DALLAS - All eyes are on the skies as a winter storm gets closer to North Texas.
North Texas leaders are over-preparing local resources while state officials promise the Texas power grid will be able to handle this winter weather.
Southwest and American Airlines have also begun canceling flights. Southwest Airlines suspend all operations in and out of Love Field for Thursday.
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Gov. Abbott: ‘ERCOT is well-prepared'
Gov. Greg Abbott met with state energy leaders and emergency officials to talk about how to deal with this week’s possible snowy and icy weather.
The governor said all available agencies will be able to respond and have been working on plans for a year to be prepared.
"The time during this winter storm when we are expecting the highest demand from the power grid is going to be Friday morning," Abbott said. "ERCOT is well-prepared for conditions as they currently stand but remains flexible in order to be responsive to power demand needs."
But after previously making guarantees that the power will stay on, Abbott had a slightly different tone about the possibility of load shedding or controlled customer outages.
"Well, listen. No one. No one can guarantee that there won't be a ‘load shed event.’ But what we will work and strive to achieve and what we're prepared to achieve is that the power is going to stay on across the entire state," he said.
ERCOT CEO Brad Jones says the highest demand is expected on Friday morning, forecasting 71,000 megawatts of expected load, which will be a record for ERCOT. He says there are 86,000 megawatts of available generation. Some are coming from reserves.
"Over 10,000 of wind that we’re getting from western parts of the country for both Thursday and Friday," he said.
Prior to last February's winter storm, only 60 facilities in Texas were classified as critical infrastructure.
Millions of Texans were plunged into darkness for several days. More than 200 died from weather-related causes.
Now, 1,500 are designated as critical infrastructure. Many of them are natural gas facilities.
Public Utility Commission Chair Peter Lake says 99% of power generators in Texas have passed inspection and are fully operational.
"To ensure that, in any emergency conditions, natural gas will continue to flow to our power generators," he said.
Jones says the power grid and transmission system now meet or exceed federal winterization standards.
Crews will be pre-positioned at generators to address any problems that may arise. Methanol can be injected into pipes to prevent freezing.
"We can still ensure power grid integrity even if there is some loss of natural gas," Abbott said.
Agencies working on preparedness include ERCOT and the PUC as well as the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas A&M Forest Service, the Railroad Commission, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas National Guard.
The storm is expected to hit the North Texas area late Wednesday into Thursday morning. It will bring freezing temperatures with a threat of ice accumulation.
"If you don’t’ have to be out there, don’t be out there," said DPS Director Steve McCraw. "There’s no one skilled enough to drive an automobile at highway speed in icy conditions. Period. The last thing we need is to lose life on the roadways."
Throughout the week, TxDOT crews have been out pre-treating highways, bridges and overpasses with a brine solution. The department also has more heavy-duty winter equipment ready to be deployed compared to past years.
"We expect that the conditions that we will see will make for very hazardous driving conditions. And despite efforts with pre-treatment, we cannot guarantee 100% that roads won’t have unsafe conditions on them," said Mark Williams with TxDOT. "And so it’s very important that motorists be aware of those conditions, drive to those road conditions, slow down. And if you do not have to get out when the roads are icy or snow-covered, please don’t."
The Texas Division of Emergency Management says it has water, food, cots and other supplies in warehouses in regions across the state so they can get the supplies to people who may need them within hours.
DFW leaders prepare emergency operations, open shelters
Fort Worth and Dallas are both preparing emergency operations for the winter storm with icy roads and power lines still the biggest concern.
The city of Dallas is meeting with partners like Oncor and the National Weather Service to put plans in place for Wednesday night and beyond.
The city of Dallas says it has enough salt and sand to put out on major roads after the freezing rain, sleet and snow have passed. It's not expecting blackouts or major water main breaks, but there are plenty of crews on standby.
Tina Richardson with Dallas Public Works says so far 40 city trucks are set to be used this week. During last February’s deadly winter storm, Dallas deployed all 60.
"We have to wait until there is something on the ground for us to sand," she said.
The city of Dallas doesn’t pre-treat the roads ahead of time like TxDOT, but mounds of the salt-sand mixture are standing by.
Richardson says the city has more manpower to scout bridges and major roads as the freezing rain moves in Wednesday. Also, sanding for hospitals and first responders is a high priority.
"If they need us to sand a residential road to get down to an emergency purpose, then we will," she said.
City employees, like 911 call takers, will be put up in hotels near city hall so they can come into work.
