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Rotating Electrical Outages Accompany Winter Storm

Snow covers Monroe Street in Commerce. Planned power outages caused interruptions in electrical service across Northeast Texas this morning.
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Snow covers Monroe Street in Commerce. Planned power outages caused interruptions in electrical service across Northeast Texas this morning.

A winter storm system is bringing frigid temperatures to the central United States, including Northeast Texas, where the region is buried under several inches of snow and ice. Temperatures across the region remained in the single digits well into Monday morning. The National Weather Service forecasts afternoon highs in the mid teens.

Snow accumulations measured around 4 inches or greater across much of the region as of Monday morning. In Emory, local officials reported 5 inches of snow at the Rains County Courthouse at 6:32 a.m.

Rolling electrical blackouts, a planned effort to reduce electricity usage, began across Texas early Monday morning and could continue as long as extremely low temperatures persist. 

The Texas council that manages the majority of the state's electricity,  the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), released a statement saying that “emergency conditions” caused grid administrators to begin rotating outages at 1:25 a.m. today.

"Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said.

“Rotating outages will likely last throughout the morning and could be initiated until this weather emergency ends,” the ERCOT release said.

“We urge Texans to put safety first,” ERCOT tweeted as it urged residents to reduce electricity use.

“Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporarily without power,” ERCOT said.

Oncor, an electrical provider that serves much of Northeast Texas, announced late Monday morning that planned outages could last longer than 45 minutes.

"Due to the severity of the electric generation shortfall, our expected outage length of 15 to 45 minutes has been significantly extended," Oncor posted on its Twitter account at 9:08 a.m. "Outages due to this electric emergency could last for hours & we ask you to be prepared," the post said.

"In addition, we are responding to separate outages caused by the record-breaking winter storm that continues to impact our entire service territory," Oncor said. "We are doing everything possible to respond to each of these power emergency events."

Conservation remains critical, Oncor said. Officials recommend turning thermostats down to 68 degrees, turning off and unplugging appliances and lights that aren’t essential, and avoid using large appliances, like washers, dryers and dishwashers.

The White House has declared a federal emergency in Texas so agencies can coordinate their response.

Many Texans are waiting out the winter storm at home, but the Texas Department of Transportation continues to monitor roads and highways. Patrick Clarke, a TxDOT spokesman, encourages Texans to visit DriveTexas.org to get information on highway conditions. Clarke said at least 415 crew members were on rotating shifts as the storm continues to pass through North Texas.

TxDOT's Dallas district says crews are plowing roads and treating icy patches, but travel remains strongly discouraged. Bridges and overpasses are especially vulnerable, TxDOT officials say. "Although snow is slowing down in our area, the effects will be felt for days due to extremely low temperatures," TxDOT said on Twitter. "Stay home if possible."

The Public Utility Commission of Texas joined the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in calling for electricity conservation.

“The lowest temperatures Texas has seen in decades necessitate a shared response across the state, from households to factories,” said commission Chairman DeAnn Walker. “Along with the tools ERCOT uses to maintain the reliability of the grid, common sense conservation also plays a critical role in our state’s endurance of this challenge.”

Businesses should also minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible or even consider reducing non-essential production processes.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration on Friday in response to winter storms expected across the state.

"These resources will help us respond to this severe winter weather and keep our communities safe," Abbott said in a statement. "The State of Texas remains in close contact with officials on the ground and will provide any additional resources and support that are needed."

As part of the declaration, Texas Division of Emergency Management has deployed the following resources:

Texas Department of Transportation: Winter weather roadway preparation equipment and response crews as well as road condition monitoring.

Texas Highway Patrol, Texas Department of Public Safety: Courtesy patrols to assist stranded motorists along major travel corridors.

Texas Military Department: Winter weather equipment and personnel to support Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Abilene, Fort Worth, and Waco to assist in stranded motorist operations.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: Four wheel drive vehicles and personnel to assist with stranded motorists along major travel corridors.

Texas A&M Forest Service: Motor graders and personnel to assist with snow/ice clearance and saw crews to assist with removal of downed trees.

Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, Texas Task Force 1: Search and rescue equipment and teams.

Public Utility Commission of Texas: Monitoring and reporting of power outages and monitoring of any issues impacting the power generation capability in the state.

Texas Animal Health Commission: Response equipment and personnel to address livestock concerns due to frigid temperatures.