The mercury crashed into the state of Lone Star on Sunday night while being flashed by snow and ice, causing near-impossible driving conditions and hundreds of vehicle accidents. Officials have urged residents not to travel as social media videos are spread by cars and trucks sliding down roads out of control.
For the first time, the entire state of Texas was placed under a winter storm warning Sunday. These warnings of dangerous amounts of ice and snow extended Monday to cover all of Arkansas and most of Louisiana, Mississippi and western and northern Alabama, as they stretched northeast through large parts of the Tennessee and Ohio valleys and the inner northeast.
In Texas, officials have warned that people could die from hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning due to improper use of generators. The economic toll on agriculture could be staggering meteorologists in the insurance industry expects this event, which should go through the end of the week, to end up costing $ 1 billion.
Houston’s intercontinental airport plunged to 17 degrees early Monday, the coldest reading observed there since Dec. 23, 1989. Tuesday morning morning could make it even cooler – just 11 degrees, as the National Weather Service predicted. The wind cooling on Tuesday morning is expected to be only 1 degree.
“Dangerous, life and property threatening bitter cold air will continue even when the rainfall ends,” the Weather Service in Houston wrote early Monday.
Further north, wind chills fell as early as Monday as low as minus-40 and minus-50 in parts of Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.
Widespread power outages
In Texas, the millions of power outages were tied to record high demand, a state-of-the-art electricity grid, low natural gas supply along with soaring prices and reduced production from the state’s many wind turbines.
Oncor, Texas’ largest power supply, serving 10 million customers, said Monday morning that the lack of power supply is forcing much longer power outages than originally expected. “Interruptions due to this electrical emergency can last for hours and we ask you to be prepared,” it wrote.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) warns that it will continue to conduct mainly short-term, rolling blackouts across the state as energy demand exceeds supply.
There has been three cases of rotating interruptions during an energy emergency alert due to weather events in Texas, where the first occurred in 1989, according to ERCOT. The energy demand in the Lonestar state is expected to reach a peak time.
“About 10,500 megawatts of customer load was driven at the highest point,” ERCOT said in a press release describing the step of cutting back on power to reduce demand on the grid. “This is enough power to serve about two million homes.”
“Extreme weather conditions caused many production units – across fuel types – to run offline and become inaccessible.” About 30,000 megawatts of electricity production has been lost due to the cold and snow-covered conditions, ERCOT said. “Every network operator and power company is struggling to restore power right now,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness.
For Austin resident Cody Miller, 36, the extreme weather conditions have caused “chaos” in his part of Texas: Closed schools, unpaved streets, long stretches of power outages and shockingly cold temperatures.
Miller had been without power since 6 p.m. 1:30 Monday morning. At 10 a.m., the temperature in his home in East Austin hovered about 50 degrees with no clear direction from the power companies when it was possibly restored.
It was the second time in a week he lost power after enduring a 10-hour outage on Thursday. “There is no real communication and 311 is pretty much down,” said Miller, who works in the telecom industry.
The lifelong Texan said Monday’s weather was like nothing he’s seen before, but noted he’s lucky his fiance is familiar with cold weather situations. “She’s from Wisconsin, so we have someone here who’s experienced it.”
In parts of Dallas, residents lost both power and water due to frozen pipes.
Brandon Friedman, 42, who lives in northeast Dallas, had been without power since 6 p.m. 2 and has no water despite the fact that he left the taps to run on drip.
In a speech to The Post from his car charging his phone, Friedman described his driveway – the blanket in 5 inches of snow – and his regret for leaving a household item for the new residents when he moved from Virginia back to Dallas for four years ago.
“I had our snow shovel hung up in the garage in Virginia because we didn’t need it in Texas,” Friedman said.
Unlike Virginia, where snow plows are “everywhere” at the sign of a first dusting, places in Texas do not have enough equipment. Since the roads are largely unploughed, state, city and county officials are asking people to stay home and stay off the roads, Friedman said.
“But people have no electricity. We are down to record low temps and people can not get out and drive to shelters. … It’s disturbing, ”he said.
An addition to the frustration is that the two large companies that generate and distribute electricity in the area – Oncor and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT – had told residents since at least in the morning that they would experience “rolling” blackouts that lasted 15 to 45 minutes. Friedman said his neighborhood has been without power for at least eight hours (Oncor later released an update to advise clients the blackout times would be “significantly” longer).
