4.1 million without power across Texas as snow, ice blanket southern Plains

Severe Weather

DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency that knocked out power to millions of people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads.

The worsening conditions halted the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine shipments and left some Texas providers scrambling to find takers for doses expiring within hours.

Rotating power outages were initiated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, early Monday morning, meaning thousands went without electricity for short periods as temperatures fell into the teens near Dallas and 20s around Houston. The outages began as rotating outages but ERCOT had to switch to controlled outages — which can be much, much longer — due to the magnitude of the demand.

“We urge Texans to put safety first,” the council tweeted as it urged residents to reduce electricity use. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power in the state.

“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a statement.

NewsNation affiliate KXAN reports some Texans without power Monday afternoon could be forced to remain without it through Tuesday, according to an emergency update from Oncor.

“The Texas power system is currently facing an unprecedented shortfall of electric generation,” Oncor said in a statement. “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has requested Oncor and utilities across the state to implement controlled power outages to reduce high demand and protect the integrity of the electric grid.

All Texas electric utilities could face similar extended outages, ERCOT said in a news briefing Monday morning.

“That’s what they did in my neighborhood … my understanding is that the blackouts are because of that concept, that it was to be a rolling blackout,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown told NewsNation affiliate KXAN. “And then the power situation was so grave at the state level that they weren’t able to follow through on that plan for some reason and they weren’t able to turn some of the power back on in the way they had anticipated.”

Brown did the live interview from his car to stay warm because the power had gone out in his home.

“These outages will continue until there’s sufficient generation being able to be brought back online to meet the demands on the system,” said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations. “At this time we anticipate that we’ll need to continue these control outages at some level for the rest of today and at least first part of [Tuesday], perhaps all day tomorrow.”

More than 4.1 million customers in Texas were in the dark as of 4:30 a.m. EST Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking site.

Around 5,000 Oklahoma Gas & Electric customers were without power overnight, and Entergy Arkansas logged about 3,000 outages. Both states have much smaller populations compared with Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Monday that the Public Utilities Commission said “about 500,000 residential customers are having power restored at this time. They said to expect even more this evening.”

Abbott maintains the power grid is not broken, but said that parts of the grid had to be shut down, including natural gas and coal generators.

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 Monday. “I think there’s going to be a big threat today as the system pushes northeastward.”

State leaders are urging Texans to stay off the roads. On Monday, the Texas Department of Transportation explained an expected storm overnight Tuesday could prolong the treacherous road conditions even longer.

Law enforcement reported two men were found dead along Houston-area roadways. Causes of death were pending, but officials said the subfreezing temperatures were likely to blame.

TxDOT’s Transportation Safety Directory Michael Lee said crews are working to try to clear as much snow and ice as possible before that second storm rolls in with more precipitation.

“Right now we have a window, it started this morning, some 24 hours depending on where you are in the state, 24 to 36 hours or so to get as much done as we can. And that’s what we’ve been working on it and working to get everything just pushed out of the way keeping the major roadways open,” Lee explained.

After that storm, it could be days before roads are fully melted and clear across the state. Lee said warming temperatures beginning Thursday will begin to help.

“Our primary focus will be on the all the major interstates and the major corridors and we’ll go down to the local corridors and then then the rural roadways so you know, I would expect that we can have the major roadways open by Monday of the next week,” Lee said.

He said if you do have to drive, make a plan in case your car gets stuck. Lee also said drivers should check with local law enforcement agencies for safe routes, along with TxDOT’s website for any closures and conditions.

Accumulating ice between a tenth and a quarter of an inch (0.25 and 0.6 centimeters) was possible across eastern Louisiana, Mississippi, central Tennessee, Kentucky and over into the West Virginia and Ohio border region, Oravec said.

Up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow was expected across parts of the southern Plains into Monday, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Nearly 120 crashes, including a 10-car pileup on I-45, were reported Sunday, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña tweeted.

Significant ice and up to 12 inches of snow were expected across parts of the southern Plains into Monday, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“Typically, we just don’t have quite this much cold air in place that far south,” Chenard said.

The region had been gearing up for the winter weather for the better part of the weekend. Gov. Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all of the state’s 254 counties, and had warned on Saturday: “All of Texas is facing an extremely dangerous winter storm.”

On Monday, Abbott and the Texas Military Department deployed National Guard across the state to conduct welfare checks. They will also help local authorities “in transitioning Texans in need to one of the 135 local warming centers” that have been established across the state.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson each activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.

