Winter Storm Landon has brought cold and rain to much of Texas, with three bands of precipitation spreading out across the state. And though some areas have experienced power outages, they’re largely believed to be the result of local issues like downed power lines, rather than a failure of the state’s electrical grid.
Texas Standard spoke with three reporters from across Texas about how the storm is affecting the state. Rachel Osier Lindley is based in Dallas for the Texas Newsroom. Texas Tech Public Media’s Sarah Self-Walbrick has been keeping an eye on things in Lubbock. In Midland, Mitch Borden is tracking the storm for Marfa Public Radio. And Nathan Bernier covers transportation for KUT in Austin. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Rachel, what’s the latest from the DFW Metroplex?
Rachel Osier Lindley: Well, if you were to wake up this morning and look out the window, you might think that there was a thin blanket of snow over everything. But if you go outside, upon further examination, it’s more like these tiny little balls of ice.
So the rain started yesterday evening and turned into a sleet situation overnight. So there’s a lot of freezing rain now in the area. And of course, that has created some very tricky road conditions for Texans who are not used to driving in stuff like this. So people are advising that you avoid the roadways. And we’re expected to see some two to three more inches of precipitation, according to the National Weather Service today. And that could turn to more frozen ice on the ground. So that’s creating a dangerous situation for drivers and people going out. There are also some power outages in the area early this morning. Encore, which is the electric distributor that covers much of this area and also the Permian Basin. They reported some 30,000 people were without power and 24,000 of those were concentrated in the North Texas area – Dallas Fort Worth and then the surrounding regions.
Are schools and businesses closed as well?
Osier Lindley: Oh, definitely. Most of the schools in the area already said on Tuesday that they were going to be closed today and tomorrow. So just knowing that this is not the kind of weather that people are used to, they made that call very early on. Some kids who don’t really get to see snow much might be enjoying this fake ice/snow situation outside today.
From the sound of it, the greatest danger, at least at present, is on the roadways.
Osier Lindley: Yeah. And more people might be tempted to go out because a lot of the public transportation in the area is shutting down. But really, officials are advising that you not do that. There is a chance that this freezing rain could turn to some snow later, and that would just create more dangerous road conditions.
Although I did talk to a few people that were going into work today, a friend that works at a hospital said that no people were really on the roadways. It was very, very barren out there on the roadways and icy. So at least it’s good to hear that, at least at this point, not that many people are trying to get around out there.
Now let’s head west and up to the Panhandle, Sarah, how are you faring and how are things there?
Sarah Self-Walbrick: Well, it is cold here this morning. Temperatures are in the single digits with a negative wind chill. My dogs have gone out the doggie door and immediately come back inside this morning. Our high temperature for the day is 21 degrees. It’s been snowing off and on since lunch yesterday. But it really hasn’t accumulated too much. So it’s the kind of snow that’s shutting everything down, but isn’t really enough to do anything fun with. It’s really, really cold.
I think the thing that a lot of people are concerned about are these power outages. We are hearing 50,000 statewide, at least at last report. What are you hearing there in Lubbock and what sort of effect is it having?
Self-Walbrick: We have not had any power outages so far during this storm. That’s a really touchy subject here in Lubbock. We dodged the effects of last February’s winter storm because we were not a part of the ERCOT power grid then. That changed over the summer after a years-long and multimillion dollar project. So now most of the city of Lubbock gets its power supply through ERCOT. So that’s definitely kind of raised tensions and concerns for this freeze.
I talked with some women in a Lubbock Moms Facebook group yesterday about what they’re doing to prepare for this, and they said they’re definitely stocking up more, doing things differently than they have in the past out of concern that we could see a big event like last year.
Mitch Borden, how are things out there in West Texas around Midland?
Mitch Borden: Well, we saw some freezing rain and snow come down last night and things are still slippery out here. And we have a light coating of snow. Right now, we’re seeing temps around -1 with the wind chill and the regular temps just sitting around 14. So it’s cold. And from my view, from my apartment, which looks over a busy road, people are staying off the roads, at least from my perspective, and hopefully people are just huddled up and staying warm.
In the run up to this winter storm, there were a lot of concerns about electricity and whether or not we’d see some kind of a repeat of what happened last year. Nothing quite as intense was projected, of course. What about power and the power situation in West Texas? What are you hearing on that front?
Borden: Looking at the local provider of electricity, I’m only seeing two power outages in Midland from Encore’s website. In the Midland area, maybe just under 100 [residences are without power], but it looks like there haven’t been anywhere near the power outages we saw last year, and nothing very dramatic.
What are officials saying about possible dangers to folks? I would imagine most people are being told to stay off the roads. But of course, last year, many deaths were due to hypothermia and attempts to try to keep warm during a snowstorm.
Borden: We’ve heard the same warnings from the National Weather Service and, like a lot of officials, have echoed those warnings. You know, to have like an emergency kit, have food and water, bundle up. We saw at least one warming shelter be announced just in case. So I think people are prepared, but just taking a watch and see approach out here.
Nathan, how are things looking across Central Texas?
Nathan Bernier: A thin layer of ice and sleet on the roads. Outside my home is just kind of slushy on this residential side street. The National Weather Service is telling us to expect up to a quarter-inch of accumulation. And not a lot of people are on the roads this morning. I’ve been looking at traffic cameras all around the city. It seems pretty dead, and a lot of people have been apparently heeding the warnings not to go out. We’ve got five community shelters that are open this morning for anyone seeking shelter from the weather.
I am hearing about 50,000 or so power outages across at least North Texas. What are you hearing about Central Texas and how’s it looking in Austin?
Bernier: Relatively few power outages here so far. The big impact seems to be: number one Capital Metro – the regional public transit operator – canceled all service today except for emergency operations. It was only the second time in the agency’s almost 40-year history that happened. The first time was last year’s winter storm. And the second big impact is at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Around 300 departures were canceled when I checked earlier this morning. That’s almost 90% of flights.
A lot of concerns about electricity. You’re not hearing about power outages?
Bernier: Austin Energy, at last check, reported 300 people without power. So, so far, no widespread power outages, of course, after last year’s winter storm, people have their fingers crossed.
I think the concern was that we would see high wind speeds sort of conspiring with the icy precipitation that might bring down power lines and that sort of thing. So far, so good. But as the day progresses, any concerns that the situation might get worse?
Bernier: At the moment, we’re seeing wind gusts of 26 miles an hour, and when you have a bunch of tree branches covered in ice, that increases the likelihood some could fall off and knock out power to people. And that’s certainly a concern, especially tonight, when we head right back down to those frigid temperatures.