Texans, grab your coats and winter jackets: The state is girding up for a host of wintry conditions and chilly temperatures through the end of this week. The bad weather comes less than two weeks before the anniversary of a winter storm that caused power outages across the state amid bone-chilling conditions that killed hundreds of people.
“No one can guarantee there won’t be [power outages],” Governor Greg Abbott said during a press conference held Tuesday. (It should be noted that in December, Abbott told a local news station he could “guarantee the lights will stay on” this winter. Weird discrepancy there, Greg!)
The storm coming to Texas is part of a huge swath of bad weather set to hit a 2,000-mile stretch of the U.S. this week (branded Winter Storm Landon by the Weather Channel). Winter storm warnings are in place for places as far south as parts of New Mexico and Texas that touch the border with Mexico, extending diagonally all the way up to corners of New Hampshire that border Canada. The storm, which extends some 2,000 miles across the U.S. is currently making a mess in the Rockies and parts of the Great Plains and Midwest, has already dumped 6 inches of snow on Denver, and areas in Missouri and Illinois have seen at least that much. Another front of cold air blowing in after the storm means that a lot of that precipitation will turn to ice, making travel conditions treacherous in many areas of the country through Friday.
There are some key differences between the bad weather headed Texas’s way now and what happened in 2021. Generally, Texans shouldn’t expect conditions this week to be as cold as what they saw last year. In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, temperatures could fall to a low of 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius). That’s definitely cold for Texas, but nothing like the -5 degrees Fahrenheit (-20.5 degrees Celsius) that hit in February 2021. Last February’s cold snap was also more like a cold drag, as the area saw temperatures at or below freezing for seven days straight; this storm should only have Dallas-Fort Worth sitting at freezing temperatures for three days. Increased demand for energy during the extreme and extended cold was part of what drove the widespread grid failure, and it seems unlikely that Texas will see those conditions again.
This storm does have the potential for much heavier ice and sleet in parts of Texas than last year’s storm. Abbott warned during the press conference that the ice on trees or power lines could cause local lines to fail and create outages, and warned drivers of icy conditions on the road.
Even comparatively milder storms like this one could still prove a test for Texas’s grid. Reforms for the grid, which experts had long warned was at risk of widespread failure, became front and center after the storm, with mixed results: Abbott signed two reforms into law in June, one of which overhauled the leadership of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the grid, while the other mandated winterization of the grid. (In August, Ed Hirs, a professor of energy economics at the University of Houston, told Earther that the reforms were just “political theater.”)
Natural gas infrastructure, however, got a lot of wiggle room with these winterization mandates, despite natural gas facilities being one of the key causes of last year’s blackouts. There could be trouble ahead if this week’s weather gets bad enough. More than 10% of the natural gas supply to the grid was cut off in January during a cold snap, while some natural gas suppliers have already informed ERCOT this week that their supply won’t be reaching generators this week due to the cold weather.
One thing’s for sure, though: The bad-faith actors who helped spread falsehoods about frozen wind turbines being responsible for last year’s disaster are once again hard at work. In Wednesday’s edition of its emailed newsletter, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank with deep ties to fossil fuels that consistently promotes an anti-renewables agenda, falsely claimed that “Texas is relying entirely on wind and solar” to fuel its grid, claiming if the “wind doesn’t blow,” Texas could see more outages. (Okay, y’all. Whatever you say.)
These lies were repeated last year by Abbott and various other politicians—who subsequently used the blackouts to push anti-renewables legislation. If something does happen this week, look forward to hearing more of the same.