With extreme cold expected to last Tuesday afternoon and people immobilized, Friedman fears residents will turn to dangerous alternatives to stay warm.
“When people can’t leave their homes and don’t have electricity and it’s 7 degrees, they have to use their ovens to heat up,” he said. “If you can start your furnace to heat the house, you’ll get fires, you’ll have problems with carbon monoxide.”
“This has the potential to be catastrophic.”
Cold is unusually common
Punishing cold, ice and snow also hit Louisiana, including some of the same areas devastated by hurricanes just months ago. The extraordinary cold affects about 30 states with temperatures up to 50 degrees below normal.
According to Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, the area is currently covered by Winter Storm Warnings over the continental United States is larger than the land area of Alaska.
Some counties along the immediate Texas coastline near Houston had never been under a winter storm warning until this week. As a first wave of snow and ice pulls away Monday, record colds were amplified by northerly winds that brought dangerous chills.
After starting the day with minus 5 degrees, Oklahoma City was only expected to peak around 4 degrees at an afternoon altitude. It is below the city’s previous record low temperature for the date. It’s also just 2 degrees away from Oklahoma City’s coldest elevation all the time.
Kansas City reported a wind chill of minus 32 degrees, the coolest measured there since 1989.
Dallas hit 5 degrees Monday morning, the coldest reading since 1989. Likewise, Oklahoma City could fall to minus-7 Tuesday morning, also the coldest since 1989. In Dallas, the average elevation on February 14 is approx. 58 degrees, the average low 42 degrees.
The dynamic system was so extreme that it was the first time some meteorologists had predicted snow with garden effect over bays in the Gulf of Mexico. “Of course, [I] have no experience in predicting such things, ”wrote a meteorologist from the Weather Service in an online forecast discussion. “Some Thunderflies /[snow] mixed in for fun – even on the beaches. ”
Thundersleet and Thunder was observed throughout Houston and Galveston even along the beaches with a Twitter user writing they had “seen more lightning in the last hour than [during] most of the summer. ”
In Houston emergency services issued a wireless emergency alarm, warns that “life-threatening road conditions will spread through Harris County”, while Art Acevedo, the police chief, reported more than 100 accidents Sunday night, including a 10-car pileup.
The Houston Weather Service, as originally warned of “extreme” influences from this system wrote Monday morning that “*** ROADS ARE DANGEROUS – STAY WHERE YOU ARE ***.”
Hundreds of strikes were observed. Significant thunderstorms with cloud-to-ground lightning were also observed in Lake Charles, La., The same community ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes Laura and Delta less than six months ago.
The cold weather comes directly from the North Pole via Siberia after a disturbance in the circulation of the polar vortex that occurred in January. It helps trigger two major storm systems, the first of which dumped snow and ice Sunday night and Monday morning, with the second en route to Wednesday.
Oklahoma City measured about 5 to 8 inches of snow over the subway area, slightly more than what had fallen to the west in Amarillo, Tex.
Abilene, Tex., Reported a general 8 to 11 inches with drift to 18 inches high. San Angelo had 10 inches. Preliminary reports also suggest that 4 to 6 inches fell in Dallas-Fort Worth. If the official sum at the airport exceeds 5 inches, it will be the city’s third largest snowfall on record, dating back to 1974.
Webcam images showed snow covering the beaches of Galveston. “We got someone on the beach to make a snow angel,” said Kent Prochazka, a leading meteorologist at the Houston Weather Service. He said the effects of a cold snap like this, including the threat of burst pipes in many homes and businesses, “are so rare here that there is a lot of preparation that needs to continue.”
Donald Jones, a meteorologist at the Weather Service in Lake Charles, La., Said the area is particularly vulnerable to extreme cold due to the double hurricanes last year. “Many residents live in trailers or temporary housing,” he said in an interview. “There were many questions up until this event about pipe freezing because many people now have these exposed pipes. There is a larger homeless population than there was before the storms. ”
Climate change compounds
As the climate has warmed due to human activities, cold snaps have become more and more rare and less severe, while heat waves have become far more common and intense.
In the United States, winter is the fastest warming season. In Dallas, the lowest temperature reached each year has risen by 7.9 degrees since 1970, according to research and communications group Climate Central.
There is also some evidence showing that rapid climate change in the Arctic melting sea ice is helping to disrupt larger weather patterns in the northern hemisphere, which could make polar air intrusions more likely and lead to extreme heat waves during the summer. However, this is still an area of active scientific research.
Jason Samenow contributed to this article.
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