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Thousands without electricity, Northeast Texas roads iced as winter storm strikes region

 Commerce's Monroe Street was uncharacteristically empty Thursday morning, after an overnight winter storm covered Northeast Texas with ice.
Mark Haslett
Commerce's Monroe Street was uncharacteristically empty Thursday morning, after an overnight winter storm covered Northeast Texas with ice.

Fannin and Hunt counties were among those counties hardest hit by overnight ice accumulations.

Ice accumulations on infrastructure and damage from ice-laden tree branches left an untold number of Northeast Texas residents without electricity as sub-freezing temperatures and dangerous wintry precipitation accompanied the arrival of Thursday morning. Many communities established warming stations to serve those who lack heat at home due to outage or lack of regular service. Law enforcement and other public safety agencies, as well as electrical workers and others, are responding to the emergencies and dangers caused by the storm’s impacts.

Roads throughout the region turned highly dangerous as a steady showering of freezing rain lingered over much of Texas and Oklahoma late Wednesday night and into Thursday.

In addition to electrical service interruptions and risky travel conditions, downed branches and trees, as well as other windblown hazards, littered area highways and streets. The road hazards, effectively invisible in areas naturally dark or darkened by power outage, exacerbated the danger of iced-over surfaces. The trees and branches of the region have been enduring varying levels of drought prior to this winter storm, after an often cool, breezy and dry January left area flora brittle. Cracking and falling branches caused thunder-like noises throughout the night in residential neighborhoods other and timbered areas across the region.

In the KETR service area, Hunt, Collin, and Fannin counties were hit particularly hard by interruptions in electrical service. As of mid-morning Thursday, the electricity service provider Oncor reported more than 6,000 customers in Hunt County without power, with more than 4,000 outages in Collin County and close to 1,500 locations without electricty in Fannin County. Other providers reported similar problems, with the Fannin County Electric Cooperative reporting about 6,500 residents without power as of mid-morning Thursday. Farmers Electric Cooperative reported about 2,200 customers without power, mostly in Hunt County.

Forecasters predict temperatures to holding steady in the mid 20s today, with new snow and sleet accumulations from 1 to 2 inches possible. Thursday night, precipitation should trail off, with skies remaining cloudy and early Friday morning lows in the mid teens.

The storm is part of a massive front that swept across much of the central United States overnight. Many Texans regarded the approach of this storm system with anxious memories of the February 2021 winter storm, remembered infamously for the widespread failure of the electrical grid that serves most of the state. The grid, managed by the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), was the topic of speculation before the storm, as ERCOT officials expressed confidence in the grid even as Gov. Greg Abbott backed away from an earlier pronouncement that the grid was completely reliable.

However, electrical service delivery, rather than electrical generation, ended up being the problem for Texans in this storm, as the combination of slowly freezing temperatures and steady rainfall left fat ice accumulations on any structures exposed to the elements. Electrical service providers urged customers to report service interruptions, as such reports help companies identify problems.

Schools across the region announced their closure for Thursday. Some school districts announced closure for Friday as well, while others announced intent to wait before deciding whether to re-open Friday. Texas A&M University-Commerce announced Thursday morning that campuses would remain closed Friday, as did Commerce ISD. Collin College and Paris Junior College both closed all campuses for Thursday and Friday.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.