In a statement Sunday night, President Joe Biden also declared an emergency in Texas and ordered federal assistance to aid state and local response efforts. The declaration allows the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance, equipment and resources to those affected by the storm.

By midmorning, 3,000 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

Houston Bush Airport said early Monday morning that the airfield would be closed until further notice because of ice accumulation,

Officials were discouraging travel in the wintry conditions.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said a portion of the Turner Turnpike was shut down due to a multi-vehicle accident, while the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said the southern corridor of Interstate 35 was mostly snow packed in the left lane and conditions were expected to deteriorate.

The National Weather Service said Sunday that the forecast through early Tuesday calls for 8 to 12 inches of snow in central Oklahoma, and 4 to 8 inches in an area extending from eastern Texas to the Ohio Valley in the Northeast.

In Memphis, Tennessee, snow started falling Sunday afternoon, and while main roads were still passable, lines formed during the day at grocery stores as people rushed to stock up.

In Mississippi, sleet in Jackson and other central parts of the state left roads and bridges slick. Bill Parker, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Jackson, said up to three-quarters of an inch of ice could accumulate in central Mississippi, bringing the possibility of power outages or falling tree limbs.

Parts of Kentucky and West Virginia still recovering from an ice storm last week are expected to get up to a quarter-inch of ice or up to 8 inches of snow by Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest, more than 200,000 people were without power after a winter storm blanketed the region with ice and snow and made travel treacherous.

Associated Press journalists Julie Walker in New York City; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed reporting to this story. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Severe Weather Definitions

Severe Thunderstorm Warning
Issued when there is evidence based on radar or a reliable spotter report that a thunderstorm is producing, or about to produce, wind gusts of 58 mph or greater, structural wind damage, and/or hail 1 inch in diameter or greater.

Severe Thunderstorm Watch
Is issued by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) when conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms over a larger-scale region. Tornadoes are not expected in such situations, but isolated tornado development cannot be ruled out.

PDS Severe Thunderstorm Watch
PDS stands for "Particularly Dangerous Situation" and is issued by the SPC when conditions are favorable for the development of high-end severe thunderstorms over a larger region.  In this situation the SPC believes multiple events of extreme severe weather with significant wind damage are likely to occur.  Citizens should alter their daily routine and listen for further updates when this watch is issued.  Tornadoes are not expected in such situations, but isolated tornado development cannot be ruled out and widespread straight-line wind damage is likely.

Tornado Warning - Observed or Radar Indicated
Issued when there is evidence based on radar or a reliable spotter report that a tornado is imminent or occurring.

Tornado Warning - Considerable
Issued when a reliable spotter reports the existence of a tornado (therefore, it is confirmed, not radar indicated) and it is doing considerable damage.

Tornado Warning - Catastrophic
Issued when a reliable spotter reports the existence of a tornado (therefore, it is confirmed, not radar indicated) and it is doing extreme damage that is considered catastrophic; complete destruction is possible.

Tornado Watch
Is issued by the Storm Prediction Center when conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes over a larger-scale region.

PDS Tornado Watch
PDS stands for "Particularly Dangerous Situation" and is issued when the SPC believes that a large outbreak of long-lived, large and violent tornadoes is likely.  This is a high-end tornado watch.  People in a PDS Tornado Watch should change their daily routines to ensure they are weather aware and prepared to take action with little notice.

Significant Weather Advisory
Issued for strong thunderstorms that are below severe levels, but still may have some adverse impacts. Usually issued for the threat of wind gusts of 40-58 mph or hail up to 1 inch in diameter.

Flash Flood Watch
Issued generally when there is the possibility of flash flooding or urban flooding over an area within the next 36 hours.

Flash Flood Warning
Issued when flash flooding is imminent, generally within the next 1 to 3 hours. Usually issued based on observed heavy rainfall (measured or radar estimated), but may also be issued for significant dam breaks that have occurred or are imminent.

Flood Watch
Issued when there is the possibility of widespread general flooding over an area within the next 36 hours.

Flood Warning for River Forecast Point
Issued when a river gauge has exceeded, or is forecast to exceed, a predetermined flood stage.

Flood Advisory
Issued when flooding is imminent or occurring, generally within the next 1 to 3 hours, but is not expected to substantially threaten life and property.

Wind Advisory
Issued when sustained winds of 30 to 39 mph are expected for 1 hour or longer.

