Texas is Prepared for Another Winter Storm | Dallas Observer

Dallas County

So Far it Seems Texas Was More Prepared for This Winter Storm

It's not déja vu. It's another winter storm.
It's not déja vu. It's another winter storm. Creative Commons/DJJudah
For three years in a row now, Texans have been slammed by varying degrees of extreme winter weather.

This week, the National Weather Service put out a days-long winter storm warning that is expected to last until Thursday. Ice and sleet have left roads nearly impassable, and hundreds of commercial flights are being canceled because of the weather. But so far, power outages have been minimal, there are no active boil-water notices and Dallas Area Rapid Transit is still operating. None of this is an accident.

For example, the reason your power is still on is because maintenance crews like those at Oncor are working 16-hour shifts to keep it on. Oncor is the state’s largest energy-delivery company.

“You never know what the weather is going to do in Texas,” Andy Morgan, a spokesperson for Oncor, told the Observer. He said the company has its own in-house meteorologist to help prepare for extreme weather. “When there’s an extreme weather forecast, whether it’s extreme heat or extreme cold, we kind of go into that storm mode,” Morgan said.

Oncor staff goes on high alert, and the company starts putting equipment out ahead of the bad weather. “Once the storm starts happening, like now, the ice and sleet starts building up on trees and branches,” Morgan said. That’s what Oncor tries to prepare for most, he said. Over time, several hundred pounds of ice and sleet can build up on trees. “They either fall over, or the limbs break, or they sag onto our power lines,” Morgan said. “It’s really not the ice building up on the power lines. It’s the ice that builds up on our trees.”

“You never know what the weather is going to do in Texas." – Andy Morgan, Oncor

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Tuesday morning, Morgan said nearly 2,000 Oncor customers were affected by power outages. “We have almost four million customers, so for us that’s not a large number yet,” he said. “Honestly, we expect that number to go up throughout the day and tomorrow.” By Tuesday afternoon, Oncor was reporting 298 active outages affecting 12,014 people. Across Texas, there are about 22,300 people without power. This includes more than just Oncor customers. All the outages may not be weather-related, however. Morgan said residents in Tyler were experiencing power outages Tuesday. After investigating, he found the cause was an equipment malfunction not related to weather.

The power outages will likely be nothing compared to what the state went through a couple of years ago.

Winter Storm Uri turned into a tragedy for Texas in 2021. The cold weather strained the power grid, leading the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nonprofit that oversees the grid, to start rolling blackouts to conserve power. As a result, millions of people across the state went without electricity for days. Burst pipes and power outages had some 18 million people under boil-water notices, meaning their water wasn’t safe to drink out of the faucet. Low estimates of the death toll hovered around 250, but some say upwards of 700 people may have died because of the 2021 storm. In total, the storm cost Texas about $195 billion.

The power grid held up when Winter Storm Landon slapped Texas in 2022, but tens of thousands of people, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, lost power. During Landon, though, it was damaged power lines that cut the electricity. DART shut down service for two days due to the storm last year, leaving riders stranded.

This week, ERCOT is projecting there's enough electricity to meet demand, which is a welcome change from the major winter storms of the past couple of years when plentiful power supply wasn't so certain. Even over the summer of 2022, ERCOT wasn't quite sure the grid could meet demand on a couple of occasions.

In a press release Monday, DART spokesperson Gordon Shattles said the transit agency was working to prevent such service disruptions. “In preparation for possible ice accumulation, bus and train station parking lots and walkways will be treated, and DART vehicles and train switches are being weatherized,” he said. DART also made 19 of its stations and centers available for riders throughout the day to stay warm as they plan their trips.

Also on Monday, the city of Dallas activated its temporary inclement weather shelters for the homeless. The city’s main inclement weather shelter is Austin Street Center’s old facility at 2929 Hickory St. The others include Oak Lawn United Methodist Church at 3014 Oak Lawn Ave. and Warren United Methodist Church at 3028 Malcolm X Blvd. The J. Erik Jonsson Central Library downtown is also being used as a warming shelter for the homeless.

While the current winter storm seems to be off to a smoother start, this isn’t the case for everyone.

Early Tuesday morning, the local ambulance service Medstar EMS said on social media that just 24 hours into the storm its crews had responded to 142 vehicle collisions, including 16 rollover crashes, eight people suffering from hypothermia and nine people injured from falls after slipping on ice.

Monday night, a man died in an accident after losing control of his vehicle on an icy road in Arlington, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The National Weather Service is advising people to avoid traveling if they can, advising: “If you have to get out on roads, slow down and make sure to give yourself ample travel time.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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