Texans urged to avoid travel in icy weather; power grid is expected to meet demand

Much of Texas is forecasted to see freezing temperatures and icy conditions through Wednesday resulting in road and school closures, flight delays and more. (Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune, Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune)

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A dayslong winter storm warning in Texas is already disrupting travel plans and closing schools, but state officials say the power grid is holding up.

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“Driving conditions are extremely dangerous right now in many parts of the state,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday morning, warning of icy bridges and black ice. “Anybody who needs to be out driving needs to be very cautious of the conditions because your eye may not be able to perceive the hazard that’s in front of you.”

According to the National Weather Service, tens of millions of people in Texas and mid-South states are expected to experience “an extensive and very dangerous ice storm” over the next few days due to a mixture of arctic air and a surge in moisture.

Texans are likely to be among the hardest hit. Since Monday morning, most of North and Central Texas has been under a winter weather warning that is likely to last until Thursday morning. On top of freezing temperatures, those regions are expected to see significant icy conditions — including potentially up to half an inch of ice or sleet — that could derail travel plans and cause localized power outages. On Tuesday morning, hundreds of motorists were stuck in a 20-mile backup on Interstate 20 west of Fort Worth, according to KDFW-TV.

In addition, other parts of the state including Central, East and Southeast Texas could also see significant rainfall and flash fooding later in the week.

State officials are also monitoring the state’s power grid, though it has shown little sign of trouble so far.

Regulators have already made several changes since February 2021 to better prepare the grid for extreme weather and tight conditions. Natural gas producers, power generators and transmission utilities were required to winterize their facilities, installing protection such as insulation. The trigger for power prices to rise now happens earlier ahead of tight conditions to incentivize more power production to keep up with demand. And some generators took steps to store fuel on-site in case natural gas couldn’t be delivered. Communication also improved between grid operators and state emergency management staff.

Public Utility Commission of Texas Chair Peter Lake has urged Texans to “monitor and report local power outages.” But he expects that power would be more likely to go out locally due to falling trees or heavy ice accumulation, rather than grid failures. As of 9 a.m. on Tuesday, there had been around 7,000 local outages across the state, according to Abbott.

“We have adequate supply of generation to meet the demand for electricity across the ERCOT system,” Lake said Tuesday at a press conference with Abbott and other state officials. “We have plenty of reserves to make sure that the ERCOT grid is stable and powered throughout this weather event.”

Across the country, various airlines have already canceled and delayed thousands of flights, particularly those arriving or leaving airports in Dallas-Fort Worth or Austin.

On the ground, local public safety agencies have also cautioned Texans to limit their traveling, particularly due to “icy bridges and slick roadways.”

“Avoid travel if you can, but if you have to get out, watch out for ice/black ice, make sure to give yourself plenty of time and to slow down while driving,” the National Weather Service in Fort Worth tweeted Monday afternoon.

These warnings have led some universities and school districts to cancel classes.

Similarly, the Texas Legislature has advised lawmakers and staff not to travel until they can do so safely. For the House, Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said in a Monday memorandum that the chamber will “convene very briefly” Tuesday afternoon and then adjourn until Friday morning. The Texas Senate did not convene as originally scheduled Tuesday morning.

Robert Downen and Emily Foxhall contributed to this story.

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