Having already been hammered by the pandemic this year, oil and gas producers in the Gulf braced for the storm’s wrath.
The state of Texas continued to reel under a deep freeze, leaving utilities scrambling to meet record power demand and forcing the state’s grid operator to enforce rotating blackouts early on Monday, putting over two million Texans in the dark.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has sought to cut power use in response to a winter record of 69,150 megawatts (MW) on Sunday evening, more than 3,200 MW higher than the previous winter peak in January 2018.
Rotating power outages were initiated by ERCOT early Monday morning, meaning thousands went without electricity for short periods as temperatures fell into the teens near Dallas and -5C (around 20F) around Houston.
The Panhandle saw the lowest temperatures, dropping to -9F (-22C) around Amarillo.
— NWS Amarillo (@NWSAmarillo) February 15, 2021
Reserves have dropped below 1,000 MW and transmission companies have been ordered to reduce demand on system, ERCOT said.
Poweroutage.us, a utilities tracking site in the United States, said 2,382,119 Texans were without power as of 7:35am local time (13:35 GMT).
“We urge Texans to put safety first,” the council tweeted as it urged residents to reduce electricity use. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power in the state.
“Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporarily without power,” ERCOT said.
has declared an EEA 3. Energy conservation is critical. Rotating outages are underway to reduce demand on the electric system. We urge Texans to put safety first during this time. Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporarily without power. 01:25:40 150221
— ERCOT (@ERCOT_ISO) February 15, 2021
A level-three emergency notice was issued by the regulator, urging customers to limit power usage and prevent an uncontrolled system-wide outage.
The storms knocked out nearly half the wind power generation capacity of Texas on Sunday.
Wind generation ranks as the second-largest source of electricity in Texas, accounting for 23 percent of state power supplies last year behind natural gas, which served 45 percent, ERCOT estimates.
Energy traders last week said that some five-minute power prices in Texas approached $4,000 per megawatt hour. That compares with an ERCOT North average of $26 in 2020.
Apart from Texas, much of the US from the Pacific Northwest through the Great Plains and into the mid-Atlantic states has been in the grip of bone-chilling weather over the weekend, featuring snow, sleet and freezing rain.
Around 5,000 Oklahoma Gas & Electric customers were without power overnight, and Entergy Arkansas logged about 3,000 outages. Both states have much smaller populations than Texas.
Accumulating ice between 0.25 and 0.6cm (a tenth and a quarter of an inch) was possible across eastern Louisiana, Mississippi, central Tennessee, Kentucky and over into the West Virginia and Ohio border region, said National Weather Service (NWS) lead forecaster Bob Oravec.
Up to 30cm (12 inches) of snow was expected across parts of the southern Plains into Monday, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center.
The region had been gearing up for the winter weather for the better part of the weekend. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration on February 12 for all of the state’s 254 counties.
A deadly pileup due to icy roads killed six that day in Forth Worth.
Abbott, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson each activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency in Texas in a statement Sunday night. The declaration is intended to add federal aid to state and local response efforts.
The extreme weather is expected to continue. The NWS said Sunday that the forecast through early Tuesday calls for 20 to 30cm (8 to 12 inches) of snow in central Oklahoma, and 10 to 20cm (4 to 8 inches) in an area extending from eastern Texas to the Ohio Valley in the Northeast.