperatures struggling to get out of the 30s all day. Tuesday will likely be the coldest of the bunch, with temperatures forecast to reach the teens.

Threat level: The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state's power grid operator, issued an operating condition notice Monday warning of potential emergency conditions during the cold snap.

  • "ERCOT is closely monitoring the weather conditions moving across Texas this and next week," the organization told Axios in a statement. "Grid conditions are expected to be normal, and ERCOT expects to have sufficient supply to meet demand."

The Houston Office of Emergency Management is also keeping an eye on the forecast and mulling whether to open warming centers for vulnerable people.

  • The office has specific criteria for opening the warming centers: temperatures at or below 25 degrees for two hours or a windchill at or below 13 degrees.
  • "We're ready," OEM spokesperson Brent Taylor tells Axios. "We're coordinating with all the departments involved — police, fire, public works, our external stakeholders."

With freezing temperatures in store, what about the white stuff?

  • "Simply put, it is too early to say for certain whether or not frozen precipitation will occur with this front," NWS meteorologist Hayley Adams wrote yesterday.

Of note: Before the Arctic air hits Houston, we'll have to endure a weaker cold front overnight Thursday, bringing with it the potential for severe weather by the end of the workweek.

  • NWS forecasters say the region could experience gusty winds and thunderstorms Thursday night into Friday, with temperatures hovering around the 50s and 60s.

Be smart: Here's how to stay safe in extreme cold.

2. Mapped: How Texas' minimum wage compares

Minimum wage by state
Data: Paycor; Map: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

The minimum wage went up in 22 states last week — but not in Texas.

  • Texas is among 20 states that still have the federal minimum wage of $7.25, Axios' Emily Peck reports.

The big picture: More states — including New York, Maryland and New Mexico — have a $15-an-hour minimum wage a dozen years after Fight for $15 kicked off its campaign.

Why it matters: Increasing the wage floor for the lowest earners typically pushes up pay for those who make a bit more than the minimum, as employers have to adjust pay scales upward.

  • And thanks to inflation, the dollar amount doesn't quite mean what it used to.

What they're saying: Gov. Greg Abbott's spokesperson said in 2021 that a $15 government-imposed minimum wage "would put a boot on the neck of small businesses struggling under the weight of the pandemic."

What happened: Bills filed by Democrats to increase the state minimum wage to at least $15 did not get a hearing last year.

  • Proposals to allow cities or counties to set their own minimum wage also failed to gain traction.

Flashback: The federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009, from $6.55 to $7.25, per the U.S. Department of Labor.

3. Bayou Buzz

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🌳 After chopping down the 40-year-old trees in the Third Ward's AIDS Memorial Garden without warning last spring, CenterPoint Energy is now replacing seven symbolic trees, including two mature bald cypresses worth $15,000 each. (Houston Chronicle)

🐴 The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is bringing back its drone show for this year's festivities. (Houston Public Media)

Stat du jour:

The Boeing 737 Max 9 fiasco continues. None of United Airlines' Max 9s flew yesterday, according to the airline, as IAH saw 410 delays and 96 cancellations, according to FlightAware.

4. NASA delays first moon landing in decades

The crew members of the Artemis II mission at Kennedy Space Center in August. Photo: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

NASA is delaying its long-awaited return to the surface of the moon by a year over crew safety concerns.

Why it matters: The landing was one of two postponements to the Artemis program announced by the space agency yesterday, as it also pushed back a slingshot around the moon that was scheduled for next year.

  • The crew of four astronauts for Artemis II will now have to wait until 2025 before they can make their planned flyby, while their lunar landing as part of Artemis III was bumped from 2025 to 2026.
  • Artemis IV, the first planned mission to an extraterrestrial space station, dubbed the Gateway, remains on track for 2028.

NASA said anomalies during the unmanned Artemis I test mission prompted the delays.

  • It's currently investigating the unexpected loss of pieces from the Orion spacecraft's heat shield during that test.
  • It's also investigating issues with several of Orion's components, including a battery issue and challenges with a circuitry component responsible for air ventilation and temperature control.

What they're saying: NASA administrator Bill Nelson said the delays were necessary because "the safety of our astronauts is NASA's top priority."

  • Catherine Koerner, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems development, said that ultimately, the hardware needed for Artemis "drives our decision-making."

The big picture: These delays are just the latest for the Artemis program.

5. 📍 1 superimposed map of Texas to go

Looks like Marfa is the Paris of Texas. Screenshot: Image posted by Gov. Greg Abbott via X/Twitter

Apparently, Houston is something like the Salzburg of Texas.

The intrigue: Gov. Greg Abbott didn't say why exactly he was posting this image, which has bounced around the internet, so maybe it's standard Texas brashness.

Of note: Houston doesn't have beautiful mountains surrounding it, but the Salzburg-set "The Sound of Music" will be playing at the Wortham Theater this spring.

Thanks to Chloe Gonzales for editing and Khalid Adad and Matt Piper for copy editing this newsletter.

🚘 Shafaq is getting a good laugh from the rejected personalized license plates in Texas last year.

🧤 Jay is making a plan for next week's cold snap.