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Feb. 16: Severe weather slid into the Katy area – and in fact, all of Texas – Sunday evening. Freezing rain began locally around 5 p.m. that evening and overnight, many homes throughout the region were without power due to rolling blackouts or outages. Various electrical providers continued to scramble to restore power well into Tuesday and beyond with another freezing rain weather event expected Thursday.
“The blackouts have become necessary due to record breaking demand for power and the extreme conditions have caused some power generating units to go offline, causing a shortage,” said Waller County Judge Trey Duhon in a Monday morning social media post.
According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, – also known as ERCOT – which manages the state’s electrical grid, said Tuesday it was working as quickly as possible to restore power to as many Texans as possible. ERCOT CEO Bill Magnes said in a Tuesday afternoon interview with ABC affiliate WFAA out of Dallas that some electrical customers may be without power through Friday but power should be restored by the weekend.
ERCOT representatives said the outage was caused by a greatly increased demand for electricity as Texans turned up their thermostats. Texans were asked to lower their thermostat to between 64 and 68 degrees, depending on which electrical provider they had. However, rolling blackouts were required in order to manage the pull on the state’s electrical grid, they said. Additional problems were caused by natural gas and coal power plants going offline due to a lack of fuel deliveries. About 30,000 Megawatts of electrical capacity – enough to service roughly 2 million households – was taken offline by lack of fuel and high demand, about 4% of which was wind turbines in West Texas freezing up, with the remainder of the loss being natural gas and coal.
"Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," said Magness.
Tex. Governor Greg Abbott expressed his disappointment in ERCOT’s response to the storm in a brief statement Tuesday afternoon. Abbott tore into ERCOT’s lack of reliability which led to millions of Texas households being without power and subsequently without heat during unprecedented winter weather in Texas. Abbott’s statement also called for a review of ERCOT’s mandates and emergency preparedness.
“I have issued an executive order adding an emergency legislative item to review the preparations and decisions by ERCOT so we can determine what caused this problem and find long-term solutions,” Abbott said.
Abbott issued a statewide declaration of emergency ahead of the arrival of the storm, and secured a federal emergency declaration from the White House to make extra resources available for communities impacted by this weather event.
Locally, Katy and Royal ISDs cancelled classes early on and extended those cancellations as more information became available regarding road conditions. While both districts are set up to conduct classes online, they elected not to have online classes due to so many in the region being without power. As of 3:45 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, KISD had extended its closure through Thursday, Feb. 18, while RISD had cancelled classes for Wednesday, Feb. 17 and was awaiting more information before deciding about Thursday classes.
KISD has also postponed the KISD Future Farmers of America Livestock Show to Feb. 23-27.
“The safety of our students and staff is the utmost priority as we continue to navigate the impact of freezing conditions,” Katy ISD Spokesperson Maria DiPetta said in a Tuesday afternoon statement sent to local media outlets.
County offices in Fort Bend, Harris and Waller counties were closed Monday and Tuesday with the exception of emergency management offices and first responder operations. It was unknown at press time whether those closures would be extended later into the week.
“I've signed a disaster declaration for Harris County to give our emergency officials the flexibility to utilize every available resource to respond to this historic weather. This is the beginning of an incredibly challenging few days for our region,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
Fort Bend County closed several roads and, like all surrounding jurisdictions asked residents to stay home unless an absolute emergency arose.
The Houston Toll Road Authority shut down multiple tollways throughout Greater Houston as bridges and flyovers froze over, making travel unsafe for area residents.
The city of Katy announced online Tuesday afternoon that City Hall and the municipal court would remain closed on Feb. 17. Those needing to pay utility bills would have their deadlines extended through Feb. 22 in consideration of the situation. Additionally, multiple roads and overpasses in Katy were closed including the Pin Oak Road overpass and other I-10 crossings due to ice on bridges.
Fulshear Public Information Officer Mike McCoy said Tuesday afternoon that city offices were shut down and no decisions had been made regarding Wednesday. Fulshear residents are advised to call ahead before heading to Fulshear City Hall.
Alderperson Lyndon Stamps of Brookshire confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Brookshire’s office were also closed. No estimated time to reopen was provided.
No response was received from the city of Pattison regarding openings in time for publication.