Morning Sun

Texas braces for cold, sleet and a test for the power grid

- By Brian K. Sullivan

A blast of frigid air threatens to bring slick and cold conditions across southern Texas, triggering a winter storm watch and raising concerns for power grid operators and natural gas drillers.

Overnight temperatur­es are forecast to drop below freezing across a large part of Texas from late Wednesday through the weekend, approachin­g levels seen during the cold snap that struck the state in early January. Some storms will cross the southern half of Texas and bring mainly freezing rain -- though nothing like last winter’s deadly storm.

“I would say it is only going to be a few days, and it’s not going to be as brutal as last year,” said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. “It doesn’t look like it is going to be a prolonged event.”

Deep cold in Texas last February crippled the state’s energy grid, leading to outages and the deaths of more than 200 people. Freezing temperatur­es can disrupt production of natural gas, the main fuel for power plants. A cold snap at the start of January, which saw the temperatur­e in Dallas plunge to 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius), led to a 10% drop in gas output over two days, according to Bloombergn­ef data.

A winter storm watch is in place through early Friday from just north of Austin south to the Rio Grande River, the border with Mexico, according to the National Weather Service. Only the extreme southern tip of Texas around Brownsvill­e is outside the watch area.

The weather will bring a whiplash of temperatur­es.

San Antonio will drop from a daytime high of 76 degrees to a low of 34 on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. The cold continues Thursday, with highs reaching 37 before dropping to 27 overnight. Friday’s low is forecast at 30 before temperatur­es begin to rebound with a high of 51 on Saturday. In Dallas, daytime temperatur­es will fall from 59 degrees on Wednesday to a low of 23 by Thursday night.

Freezing rain will arrive as cold air rushes through the area, potentiall­y adding a glazing of ice on roads and power lines, causing problems. Gas wells are particular­ly susceptibl­e to socalled freeze offs because of the high volumes of subterrane­an water that typically flow out of the ground alongside the fuel.

The impending chill could affect oil markets, depending on the extent of freeze offs in the Permian, North America’s largest crude field. Any supply hiccups typically create dislocatio­ns in regional oil prices before rippling into the broader oil-futures market.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas production in the state, held conference calls Tuesday with top producers and major pipeline operators about the upcoming freeze.

“They didn’t anticipate anything other than normal production fluctuatio­ns, however they are prepared to address any issues they may have with overnight freezing temperatur­es,” Railroad Commission spokesman R.J. Desilva said in an emailed statement.

Meanwhile, inspectors for the state’s main grid operator found that almost all power generating units comply with new winter weather requiremen­ts.

 ?? THOMAS RYAN ALLISON — BLOOMBERG ?? Workers repair a power line in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 18, 2021.
THOMAS RYAN ALLISON — BLOOMBERG Workers repair a power line in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 18, 2021.

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