Austin residents warned to boil water before using it
The City of Austin issued a boil water notice Saturday night due to what it called an “internal treatment process issue” that caused high turbidity — cloudiness in the water — and knocked out service at Austin Water’s Ullrich Treatment Plant.
The city texted and phoned water customers in English and Spanish: “BOIL WATER NOTICE: All Austin Water customers MUST boil water before using it for eating or drinking until further notice. Water must come to a rolling boil for two minutes, then allowed to cool...”
City officials said there were no power disruptions at any of the city’s drinking water plants and that the failure had nothing to do with the recent winter storm or freezing temperatures. Last February, the same water plant lost power, resulting in widespread water outages and a boil water notice that lasted nearly a week.
Mayor Steve Adler said the current boil water notice would likely last “a couple of days.”
"We all need to do our part when something like this happens, and we will,” Adler said in a news release. “We can also be frustrated, as I am, that there's yet another situation to deal with. We can be thankful, too, that the situation was noticed quickly and steps taken, any public health risk is very, very small, and we're much better prepared right now with equipment and supplies as we open water distribution stations.”
Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said officials are still evaluating what caused the “upset,” which he said occurred during the process of clarifying water at the plant.
He stressed the problem was not due to the winter storm. “We were through that event and actually we're feeling pretty celebratory that everything went well, and then today, we had this event. So just kind of coincidental that the two arrived near each other,” he said.
Austin Water said it is maintaining water service by increasing water production at the city’s Davis and Handcox Water Treatment Plants and by carefully managing pumping within the network of water pipelines.
Any water recovered from plumbing systems should be boiled before drinking or cooking with it following the guidelines at www.austintexas.gov/page/boil-water-notice-and-faqs.
Residents are advised to boil tap water vigorously for at least two minutes prior to using it for drinking or cooking (the minute starts when the water begins to bubble). This includes water used for brushing teeth, making ice, washing raw foods, preparation of drinks and water for pets. — Jeremy Schwartz
State leaders say Texas has passed peak power demand during the storm
Texas officials said Friday that they believe that the state has passed the peak power demand in this week’s winter storm, and that the grid has held up without major outages.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s power grid operator, forecast that electricity demand Friday morning would reach roughly 74,000 megawatts. However, it topped out at only about 69,000 megawatts.
“We do not expect demand to exceed that amount for the rest of the storm,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “At the height of power generation supply, more than 86,000 megawatts of power was available. … That's important because that far exceeds the estimated demand during last year’s winter storm.”
Most of the state remains in low temperatures, with North Texas remaining at or below freezing temperatures as of Friday afternoon. Abbott said the entire state is expected to be at or below freezing temperatures Friday night and most of the state will see subfreezing temperatures for the next few nights.
Experts estimate that last year during Winter Storm Uri, peak electricity demand would have been around 77,000 megawatts. Abbott said due to improvements made following last year’s widespread outages, the grid would have been equipped to meet that level of demand.
Many Texans braced themselves for the cold snap across the state, nervous after last year’s weeklong and widespread blackouts. But so far, the situation has been a fairly typical Texas cold front. Demand on Texas’ electrical grid was far lower than ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, had predicted.
Abbott said the grid’s performance this week should give residents confidence.
“The Texas electric grid is more reliable and more resilient than it has ever been,” he said.
While officials say the worst of the storm may be behind the state, they still warned of dangerous driving conditions and cautioned Texans to stay off roads when possible.
There were around 20,000 Texans without electricity as of Friday morning, Abbott said. He said this was due to local incidents, such as downed lines, not strain on the electrical grid. Officials stressed that anyone who loses power should call their local power provider.
Abbott credited the surplus of energy to changes that legislators made following last year’s winter storm.
After last February's blackouts, Texas lawmakers passed legislation aimed at preventing electricity blackouts, but it will likely take years before those changes are fully implemented.
Two major bills included key changes to the state’s power grid that energy experts said will begin to address some issues, such as requiring power companies to upgrade their plants to withstand more extreme weather and creating a statewide emergency alert system.
The legislation said power regulators needed to ensure all power plants were weatherized, a rule the Public Utility Commission adopted this fall. Meanwhile, lawmakers approved legislation that said oil and gas companies did not need to be weatherized until 2023. — Reese Oxner
Power restored to thousands who lost electricity in Galveston County
Thousands of Galveston County residents lost power as temperatures dropped Friday night, but Texas-New Mexico Power said in a tweet shortly before 11 p.m. that electricity had been restored to customers.