"Our primary concern is life safety issues, and that encompasses everything from streets if people are going to be out there," said Dallas Office of Emergency Management Director Rocky Vaz. "That’s why public works is going to be starting de-icing and sanding."
Unlike last year’s storm that left a blanket of snow and days of below-freezing temperatures, ice and power lines are the biggest concern this time.
Oncor says it will be positioning crews to respond to outages and repair damaged lines or equipment.
Oncor crews were outside making preparations, including trimming trees. In Far East Dallas, one crew was contracted by Oncor to do "routine vegetation management." The company says it helps reduce the chances of ice-coated limbs from taking down power lines.
Oncor also has crews and mutual aid on standby prepared to work 24 hours a day as long as weather conditions allow to restore power as needed.
"We feel good about having enough power generation. We don’t expect to see widespread, city-wide blackouts. We feel pretty good about that," Vaz said. "There might be localized outages based on the event itself, how much ice or sleet we get."
The city is also opening a mass shelter at the Automobile Building in Fair Park, which has 84,000 square feet. It can house up to 600 people. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be sheltered at a separate location.
"Based on last year when things got really, really bad, we saw 1,250 people over the total days," said Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions Director Christine Crossley. "So we’re not worried about being able to fit everyone in here."
Parks and Rec centers and city libraries will be open as warming shelters. But because of supply chain issues holding up shipments, the city will not have generators in place at those locations this winter. They’re asking people to call ahead to make sure the center is open and staffed before going.
Since last year, the city did buy four additional snowplows, and public works crews will be running routes across the city looking for problem areas starting Wednesday night.
Dallas Water Utilities says it has almost 400 employees staffed for the storm.
Winterization inspections took place back in November. But before the storm, the city wanted to check all facilities one more time.
The city’s emergency operations center will open starting Wednesday at noon and run for at least 24 hours through midday Friday.
While not expecting a repeat of the 2021 February winter storm, that event is now a barometer for planning. All departments will collaborate.
"Our meter services staff will be going 24/7 starting tomorrow evening, ready to respond to emergency calls," said Mary Gugluizza with the water department. "And that’s all they’ll be doing until Monday is emergency shutoffs."
The Fort Worth Fire Department is taking aim at reducing call volume by assisting people needing help with things such as shutting off their water valve in an emergency.
"That’s where our dispatchers are so important," said Fort Worth Fire Chief James Davis. "What we end up doing is increasing people in that call center trying to actually help people mitigate their own problems so we don’t have to send the fire dept, water department, TPW and other folks. We can focus them on the bigger issues in the community."
The predicted storm is something Tarrant County commissioners are addressing as well.
Judge Glenn Whitley urged county staffers who can to work from home.
"If you worry about your ability to get in, then don’t come in," he said. "If you can take your computer home and work from home, you’re authorized to do that. If you have vacation days accumulated, you can use those."
Residents are urged to use the city’s app called "My Fort Worth" for reporting weather-related problems throughout the city. Residents can also sign up for alerts from the city to help keep them safe.
Shopping trips before the storm
Grocery and hardware stores were packed Tuesday as people took advantage of the nice weather before the storm.
Many people say they learned a lot last year and wanted to make sure they were better prepared.
Mark Serino is the general manager of Rooster Home and Hardware in East Dallas. He says they’ve stocked up on more items after thousands of North Texans endured days without power.
"Last year, we did not have battery backup lightbulbs," he said. "Now, we carry them. If your power does go out, you can still have light because it runs on battery."
Many people say last year's February storm caught them off guard.
John Collins bought a shovel in case he needs to get out to help people.
"We have a construction company. Last year, we picked up generators to give to friends and family who needed one," he said. "I have a four-wheel-drive truck if I need to help someone."
Others stocked up on insulation and pipe covers.
Louann Grammer lost power last winter, so the looming winter storm brings back cold memories.
"It does make us wary, but we have blankets," she said. "Fingers crossed it will not happen this year."
As for other preparations, we saw steady lines at gas stations.
Things were crowded at grocery stores, but shoppers said shelves were not bare yet.
"I had to wait for a cart," Joe Thomas said. "But no one is throwing punches. There was toilet paper."
Jacy Russell stocked up on milk and eggs.
"From last year, we learned you can never be too prepared," she said. "If we lose power, we might not be able to get out. And if it turns out to be nothing, I will have groceries from next week."
Tom Thumb said in a statement that their business is up, but they have also adjusted their shipping schedules so more items are in stock Tuesday and Wednesday. They've noticed many people are buying batteries and bottled water. The spokeswoman said their stores will keep their normal hours as long as it is safe.