The sun beats down on the I-30 Canyon at Akard. Photo by Alex Macon.

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Is Dallas Ready for Summer Blackouts?

Not many people saw February's disaster coming. But if there are widespread power outages this summer, we have no excuse for not being prepared.

A recent study shows how power outages coupled with extreme heat pose a major risk to unprepared cities across the country. The research, published in May in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that both heat waves and blackouts are becoming more frequent. Combine the two, and indoor temperatures skyrocket alongside outdoor temperatures. And then people will die, according to the study’s authors.

Researchers in this case looked at three specific places—Atlanta, Detroit, and Phoenix—and found that heat waves-slash-blackouts in those cities could expose about 68 percent of residents to “an elevated risk of heat exhaustion and/or stroke.” But the study is especially relevant to us here in Texas, where it gets very hot and not even a week ago the operator of our state’s extremely fallible power grid asked Texans to turn down their thermostats and conserve energy to prevent rolling blackouts.

Summer is just getting started. State leaders’ assurances that our power grid is ready for the demand that will accompany Texas’ hottest temperatures have, understandably, been met with some skepticism. In February, when at least 150 and as many as 700 Texans died amid freezing temperatures and widespread power outages, cities scrambled to open warming stations at rec centers and libraries.

If there are widespread power outages in Dallas this summer, does the city have a plan in place? Will it open cooling stations? Does it have backup power generators ready? Bottled water to distribute? A strategy to reach residents at high risk of heat stroke? I asked a city spokesperson, who responded with a link to a page that, as of Monday afternoon, registered a 404 error. (Its URL indicates it is supposed to contain tips on beating the heat.) The spokesperson also noted that air-conditioned recreation centers are open to the public Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Fridays from 2 to 7 p.m.

I emailed back to ask whether any of the city’s rec centers had backup power generators, and to ask again whether there was any sort of plan in place to keep residents cool in the specific event of widespread power outages this summer. I hadn’t gotten a response by Monday evening. Update: The city sent this response Tuesday morning.

Rec centers and libraries do not have generators at the moment. Our Office of Emergency Management is working to procure generators, due to the size of the project we do not expect to have or rely on generators this summer.

The City is currently operating Libraries and Rec Centers as places to escape the heat. If we do experience widespread power outages, we do have a plan in place. As we did during the winter storm, the City would identify rec centers, libraries and other City facilities not impacted by the power outage and designate as emergency facilities.

The city does have a web page on dealing with extreme heat, which advises drinking plenty of water, dressing for the heat, reducing your time in the sun, and closing your blinds during the day. Good advice, but is it enough if we experience blackouts like the ones we saw in February? More than 700 Texans died from heat-related causes in 2019. How many will die if we lose power when it’s 105 degrees in August?

Some people saw February’s disaster coming, although I think the frailty of the state’s power grid was a shock to most of us. If the power goes out this summer, and we don’t have a plan, we have no excuse.

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