A KHOU-TV reporter said in a tweet that the state’s main power grid operator didn’t expect the outage in Galveston County, which was reportedly caused by a transmission line, to impact the rest of the state.
Shortly before 9 p.m., more than 17,000 customers in the Texas City and La Grange area were without power. That number dropped to more than 11,000 by 9:47 p.m. The power company had said electricity would be restored by 3 a.m., but it announced the problem was fixed hours before that time.
Along with power outages, many residents reported seeing flames in the night as plants had to burn off chemicals since they had no power, as first reported by ABC 13.
“At this time a large portion of the city is without power. The plants are flaring. As of now there are no threats to the community. Emergency Management is monitoring the situation,” Texas City Emergency Management posted on Facebook around 7 p.m.
As of 9:30 p.m. Friday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas was showing plenty of power capacity to meet the demand across Texas. — Emily Hernandez
Icy road conditions lead to accidents, but no major blackouts
As ice and sleet persist on Texas roadways, a number of crashes were reported across the state.
In Kerrville, a series of accidents on a major highway backed traffic up for miles. Local agencies are advising Texans to stay off roads due to icy conditions.
Texas regulators expected power demand to peak at around 8 a.m. Friday, but there were no reports of widespread outages or major strain on the grid at the time.
On Friday morning, about 20,500 Texans were without power, according to PowerOutage.us, a site that aggregates power outage data from utility companies. That means 99.9% of Texas customers have power. The power outages were concentrated in Hunt County, where 10.4% of customers tracked do not have electricity.
Electricity demand on Friday morning was at over 68,0000 megawatts, just shy of the 69,000 megawatts of demands in February 2021 when the grid failed. But the CEO of Texas’ power grid operator told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday the state has a larger cushion of power than last year.
As the state continues to see freezing temperatures, hundreds of flights have been canceled, with the majority of cancellations out of the Dallas-Fort Worth International airport. Many schools and universities have also extended closures through Friday. — Sneha Dey
State leaders project higher peak electricity demand on Friday
Texas is expected to see more demand for electricity on Friday morning than previously projected, power grid leaders said Thursday, but they don’t expect systemwide blackouts.
The roughly 74,000 megawatts of demand officials are now forecasting is up from the roughly 72,000 megawatts they had previously expected for Friday, when demand is expected to peak during the winter storm that moved through the state starting late Wednesday.
Both projected numbers would top the electricity demand from last February, when it peaked at about 69,000 megawatts before the grid crashed, millions of Texans lost power for days in subfreezing temperatures and hundreds of people died.
A major issue last year was the reduced flow of natural gas to power plants that run on gas. This year, officials said they are not concerned because the grid has plenty of excess power supply. Commissioner Christi Craddick of the state’s Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, said some natural gas producers are having “challenges in the field,” but added that she was not concerned.
“The gas is flowing,” Craddick said at a Thursday news conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders. “So I don’t think that any challenges we see in the field are affecting what’s going on across the state.”
The Texas Oil and Gas Association said Thursday that early indicators “suggest production declines will increase throughout the day” but reported that pipelines are reporting good pressure and plenty of storage despite the declines.
Around 1 p.m. Thursday, about 53,000 Texas customers were without power, according to the website poweroutage.us. Abbott and other leaders said the grid is stable and prepared and that the grid operator does not expect to ask Texans to conserve electricity.
They emphasized that the outages around the state on Thursday are not related to the management of the power grid, but tied to local problems such as icy power lines or trees falling on power lines. — Mitchell Ferman
Texas cities, counties open warming centers
With temperatures expected to drop overnight, warming centers have opened up across the state.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management has advised people in need of a warming center to contact 211.
Here are warming centers across the state:
- Corpus Christi via KIII-TV
- Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties via WFAA-TV
- Houston via KPRC-TV
- Kerr County via Hill Country Community Journal
- Rio Grande Valley via KRGV-TV
- San Antonio and Bexar County via KENS-TV
- Waco, Killeen and Temple via KWTX-TV
— Sneha Dey
No widespread outages, crashes reported Thursday morning as cold snap hits Texas
Heading into Thursday, Texans braced themselves for a new winter storm nearly a year after a deadly freeze caused a barrage of widespread power outages and infrastructure failures that left millions without electricity and water for days.
