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As Texas prepares for an arctic cold front, the power grid is expected to weather the winter storm

Power lines near Houston on Feb. 16, 2021. Some residents of Texas are facing enormous power bills after wholesale prices for electricity skyrocketed amid a massive grid failure.
David J. Philip
Associated Press
Power lines near Houston on Feb. 16, 2021. Some residents of Texas are facing enormous power bills after wholesale prices for electricity skyrocketed amid a massive grid failure.

An arctic cold front will be moving through Texas on Wednesday bringing freezing temperatures to Central, West, and North Texas. But, the winter weather will not be nearly as severe as last February’s deadly storm.

The National Weather Service is forecasting wintry precipitation across much of Texas, amid the state’s coldest weather conditions of the season this week. The NWS has issued winter storm watches for most of West Texas, the Panhandle and the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin areas as an arctic cold front moves through much of the state.

Christopher Daniels, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in San Angelo, said the Big Country and Concho Valley could see sleet, freezing rain, and some snow on Wednesday and Thursday. He added it is not unusual to get winter storms in December, January, and February in his region.

“But, in terms of the temperatures, it does look to be well below normal for this time of the year,” Daniels said.

Very cold temperatures are expected in the San Angelo area through Saturday, with bitterly cold wind chills.

The winter storm watch for Austin and San Antonio takes effect early Thursday. Mack Morris, a meteorologist for the NWS office in that area, says the cold snap could bring below freezing temperatures to some parts of the Texas Hill Country.

"We are not expecting anything nearly as severe as what we had last February, however, it will be quite cold for several days,” Morris said.

The impending cold temperatures have prompted concerns about the reliability of the Texas electric grid, nearly one year after Winter Storm Uri. However, Doug Lewin, who is president of the consultant group Stoic Energy, said this week’s winter storm does not compare to the extreme winter weather conditions in February 2021 that knocked out the state’s power grid leaving millions without power for days. Hundreds of Texans died from hypothermia and other causes related to the disaster.

“The storm last year was statewide, where we were under freezing [temperatures] in every corner of the state. That is not the case this time.”

Lewin added state utility regulators have implemented new requirements for power generators, including new weatherization standards and mandatory inspections.

“If nothing else goes out, if nothing breaks, then they’re right at the level they expected and that would be great,” Lewin said. “But if the freeze comes and power plants start dropping offline, then that’s a sign that the inspections are not working.”

“Roads may become slick and hazardous across the area. Also, a light glaze of ice may accumulate on trees and power lines.”

If this week’s winter weather conditions knock power plants offline again this week, Lewin said that’s a sign the state’s efforts to fortify the power grid are not working.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, The Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.