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Power outages are happening, but a statewide grid emergency is unlikely

Birds sit on power lines along South Congress Avenue as a winter storm hits the area Monday.
Michael Minasi
Birds sit on power lines along South Congress Avenue as a winter storm hits the area Monday.

Almost two years ago, a historic winter storm brought the Texas energy grid to the brink of collapse, leaving millions without power. As another freeze grips much of the state, many are again worried about the lights going off.

But this weather is not nearly as extreme as that of 2021. That means a statewide energy emergency is not likely, even as local icy conditions cause thousands of individual power outages across the state.

This week’s freeze is “no comparison” to the February 2021 event, says Victor Murphy, a climate service program manager with the National Weather Service.

Murphy points out this storm is bringing far less icy precipitation, will be over sooner and has not enveloped nearly as much of the state. It also won't bring temperatures as low as during the 2021 freeze.

The “San Antonio area will be near 32F for their coldest temperature from this event, compared to 9F in 2021,” he wrote KUT in an email. Meanwhile, Houston and Corpus Christi are not expected to freeze.

Those relatively warmer temperatures mean less power will be pulled from the state system for heat. They also mean drawing conclusions about the grid's condition from its performance this week would be misguided.

“We have plenty of resources to make sure that the grid is stable and powered throughout this weather,” Peter Lake, the chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission, said Tuesday. “The reforms that were put in place [after the 2021 storm] are working.”

In fact, analysesshow the Texas grid would likely suffer another breakdown if it were confronted by a weather event similar to the 2021 freeze.

If your power does go out in the freeze, whether the cause is grid-wide or local may not be of immediate concern. About 271,000 customers across the state were without power around 10 AM Wednesday, according to PowerOutage.us. 140,000 of those customer accounts, which often represent households of more than one person, were in Austin.

You can find outage maps for other Texas electric utilities, companies and coopsat this sitemaintained by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

One recent report found Texas had more major weather-related power outages than any other state in the last 20 years.
Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.