But while most of the state started the day with below-freezing temperatures, there weren’t any widespread outages or traffic crashes reported as of early Thursday.
On Thursday morning, there were around 70,000 scattered local power outages across the state, according to PowerOutage.us, a site that aggregates power outage data from utility companies. That number represents about 0.6% of customers in Texas that the website tracks.
“Resources and personnel are being pre-positioned ahead of the severe weather arrival to ensure any necessary restoration work can begin as soon and as safely as possible,” Oncor, one of the state’s largest transmission and delivery utilities, said on its website.
Brad Jones, CEO of Texas’ power grid operator, told The Texas Tribune he expects electricity demand to peak around 8 a.m. Friday and set a new record for demand during the winter. However, he says this year, the state has a much larger cushion of power and that there shouldn’t be widespread outages.
Much of Texas is expected to see freezing rain, sleet, ice and dangerous wind chills as the cold weather continues through Saturday.
The Texas Department of Transportation was showing hundreds of reported snow and ice patches on roads Thursday morning, with many local agencies heeding residents against travel.
Experts project a much less catastrophic cold snap this year compared to 2021’s Winter Storm Uri. Still, many Texans expressed anxiety as the cold front approached and took several precautions that they learned from last year’s storm. Many counties remain under winter storm warnings or advisories.
Ahead of the storm, some schools and universities closed for the rest of the week. Hundreds of Texas flights were canceled. Crews pretreated roads to mitigate freezes. Texans emptied grocery store shelves as they hurried to stock up on items in the days prior to temperatures dropping.
State officials have cautioned Texans to avoid potential exposure to carbon monoxide, including by running cars in enclosed spaces or using charcoal grills indoors. At least 11 people died last year from carbon monoxide poisoning during last year’s weeklong power outages
— Reese Oxner
Record electricity demand expected, but grid operator doesn’t expect mass outages
The CEO of Texas’ power grid operator expects electricity demand to peak around 8 a.m. Friday — and set a new record for demand during the winter.
The head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas says he’s confident there will be enough power generation to keep Texans’ power on.
CEO Brad Jones forecasts about 72,000 megawatts of demand Friday morning. That would surpass last February’s roughly 69,000 megawatts of demand before the grid faltered and there were dayslong power outages across the state that left millions in the dark in subfreezing temperatures. Hundreds of people died.
But the difference this year is ERCOT has a much larger cushion of power available to the grid, Jones told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday evening. Jones said he expects ERCOT to have around 81,000 megawatts of power generation available for the grid.
Still, Jones said he is nervous about the performance of the natural gas supply this week. Many of the power plants that generate electricity for the grid run on natural gas. That system’s ability to perform in the cold has been in question since last February, when the winter storm caused power outages and equipment failures that choked off much of the fuel supply to many electricity generators when they needed it most to produce electricity.
“I’m always nervous about gas,” Jones said.
— Mitchell Ferman
"Treacherous” road conditions expected as winter storm arrives
With last year’s deadly winter storm still fresh in their memory, Texans across the state are bracing for a new bout of severe weather and the possibility of more power outages.
Meteorologists have anticipated that this year’s freeze won’t be on the same scale as last year’s. Freezing temperatures are expected across Central Texas, the Panhandle and parts of the Southwest. Forecasters say the cold should not last as long as last year’s storm and that Texans should see more ice and sleet rather than snow.
However, winter weather warnings and advisories have been issued for a majority of the state, with low temperatures starting Wednesday evening and lasting through Friday across West, Central and North Texas.
The National Weather Service warned Texans to be aware of “treacherous” road conditions. Across the state, the Texas Department of Transportation has started pretreating roads to help prevent ice accumulation on roadways ahead of severe winter weather.
— Allyson Waller
Schools and colleges announce closures
As of Wednesday afternoon, school districts and universities across the state have already planned for closures this week. Some of the state’s most populous districts, like Austin ISD and Dallas ISD, have announced they will close Thursday and Friday.
Here are some media outlets you can follow to keep track of school closures in your local area:
— Allyson Waller
How to prepare for the winter storm
Read our coverage below for more information on how to prepare for severe winter weather, the role of climate change and the state’s power grid.
— Allyson Waller
Disclosure: El Paso Times and Oncor have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.