Tuesday, May 21, 2024 May 21, 2024
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The Precipitation Has Moved On, But North Texas Is Still Under a Freeze

The precipitation has moved out of the area. But the sub-zero temperatures are here for at least another day, which means roads will be slick through at least Wednesday.
The Dallas Zoo closed Monday after snow blanketed the area overnight Sunday and early Monday. Courtesy Dallas Zoo

This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. on 1/15. It was first published on 1/12.

The extreme winter weather may not have produced the volume of snow and ice like 2021’s Winter Storm Uri, but below-freezing temperatures will remain a concern until Wednesday morning.

Temperatures dropped to the teens on Saturday night, with a wind chill between 8 and 13 degrees, and North Texas won’t get above freezing until Wednesday. At lunchtime Monday, it was 18 degrees, but the wind chill meant it felt like 7 degrees. Much of the wintry precipitation fell overnight and began to thaw throughout Monday. The arrival of snow and sleet was difficult to predict because of how it arrived, said Tom Bradshaw, the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth meteorologist-in-charge.

“The prediction of winter precipitation type across North Central Texas remains challenging, owing to alternating layers of moister and drier air above the surface, and varying temp profiles aloft,” he said. “These are hard to model.”

Sunday’s forecaster discussion from lead meteorologist David Bonnette predicted light drizzle and light rain with heavier precipitation after midnight, which is why much of Dallas proper woke up on Monday with frozen driveways.

“As we move beyond midnight, the expanding cloud deck will start to tap into colder air, resulting in a transition from mostly freezing rain to mostly sleet across North Texas and our Red River counties transitioning to all sleet and snow,” he said.

He predicted that most of the precipitation would move out of the area by lunchtime Monday, and that has proven mostly true. There are some areas downwind of local lakes that are still experiencing lake-effect snow. The NWS has not released official snowfall totals yet, but it appears that most of the area got at least a dusting of dry, powdery snow. The issue now is that any moisture on the ground will freeze again overnight.

Dallas ISD, Fort Worth ISD, Garland ISD, Mesquite, ISD, DeSoto ISD, Highland Park ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Arlington ISD, Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD, Keller ISD, Lancaster ISD, all Uplift Education campuses, and Richardson ISD have closed Tuesday, as well as TCU and Dallas College. The list of closures is expected to grow into the evening.

Local meteorologists also weighed in.

The Weather Channel named the system, which began by hanging out in the northwest United States, Winter Storm Heather. (Yes, Heather.) Officials ramped up preparations to minimize Heather’s damage. 

The Texas Department of Transportation pretreated roads ahead of the freeze, and said Monday that it was continuing to dispatch crews to check roadways and add sand and salt where needed. Dallas Animal Services reminded residents to bring their pets inside and to limit how much time they spend outside. Dallas city code requires that all animals have access to adequate shelter during extreme weather, as well as water. On Monday, the Dallas Zoo and the Fort Worth Zoo announced that they would be closed because of the weather. 

At a Monday morning press conference, Dallas Sanitation Services director Clifton Gillespie said that trash and recycling pickup was suspended. Roads are slick in neighborhoods and temperatures are hazardous to crews who ride on the back of collection trucks. Dallas Animal Services spokeswoman Sarah Sheek said the department had received 183 calls since the weather rolled in, and had been able to respond to at least 143 so far. The shelter will remain open until 7 p.m. Monday.

City Code Compliance spokesman Eric Onyechefule said that the department has answered 81 emergency calls since Friday, including one apartment complex where management had turned off the water in a bid to avoid frozen pipes. The water has since been turned on. Dallas 311 director Daisy Torres-Fast said that her department has been able to answer calls within seconds. The department has taken 287 calls, and the bulk of them are about animals.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that manages the state’s power grid, issued a Weather Alert on Thursday ahead of the drop in temperatures but stopped short of calling for formal conservation. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott and other state officials said that they felt confident that the state’s electrical grid—which famously failed in 2021 as the entire state plunged into subzero temperatures—would hold up. As of Sunday morning, any outages in North Texas were localized.

“We feel very good about the status of the Texas power grid and ERCOT to be able to effectively and successfully ensure that the power is going to stay on throughout the entirety of this episode,” Abbott said in a briefing Friday at the State Operations Center in Austin. 

“We are prepared,” ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas agreed. “We do expect the ERCOT grid to be in normal conditions throughout this event.”

Abbott also said that power outages may happen, but they will likely be from downed power lines and other localized conditions. He said that Tuesday and Wednesday morning may be the “tightest” times for the state’s grid, when demand will likely approach supply. Officials estimate that parts of the state will be at or below freezing for 80 to 90 hours.

Austin meteorologist Avery Tomasco said Tuesday morning will mark the coldest part of this snap. “But Tuesday afternoon is when it’s still cold AND wind speeds are decreasing,” he said. “Less wind energy = much tighter conditions on the power grid.”