High Wind Warning
Issued when sustained winds of 40 mph or more are expected for 1 hour or longer, or for wind gusts of 58 mph or more with no time limit. A High Wind Watch is issued when these conditions may be met 12 to 48 hours in the future.

Dense Fog Advisory
Issued when fog is expected to reduce visibilities to 1/4 mile or less.

Heat Advisory
Issued when maximum daytime heat index values are expected to reach or exceed 105°F on at least 2 consecutive days, with intermediate low temperatures of 75°F or higher.

Excessive Heat Warning
Issued when maximum daytime heat index values are expected to reach or exceed 110°F on at least two consecutive days, with intermediate low temperatures of 75°F or higher. An Excessive Heat Watch is issued when these conditions may be met 12 to 48 hours in the future.

Frost Advisory
Issued when nighttime minimum temperatures are expected to range from 33°F to 36°F in the growing season.

Freeze Warning
Issued when nighttime minimum temperatures are expected to reach 32°F or lower in the growing season. They are usually issued to highlight the first few freezes of the fall, or unusually late freezes in the spring. A Freeze Watch is issued when these conditions may be met 12 to 48 hours in the future.

Air Stagnation Advisory
Issued only at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whenever atmospheric conditions are stable enough to cause air pollutants to accumulate in a given area.

Blowing Dust Advisory
Issued when blowing dust is expected to reduce visibility to between 1/4 and 1 mile, generally with winds of 25 mph or greater.

Dust Storm Warning
Issued when blowing dust is expected to reduce visibility frequently to 1/4 mile or less, generally with winds of 25 mph or more.

Dense Smoke Advisory
Issued when smoke is expected to reduce visibility to 1/4 mile or less.

Fire Weather Watch
Issued when dry vegetation and conditions favoring extreme fire danger are expected 12 to 72 hours in the future.

Red Flag Warning
Issued when dry vegetation and conditions favoring extreme fire danger are expected, generally within 24 hours.

Snow Advisory
Issued when accumulating snow of 2 to 4 inches is expected. An advisory may still be warranted if lesser accumulations will produce travel difficulties, especially early in the winter season.

Blowing Snow Advisory
Issued when blowing snow is expected to occasionally reduce visibilities to 1/4 mile or less with winds generally 25 to 34 mph. The event should last at least 3 hours.

Snow and Blowing Snow Advisory
Issued when winds of 25 to 34 mph are expected to be accompanied by falling snow and blowing snow, occasionally reducing the visibility to 1/4 mile or less. The event should last at least 3 hours.

Freezing Rain/Drizzle Advisory
Issued for freezing rain when ice accumulations are expected to cause travel problems, but not exceed 1/4".

Sleet Advisory
Issued for accumulating sleet of 1/4" to 1". Because sleet usually occurs with other precipitation types, a winter weather advisory will almost always be used in such cases.

Winter Weather Advisory
Issued for a winter weather event in which there is more than one hazard present, but all precipitation is expected to remain below warning criteria. For example, it would be issued if 2 inches of snow were expected with a small amount of sleet mixing in at times.

Wind Chill Advisory
Issued when wind chill values will reach -5°F to -19°F, with wind speeds around 10 mph or more.

Wind Chill Warning
Issued when wind chill values will reach -20°F or colder, with wind speeds around 10 mph or more. A Wind Chill Watch is issued when these conditions may be met 12 to 48 hours in the future.

Ice Storm Warning
Issued when a period of freezing rain is expected to produce ice accumulations of 1/4" or greater, or cause significant disruptions to travel or utilities.

Heavy Sleet Warning
Issued when a period of sleet is expected to produce ice accumulations of 1" or greater, or cause significant disruptions to travel or utilities.

Heavy Snow Warning
Issued when snow is expected to accumulate 4 inches or more in 12 hours, or 6 inches or more in 24 hours.

Winter Storm Warning
Issued for a winter weather event in which there is more than one hazard present, and one of the warning criteria listed above is expected to be met. For example, it would be issued if 5 inches of snow were expected in 12 hours, with some sleet mixing in at times. It is commonly issued for heavy snow with strong winds of 25-34 mph that will cause blowing and drifting of the snow. A Winter Storm Watch is issued when these conditions may be met 12 to 48 hours in the future.

Blizzard Warning
Issued for sustained wind or frequent gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph accompanied by falling and/or blowing snow, frequently reducing visibility to less than 1/4 mile for three hours or more. A Blizzard Watch is issued when these conditions may be met 12 to 48 hours in the future.

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