Tuesday, May 28, 2024 May 28, 2024
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Dallas Prepares To Thaw Out After Nearly 90 Hours Below Freezing

Temperatures will warm up Wednesday, and now the city is preparing for what comes with the thaw.
Fair Park's Grand Place Building was turned into an inclement weather shelter capable of housing 900 people. Courtesy Austin Street Center

The winter precipitation melted and evaporated, but the bitter cold is expected to remain through Wednesday morning. We will have to wait until Wednesday afternoon for temperatures to reach above freezing.

The National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office predicts temperatures will not get much higher than 27 today, and will dip into the teens again tonight. The agency said that Wednesday afternoon will bring on temperatures in the 40s, while Thursday’s temperatures will reach into the mid-50s. By the weekend, temperatures will once again dip, but will likely settle above freezing.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ ended its conservation appeal Tuesday morning. The state remains under a weather watch issued by the agency, but another conservation appeal is not expected. The weather event brought a peak demand of around 78,138 gigawatts. Energy consultant Doug Lewin said Tuesday morning that batteries provided more than 1,000 megawatts to the grid. He anticipates that energy companies will double their storage this year, providing additional reserves for high demand during extreme weather.

While many North Texas schools canceled classes today, students will return Wednesday morning. Dallas ISD announced this afternoon that classes would resume, and most districts followed suit. 

Some had questioned the closures since roads were relatively clear as early as Tuesday morning, but most canceled out of concern for students who would be waiting for buses in the freezing temperatures. 

Richardson ISD superintendent Tabitha Branum said it’s never an easy decision. “Closing schools is one of the most difficult decisions a leader can ever make,” she said on social media. “It is anguished over (because) you know there are so many implications for so many people you care about. We all do the best we can, with the information we have. I hope for grace and understanding.”

As temperatures rise, water leaks will follow. In a Tuesday morning press conference, Dallas Water Utilities director Eduardo Valerio said that the city was already responding to some breaks, including a large one at Pearl Street and Woodall Rodgers Freeway downtown. He said tomorrow’s warmer temperatures would likely reveal more leaks where frozen pipes had burst. He estimated that most repairs can be completed in six to eight hours.

Valerio attributed the leaks to a variety of issues—aging infrastructure beneath city streets, the material from which the pipes are made, and weather changes that cause the ground to shift.

“As we start warming up, that’s when we’ll start receiving an increase in water main break calls,” said Dallas 311 director Daisy Torres-Fast said. “So we encourage residents to actually call 311 directly.”

Volunteers sort supplies at the city's inclement weather shelter at Fair Park. Courtesy Austin Street Center

City officials also recommended that homeowners find out how to shut off their water now, in case they do find a leak as temperatures warm up.

“Now is the time to locate your master water shut off and any instrument or tool needed before tomorrow, when the temperatures get above freezing,” said city of Dallas spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar.

And if homeowners find that their pipes are frozen, Dallas Fire-Rescue Captain Robert Borse stressed that they should make sure they’re addressing the situation safely.

“The biggest thing that we would like to impress on people is do not try to what’s called sweating the pipes,” he said. “We have had in the past where fires were caused by people trying to apply heat directly to applied and that’s not a safe practice.”

Dallas Sanitation Director Clifton Gillespie said that garbage collection and recycling collection will resume Wednesday, since today’s temperatures “are just unsafe for our staff that are assigned to work outdoors, particularly the 200 plus people that work on the back of collection vehicles.” 

Homes that are scheduled to have Monday and Tuesday garbage and recycling pickup will have their garbage collected Wednesday, but won’t have recycling pickup until next week. The city’s policy that requires customers to close the lid on their recycling bin will be suspended for affected residents, allowing them to stack overflow recycling on top or next to their bins.

Homes usually scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday garbage and recycling collection will see their pickups delayed by a day this week. 

“Sanitation crews are doing their best tomorrow to collect all garbage in Monday and Tuesday areas, but it will still be extremely cold tomorrow morning, which may have some impact on our ability to safely complete all routes by the end of the day,” Gillespie said.

Christine Crossley, the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions Director, anticipates that the city will begin ramping down operations at its two auxiliary inclement weather shelter sites at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and the former Austin Street Center location by tomorrow. Last night, there were 840 individuals at the city’s main inclement weather shelter at Fair Park, and another 237 at the secondary Austin Street Shelter. About 1,500 have been served by the three shelters since the cold weather hit.

Crossley said that the immediate need is for volunteers as the city looks at another few nights of frigid temperatures. “We do think that there will be a longer call for inclement weather shelter as we have weather moving forward in the week that looks to meet our triggers,” she said. “We’re exhausting wave one of the volunteers, so we really need a second wave.” 

Information on volunteering and donating can be found at dallashomelesssolutions.com.

Some Dallas public libraries struggled to warm up this morning, said Dallas Public Library director Jo Guidice. All locations were open, but a handful were sitting at about 50 degrees, but were getting warmer. 

Streets are also clear, the city said. Borse said that because of that, calls had increased slightly. The fire department is also helping move individuals seeking shelter to the three inclement weather shelters. Dallas Police Assistant Chief Michael Igo said that the department had 92 weather-related calls, including 19 accidents. Officers also transported 22 people to warming facilities.

Pipes at the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office froze Monday, and there was no heat in the building, Fox 4 reported. Autopsies have resumed on a limited basis because it has been too cold for employees to work.

“It’s very cold. My office is probably 32 degrees, and a lot of the administrative offices are that cold, the labs are that cold,” said Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, the Dallas County Chief Medical Examiner. “They’re out of compliance, so nobody can do any kind of analytical work, so we’re down now to the essential employees. People showed up this morning, but I had to send them home. It was just too cold.”

On Tuesday, with the bulk of the dangerous weather having passed, interim Office of Emergency Management Director Travis Houston said that each cold-weather event has been a learning experience for the city’s messaging strategy.

“It’s just like anything else the more you do it, the better you get at it, and after each one of these events, invariably there’s lessons learned,” he said. 

After Winter Storm Uri in 2021, the city made investments in redundant power and mobile heating systems so that it could keep offices operational even during extended power outages.  The city added fixed generators at libraries and recreation centers and also invested in eight mobile HVAC systems that are paired with generators and can be deployed anywhere in the city to keep warming centers up and running.

Crossley said Uri also was the impetus for building out infrastructure for caring for the city’s homeless population during extreme weather. The city has been able to do that by partnering with organizations like OurCalling and Austin Street Center. The department has also received funding from the city that enables it to lease the former Austin Street Center on Hickory Street near Deep Ellum, and to use a short-term lease with Fair Park to fill bigger buildings when there is a greater need for shelter.

On Tuesday, Oak Lawn United Methodist senior pastor Rachel Griffin posted an emotional highlight showing a man who had been brought in by ambulance reuniting with his family.

“Our team made contact with his family, who have been trying to find him for over 10 years!” Griffin said. “His sister called and said she would drive from Kansas and come pick him up. It would take 7 hours to get there. As we were talking, he said he was so excited but also scared.”

She described the entire experience as a “clear reminder that every person who comes through the doors for shelter is someone’s son or daughter.” 

The video of that reunion is below.


Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.