A winter storm dropping snow and ice also 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. One utility said power outages for hundreds of thousands that were initially expected to last for short periods could instead go on for hours as temperatures fell into the teens near Dallas and 20s around Houston.
Rotating power outages were initiated early Monday morning by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the flow of 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.
Oncor, a utility that serves the Dallas-Fort Worth area and other parts of the state, said on Twitter Monday morning that the outages could last for hours.
“These are not rolling blackouts,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Twitter. “We are dealing with systemwide power outages across the state.”
Oncor advised customers to close blinds or curtains, close off rooms and stuff towels or rags into cracks under doors to avoid losing heat.
“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” council President and CEO Bill Magness said in a statement.
Over 2.7 million customers in Texas were in the dark as of 11:20 a.m., according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking site.
CBS Dallas-Fort Worth reported that powerful winds were creating below-zero wind chills. For the first time ever, a wind chill warning was in effect for North Texas. Dangerously cold “feel-like” temperatures were expected Monday night and Tuesday.
CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV said all of southeast Texas was also under a wind chill warning through Tuesday morning.
Up to 400 record cold temperatures were possible across the country through the middle of the week, said CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli.
Matt Varble in the Dallas suburb of Las Colinas told The Dallas Morning News his power had gone out a couple of times Monday morning. The second time, it went out about 3:30 a.m. and hadn’t returned as of 7 a.m.
“It’s starting to get very cold inside my house,” Varble told the newspaper. “I lived in the north for a very long time and nothing like this has ever happened when I lived in New York, Ohio and Illinois.”
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.
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.”
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 — 3 degrees colder than Moscow.
Accumulating ice between a tenth and a quarter of an inch 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 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.
The region had been gearing up for the winter weather for the better part of the weekend. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all of the state’s 254 counties. Abbott, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson each activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.
President Biden also declared an emergency in Texas in a statement Sunday night. 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 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 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 Monday morning because of ice accumulation that caused multiple crashes.
In Memphis, Tennessee, snow started falling Sunday afternoon, and in Mississippi, sleet in Jackson and other central parts of the state left roads and bridges slick.
Parts of Kentucky and West Virginia still recovering from an ice storm last week were expected to get up to a quarter-inch of ice or up to 8 inches of snow by Tuesday.
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