Updated 9:43 p.m. 2/2/11 -
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – People all across North Texas continue to be impacted by Tuesday morning’s cold blast of winter weather. Snow and ice remain on area roadways, as temperatures have been in the teens and below for the past day. This is the coldest air to move through North Texas in 15 years, and the coldest day in 21 years — and conditions will not be heating up until the weekend.
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The problems aren’t just with the cold outside. Oncor reported tens of thousands of people without power Wednesday. That included some residents in nearly all parts of North Texas. Dorothy White with the City of Garland later confirmed that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) was in the process of rolling outages.
A statement then released by Dottie Roark with ERCOT said that ERCOT “instructed utilities to begin rotating outages to compensate for a generation shortage due to numerous plant trips that occurred because of extreme weather.” The power outages, a process called ‘load-shedding,’ are taking place statewide.
By mid-day ERCOT announced that the rotating outages were “no longer needed”, but a spokesperson told CBS 11 News they could again become necessary this evening and Thursday. In a statement Wednesday night ERCOT urged Texas residents to reduce power usage during peak-demand time Thursday morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.
ERCOT officials said the grid situation is improving, but conservation was still needed. The state’s power grid hit an all-time winter peak demand Wednesday night between 7-8 p.m.
ERCOT officials also said that some of the customers who are still without power have lost electricity because of the winter storm and not the rotating outages.
Early Wednesday afternoon, Terry Hadley, a spokesman for the Texas Public Utility Commission, said across the state millions of Texans have been or will be impacted by the blackouts.
Initially, Roark said the outages, which started around 6:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, would just be temporary – lasting somewhere between 10 and 45 minutes per neighborhood – and that “critical need customers such as hospitals and nursing homes” are not included in the process. But as the morning and afternoon went on, CBS 11 News received reports of outages lasting for several hours.
Hadley said at least two major electric generating plants shut down overnight. Those shut downs reduced the amount of electricity in the system by 10 percent. When that happened, ERCOT ordered utilities to start the rolling outages.
Hadley said state officials understand that “this is a major inconvenience for a lot of people.” The rolling outages are designed to minimize that inconvenience, he said.
Burst water pipes at two coal-fired power plants forced them to shut down, triggering the rolling power cuts.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the Associated Press he was told that the pipes at two Austin-area plants, Oak Grove and Sand Hill, forced them to cut electricity production. Natural gas power plants that should have provided back up had difficulty starting due to low pressure in the supply lines, also caused by the cold weather.
Atmos Energy, the main provider of Natural Gas in North Texas, posted a statement to their Investor Relations page Wednesday saying a curtailment order was put into place at noon Wednesday for industrial customers north of I-30. The release asks residents to set thermostats at 65 degrees and limit early morning hot water use.
There is at least one North Texas location that doesn’t have to worry about losing power — Oncor said Cowboys Stadium is exempt from the rolling outages. While the stadium will remain light and warm, Oncor spokeswoman Jeamy Molina said other Super Bowl facilities, such as team hotels, were not exempt.
Molina said that Oncor has been aiming for 15 minute outages, and trying to impact as few neighborhoods as possible during their rolling blackout periods. Customers are advised to call Oncor (888-313-4747) and report the outage should it last for an extended period of time.
>> Visit Oncor’s Website <<
In the meantime, residents all across North Texas are advised to limit their electricity use by turning off any lights or appliances that are not in use and turning off electronic devices that are not necessary.
Most schools across North Texas have already announced closures for the third straight day, including those in the Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and Denton Independent School Districts. Other businesses and agencies are also deciding they will be closed again on Thursday.
Despite the widespread closures and delays, many North Texas drivers still ventured out into the cold and onto the icy roads on. Before the evening rush hour, there were already numerous car accident reports.
Some area roads appeared fine at first glance, causing some drivers to become over-confident behind the wheel. Drivers should be on the lookout for ‘ambush ice’ (as CBS 11′s Jeff Ray dubbed it on Wednesday morning). Slick patches are still present, especially on bridges and in the shadows. A driver that hits these patches at dangerous speeds is likely to wind up sliding out of control.
For those who do not want to drive on the potentially hazardous roads, there are public transportation options available. Regular service is running for DART, The T and the TRE. Riders should be careful at bus stops and transit centers, however, due to slick spots.
For those looking to get away from this icy mess, DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field are fully operational, although thousands of flights have been canceled nationwide — and that number will surely grow throughout the day.
As always, whether you are traveling in the air, on the road — or just staying at home — remember to put safety first and be careful. Conditions should improve in time for the Super Bowl on Sunday.