On Sunday morning, ERCOT’s supply and demand forecast seemed to indicate two of the tightest points would be 8 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, when the demand is predicted to outpace available seasonable capacity. However, Texas energy analyst Doug Lewin says that “ERCOT’s forecasts are bouncing around wildly,” but that any shortfalls would be one to two hours at the most. “Small, nothing like Uri,” he said.

On Sunday afternoon, ERCOT issued a conservation appeal for Monday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., asking businesses and residents to conserve electricity if possible. As that period ended, the agency warned that there could be a similar request on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s demand at 8 a.m. is forecast to be about 3,684 megawatts short of the projected supply. Monday afternoon, the agency issued a conservation appeal for Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“With the winter storm encompassing the entire state and temperatures forecasted to be colder this evening and into tomorrow morning, ERCOT is asking Texans to conserve electricity use, if safe to do so,” read the Monday morning announcement. “At this time, if you are experiencing an outage, it is local in nature and not related to grid reliability.”

Around 10:45 a.m. Monday, 15,931 customers were without power in North Texas, according to Oncor’s outage map. There were 1,039 customers without power in Dallas County, while Tarrant County had 441, and Collin County had 55. The bulk of the outages in North Texas seemed to be in Dallas, Grayson, and Ellis counties. All of those outages were local and unrelated to any supply or demand issues with the state grid.

Officials recommended stocking up on supplies like water and making a plan in case of temporary power outages. Leaving faucets on a slow drip, wrapping pipes, and disconnecting water hoses from outside spigots will also help prevent pipes from freezing. Turning off sprinklers will help ensure that water does not pool and freeze on sidewalks and streets. 

The city of Dallas and local nonprofits prepared for an influx of people seeking shelter from the frigid temperatures. The city’s Office of Homeless Solutions has opened an inclement weather center at Fair Park’s Grand Place Building that housed more than 900 people and reached capacity Sunday evening. Austin Street Center will handle the intake at its shelter near Deep Ellum, while OurCalling will run its day-to-day operations, providing meals, security, and other care. The shelter will open Friday afternoon.

A spokeswoman said the facility is being divided into sections for women, elderly and disabled individuals, and men, and will also offer space for pets. 

Sunday afternoon, all 900 beds at the Fair Park shelter were full, a spokesperson for Austin Street and OurCalling said. The city opened two additional shelters at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and Austin Street’s former facility on Hickory Street. Combined, that added another 440 beds.

OurCalling sent text messages to unsheltered individuals enrolled in its system to let them know where the new beds are. A bus operated by Austin Street will pick up and drop off people seeking shelter.

Christine Crossley, director of the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions, said Monday that 1,129 people have been through the shelter. As of Monday morning, there were 721 at the Fair Park facility, 195 at Austin Street Center, and 10 at Oak Lawn UMC. All three shelters allow pets, and Crossley said there were 20 dogs housed at Fair Park, and another dog at Oak Lawn. Volunteers are also needed at all three sites. You can find information about needs here.

The Salvation Army of North Texas offered overnight warming shelters at its Carr P. Collins Social Service Center and Garland Corps Community Care Center in Dallas County; the Plano Corps and McKinney Corps community care centers in Collin County; and the Arlington Corps Community Care Center in Tarrant County. Each shelter is supplying food, shelter, clean-up kits, cold weather gear, and assistance.

Winter storms are also impacting travel. TxDOT’s DriveTexas map shows some snow and ice accumulations on elevated roadways. The agency had closed all TEXpress managed lanes ahead of the storm.

In a press conference Monday, Dallas Fire Rescue Captain Robert Borse said that emergency calls have been lower than expected since the department began tracking them Sunday night. So far, calls are down by one-fourth of the department’s volume for an average day, something Borse also attributed to the fact that many schools and businesses are closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“People are doing a good job of staying home,” he said. “They’re doing the smart thing and hunkering down.”

Borse acknowledged that the number of calls could go up as people begin to leave their homes Monday and Tuesday. The National Weather Service said Monday that sub-freezing temperatures would last through Wednesday morning, which means that melted and compacted snow from Monday will refreeze later in the evening. That will impact roadways, especially bridges and overpasses.

“Additional melting may occur Tuesday, but travel impacts will linger into Wednesday for most,” the NWS said.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit said that it has treated bus and train station parking lots and walkways ahead of any frozen precipitation, and its vehicles and train switches are being weatherized. It also will keep four transit centers open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. to help riders stay warm: the J.B. Jackson Jr. Transit Center/MLK Jr. Station, CBD West Transfer Station on San Jacinto St. downtown, Downtown Irving/Heritage Crossing Station, and the South Garland Transit Center. Other transit centers and stations will be open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Monday, the agency said that all buses and trains were in service, but that there were some weather-related delays.

According to Flightaware.com, DFW International Airport had 399 flights (roughly 11-28 percent) canceled as of noon Monday, and another 424 delayed. At Dallas Love Field, 114 flights were canceled, and another 54 flights were delayed. Nationally, more than 18,177 flights were delayed as of noon Monday, and another 3,082 were canceled.


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.