Texas is facing an Arctic blast this week that threatens to leave Dallas blanketed in snow, freeze oil and natural gas production areas and will test the state’s power grid.
The cold will whip temperatures in Dallas from a high of 69 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius) Tuesday to a low of 20 Thursday night, with ice and snow starting late Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures in Midland — business center of the Permian Basin — will drop to 15 degrees Wednesday and then plunge further Thursday night.
“Combined with the ice and snow, unseasonable cold temperatures will impact the region,” the weather service said. “Temperatures will fall below freezing Wednesday and may not rise above freezing until the weekend.” Wind chills will make temperatures feel below zero for much of the area.
The weather will challenge the state’s energy infrastructure, though it currently looks less likely to lead to a repeat of last February’s cold snap that took down scores of power plants, triggering catastrophic blackouts that left more than 200 people dead.
Natural gas production has dipped twice already in January because of freezing temperatures. On Jan. 20, output fell 6.2%, according to preliminary BloombergNEF data based on pipeline flows. A cold blast also disrupted supplies to start the year. Production shut-ins can happen across Texas in cold weather.
A winter storm watch was issued for parts of central and eastern Texas. The weather is part of a larger storm set to sweep across the central and eastern U.S., which has prompted additional watches from Oklahoma to New York’s Lake Ontario coastline. Parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and northwest Ohio may get as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow.
While the cold will be driven by a blast of Arctic air, similar to last February, “it will not be of the same magnitude,” said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, part of the risk analytic firm Verisk.
Water vapor is the enemy of gas producers in frigid weather because it can turn to ice inside equipment, wreaking havoc on operations and disrupting flows. But the industry is not defenseless. In addition to simple measures such as insulation, operators often use external heaters and line heaters to prevent water from freezing inside lines. Others keep chemicals such as methanol and glycol on standby to inject into lines to prevent freezing.
“This doesn’t look like it will be as extreme as the last event in February 2021,” said Rich Otto, a forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.
High temperatures across northwest Texas that are usually about 55 degrees at this time of year will dip 30 to 40 degrees below normal, Otto said.
Once the cold front moves through, parts of the state could face frozen precipitation that could impact wind farms in West Texas starting as soon as Wednesday night, according to Ercot, the power-grid operator.
Ercot plans to manage the grid more aggressively than it has in the past, officials said at a meeting Monday. Asking the public to conserve by delaying running dryers or dishwashers is a valuable tool that probably won’t be seen as a big imposition. Ercot, formally the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, is also asking generators to include how much capacity may be offline because of fuel limitations when they submit outage updates.
“We are going to continue to operate as conservatively as we have been,” Dan Woodfin, Ercot’s vice president of operations, said at the meeting.
Average temperatures throughout the state will linger 5 to 8 degrees below normal through Feb. 9, and start to moderate only slightly through Feb. 14, according to the Commodity Weather Group LLC.
“We continue to monitor the Texas story later this week with the potential for natural gas freeze-offs and winter precipitation, as well as a major winter storm with heavy snow and icing potential for the Midwest,” Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group, wrote in a note to clients.
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