A winter storm dropped snow and ice and sent temperatures plunging across the southern Plains, prompting a power emergency in Texas a day after conditions canceled flights and impacted traffic across large swaths of the U.S.
Rotating power outages were initiated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, early morning, meaning hundreds of thousands went without electricity for short periods as temperatures fell into the teens near Dallas and 20s (about minus 5 degrees Celsius) around Houston.
“We urge Texans to put safety first,” ERCOT tweeted as it urged residents to reduce electricity use. The council manages the flow of electric power in the state.
The council described the rotating outages as a “last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole,” adding that utility transmission companies are tasked with determining how to reduce demand on the system.
“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a statement.
Nearly 2.6 million customers in Texas were in the dark as of 8:20 a.m. CST on Feb. 15, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking site. By Tuesday morning, around 4 million homes and businesses were without power, the Texas Tribune reported.
Around 5,000 Oklahoma Gas & Electric customers were without power and Entergy Arkansas logged about 3,000 outages.
Officials in Houston had warned people to prepare for outages and hazardous roads — conditions similar to what residents might see in the wake of a Category 5 hurricane.
“There (have) been numerous reports of accidents from icing recently,” National Weather Service lead forecaster Bob Oravec said. “I think there’s going to be a big threat today as the system pushes northeastward.”
Thousands of flights had been canceled across the country, about 1,600 of them at Dallas/Fort Worth International and Bush Intercontinental airports in Texas. At DFW, the temperature was 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius) — 3 degrees (-16 degrees) colder than Moscow.
Louisiana State Police said Monday morning on Facebook that they had investigated nearly 75 weather-related crashes in the previous 24 hours as a mixture of snow, sleet and freezing rain created treacherous conditions. As the weather continued to deteriorate across the state and with temperatures remaining at or below freezing, ice was accumulating on the roadways and troopers urged drivers to stay off the roads.
Up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow was expected across parts of the southern Plains, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
The region had been gearing up for the winter weather for the better part of the weekend. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all of the state’s 254 counties. Abbott, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson each activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency in Texas. The declaration is intended to add federal aid to state and local response efforts.
The National Weather Service said Sunday that the forecast through early Tuesday called for 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) of snow in central Oklahoma, and 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) in an area extending from eastern Texas to the Ohio Valley in the Northeast.
In Louisiana, police closed multiple bridges and parts of some interstates because of icy conditions around Baton Rouge. Notably, Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette was closed in both directions because of ice accumulation that caused multiple crashes.
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