Power outages caused by winter storm force rolling outages across Texas

The Polar Plunge
Originally Published: 15 FEB 21 10:33 ET
Updated: 15 FEB 21 12:29 ET

(CNN) — Rolling power outages were ordered across Texas early Monday morning as a winter storm and frigid temperatures gripped the state.

The rotating outages will likely last throughout Monday morning and could continue until the state’s weather emergency ends, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a major grid operator that controls about 90% of the state’s electric load.

People may be in the dark — at least some of the time — through Tuesday, according to the Houston Office of Emergency Management.

“Power outages will likely be reoccurring throughout Monday and Tuesday. We are experiencing winter weather for which we have not experienced in decades,” the office tweeted Monday.

Rotating blackouts occur when power companies cut off electricity to residential neighborhoods and small businesses, typically for 10 to 45 minutes before being rotated to another location, ERCOT said. Traffic lights and infrastructure may also lose power during these blackouts.

California sometimes uses rolling blackouts during heat waves, but extremely cold weather forced the action in Texas, where the winter storm has already knocked out power to more than 2.7 million customers, according to Poweroutage.us, a website that tracks power outages across the US.

Snow fell across much of Texas, including more than 10 inches in San Angelo, its snowiest day on record, and 4 inches in Dallas to tie for its seventh snowiest day on record.

The entire state was below freezing on Monday, with temperature ranging from 25 degrees in Brownsville in the south to 15 degrees below zero in the Panhandle. A trace of snow was reported in Brownsville, only the third time since 1898 that snow was reported in the city in the state’s southernmost point along the US-Mexico border.

Temperatures in the high teens were predicted for Dallas on Monday, while Houston was expecting a high temperature in the mid-20s. Below-freezing temperatures are expected in Dallas through Thursday.

The city of Houston said in a news release that the storm may be here several days and that people may experience rolling outages more than once.

“The electricity grid continues to lose generation,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted. “If you are without power, you may be without power throughout the day. Please do your best to stay warm safely. Check on our seniors.”

The city recommended people conserve energy by turning down thermostats to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, unplugging nonessential lights and appliances, opening curtains in the day to allow sunlight and closing curtains at night to reduce heat loss.

The rolling blackouts caused several police facilities to operate on emergency generators, said Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo.

“Please reduce the load on the electric grid by keeping use to a minimum,” Acevedo tweeted Monday.

One family’s difficult day without power

In Katy, Texas, just west of Houston, Tricia Lydick said her home has been without power since 5:30 a.m. Monday with no sign of returning anytime soon.

Lydick lives with her brother, Michael Towns, and their mother, Ann Towns, who are both disabled. Her mother has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and requires oxygen around-the-clock. The family has extra tanks with enough to last 12 hours.

But her mother uses a CPAP machine to help her breathe while sleeping and no electricity makes that impossible for her, Lydick told CNN.

“Four hours isn’t a huge deal but I don’t want it to get to where we start running out of oxygen for Mom,” Lydick said. “We are native Texans and haven’t ever had temps like this before.”

She’s been trying to contact her power company on the phone but to no avail. The family is using blanket and jackets to keep warm in the house.

“Since all the roads are iced over, it’s way more difficult for the lines to be fixed,” she said. “I totally get that.”

If the power outages last longer than anticipated, Lydick said her first thought would be to take her mom to the hospital.

“But the roads are iced over, so I don’t know how I could,” she said. “She can’t live without her oxygen.”

‘Record-breaking electric demand’

The ERCOT ordered the rolling outages around 1:30 a.m. CT (2:30 ET) Monday. ERCOT set a new winter peak demand for electricity between 6-7 p.m. Sunday, topping the old record from January 2018, ERCOT said in a tweet.

“We are experiencing record-breaking electric demand due to the extreme cold temperatures that have gripped Texas,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a news release. “At the same time, we are dealing with higher-than-normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies available to generating units.”

Entergy Texas, which provides power to approximately 461,000 customers across 27 counties in the state, according to its website, said it started the rolling outages on Monday.

“We apologize for the inconvenience these outages may cause, but we have an unusual situation right now driven by extreme weather conditions. We are working to respond and restore power as soon as it is safely possible,” said Stuart Barrett, vice president of customer service.

“While our crews worked to prepare for this storm, a loss of generation combined with the peak load has caused a strain on the system. As a result, we are short of the power needed to meet our customers’ demands across southeast Texas.”

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