What to expect, and how to prepare, for this week’s winter weather

The National Weather Service doesn’t expect it to be as severe as last year’s February freeze, but it could definitely test the power grid. We include tips on how to prepare.

By Kristen CabreraFebruary 1, 2022 7:40 am,

Texas’ power grid will likely be tested for the first time this year, as a major winter storm is expected to bring cold temperatures, ice and even snow to portions of the state. And that means concern over potential downed power lines and other hazards.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the state’s power grid, predicts electricity demand to peak on Friday at a level just under what was seen during last year’s February freeze.

The good news is that this storm is predicted to be milder than last year’s. But Todd Beal, a National Weather Service emergency response specialist for the Southern Region Regional Operations Center in Fort Worth, says it’s still important for Texans to prepare now. Listen to the interview with Beal in the audio player above or read the transcript below to learn more about the forecast for the next few days and tips for preparation. And scroll down to see the National Weather Service’s Winter Preparedness Checklist.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: What does the forecast look like the next couple of days across the Lone Star State?

Todd Beal: We do have a winter weather event that will impact the state of Texas here over the next couple of days. It looks like we’ll see winter weather begin late Tuesday night up in the Panhandle. And then as we go through Wednesday into Thursday, that wintry precipitation will spread south and eastward, maybe as far south as South Central Texas and the Austin area.

What we’re looking at for snowfall, the greatest snowfall amounts will be across the Panhandle and to Northwest Texas, where we could see upwards of 3 to 5 inches, maybe some locally higher amounts of snow over those areas. As you move further south and east and to the southern portions of the state, we could see more in the way of ice.

So, our corridor of ice that we’re concerned about is from roughly just north of San Antonio to Austin, up towards the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, with the greatest accumulations of ice potentially along the Red River north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That’s where we could see some problematic ice accumulations.

What about folks east of Interstate Highway 35? If you’re in the Houston area or if you’re in Beaumont or farther east, will this storm to move into that region as the week progresses?

Right now, there’s no winter precipitation forecast for those areas, but they will see some locally colder temperatures as we get towards the latter part of the week.

With winter conditions expected for a good part of the state, some folks may feel nervous thinking of last year’s storm. What does the forecast tell you about how this storm differs from last year’s?

The duration is the first thing that sticks out to us. The length of time that we’ll see those below-freezing temperatures will not be as long as last year. For instance, on Friday, we already have temperatures rebounding up above freezing in some portions of the state. However, the concern will be that we will see temperatures fall back below freezing during the overnight hours through the weekend. As I mentioned, though, the length of time that we’ll see those freezing temperatures will not be as great as we saw last year.

a page with several icons related to winter weather preparedness, with checkboxes next to them

Courtesy National Weather Service and NOAA

What time period are we looking at for most Texans – starting around Wednesday afternoon or evening?

Correct. So that wintry mix will be in the process of moving south as we get through the day on Wednesday, kind of peak during Wednesday night into Thursday and then the wintry precipitation will be winding down late Thursday afternoon into Thursday evening. But then we could see some lingering impacts from snow-covered roads, ice-covered roads, as temperatures refreeze overnight, with lingering impacts potentially into Saturday as those low temperatures fall below freezing each night.

So we’re talking about millions of Texans who may find themselves stuck in their homes for a considerable length of time. Is that right?

Potentially, yeah, there could be those winter-weather impacts where people should just stay home and ride the storm out if possible.

So how should folks prepare? What do you recommend that people do at this point?

Things to winterize their homes, things like your outdoor water spigot: you can insulate that. Any exposed pipes that you have, you can wrap those, make sure those are protected from the cold. Use this time now right now to make sure you have your winter kit assembled. Make sure your your cell phone is fully charged. You have extra batteries around for portable radios and things like that. If you’re in the area, that’s going to receive some ice accumulations, make sure you have some salt or something like that you could put down outside around your house if needed. Things of that nature and make sure you have a couple of days worth of food and water to get you through the storm.

We’ve been hearing a lot of reassurances from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the state’s power grid. But I would still imagine you’d want to have extra blankets, warm clothing, flashlights, a first aid kit, things like that, right?

Yes, those things would be great to have on hand there at your house. This last day we have here before the winter weather impacts and those cooler temperatures arrive would be a good time to assemble those types of items. Those would be fantastic to have around the house when those cold conditions begin across the state.

We’re hearing reports from news outlets, especially in the Dallas Fort-Worth metroplex, that there’s been a run on power generators. Is that something that you’d advise folks to get for this storm?

I mean, each individual situation is different. If they feel like a generator would be something that would benefit them to get them through the storm, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. We want to keep in mind generator safety when using a generator for power: You never want to use the generators indoors; keep them at least 20 feet away from your house, outside. So we really want to be mindful of generator safety if folks are considering using a generator during this winter-weather event.

We should probably underscore this because a large number of deaths in last February’s winter storm were attributable to incorrect use generators, right?

That is a issue we have seen creep up over the last several years when we’re dealing with an extended times without power.

What about car winterization? What should folks be doing at this juncture? I guess you want to test your battery, if you can.

Yes, definitely do that. Make sure you have some cold-weather supplies in your car, blankets in the event that you see yourself out and about and perhaps stranded. Again, we recommend you stay home. But if you happen to be out and about, check the fluid levels in your car at this point. Make sure your tires have plenty of tread and that they are in good condition. And just make sure all your issues with your car in order before this winter-weather event.

Earlier this year, a winter-weather event left people stuck for hours on a highway in the Virginia and Washington, D.C.,-area. Is that a possibility here that Texans should prepare for?

Where there’s the ice issues, you could see some travel impacts across those areas from around Austin upwards, northwards, to the DFW area. But I would stress and recommend at this point that if people can stay home and avoid being out on the roads, that would be a good course of action.

Is there anything else you think listeners should be aware of?

I would just take this time now to prepare yourself for this winter-weather event, and the best place for weather information, or one source of weather information that you can go to is weather.gov, and the map of the United States will come up and you can either type in your location in the upper-left-hand corner, or you can click on your location in Texas and it will give you the up-to-date forecast for your location as we head into this winter weather event.

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