AUSTIN, Texas — Rain that fell on Valentine's Day 2021 turned to ice – a cycle that would repeat for several days. Millions of Texans lost power during the February 2021 winter storms, and at least 246 people died.
Because of that, emotions are high as Texas prepares for a round of winter weather this week. However, meteorologists urge that this upcoming weather event is not expected to be as intense.
KVUE wanted to take a closer look to compare February 2021's storms with what we're expecting this week, using two factors: the differences in the forecasts and why Texas leaders are confident that, this year, they will be able to keep the lights on.
Factor No. 1: The differences in the forecasts
KVUE Meteorologist Shane Hinton broke down the differences between what we saw in February 2021 and what we're expecting to see starting overnight Wednesday and into Thursday.
There is a possibility that some Central Texans will see snow flurries as part of this week's event, but there will not be widespread snow like we saw in 2021. In fact, satellite radar shows some areas in northern Texas and areas toward the Panhandle were experiencing snow flurries as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, but the rest of Texas, for the most part, will be expecting a wintry mix of freezing rain and sleet.
Some areas of the northern Hill Country could see some snow flurries, but ice will be the main concern for this week's event.
Aside from snow chances, there's also the timeframe of the events. Last year's storms lasted about a week or so, but this year's event is expected to be shorter.
Last time, there were multiple rounds of wintry precipitation, but this time, we're tracking only one wave. Rain could develop earlier in the front, then as we track the colder air pushing in, we could start to see a wintry mix. The precipitation is expected to transition into the Hill Country between midnight and 3 a.m. Thursday, on the Interstate 35 corridor between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. and for our southern counties around 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
As we make our way into the back half of Thursday, the precipitation is expected to move out of our area. The cold air will last for a bit, but we're not tracking another round of wintry precipitation – a very stark contrast to last year's event.
Temperatures will also be different than they were last year.
It is going to be very cold this year, but last year, we saw temperatures that were well below freezing for an extended period of time. Last year, Winter Storm Warnings called for temperatures that stayed below freezing for five days or more. This year, our current seven-day forecast calls for temperatures to be above freezing on Friday afternoon with an afternoon warming trend throughout the rest of the weekend.
It is still worth noting that we will have cold overnight lows with widespread hard freezes expected, but we do have some hope in the forecast when we look at our anticipated afternoon highs.
Full scope for Texas
Finally, there's the overall scope of this year's event. As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Houston area did not have any advisories issued. Areas to the north of Central Texas, however, were dealing with the winter storm and have a higher potential for some flurries and additional ice accumulation than Central Texas does.
This will be a storm that people should take seriously, but it will be nowhere near the size and scale of what we were tracking in February 2021.
Factor No. 2: Energy expectations and grid reliability
One of the main concerns Texans have going into this week's weather event is if the state's power grid will be able to handle it.
By now, we all know that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electricity to millions of our homes. Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that he is confident the power grid will be able to handle this week's weather.
"The prognostication is that ERCOT will have an excess of 15,000 megawatts of power available even at the time of highest demand. So, ERCOT is well prepared for conditions as they currently stand but remains flexible in order to be able to be responsive to power demand needs," Abbott said Tuesday.
According to ERCOT, one megawatt of electricity can power about 200 Texas homes, so that 15,000 megawatts of storage could theoretically keep the lights on for about three million homes. But even though leaders are confident in the stability of the power grid, they really can't guarantee anything.
"No one can guarantee that there won't be a 'load shed event,'" Abbott said Tuesday. "And what we're prepared to achieve is that the power is going to stay on across the entire state."
But ERCOT may have learned from its mistakes. The agency was warned to weatherize power facilities after a storm in 2011. This time, ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) made sure power facilities got the job done because, otherwise, they were going to be fined up to $1 million a day per violation.
Power providers were also instructed to fix any issues with their facilities after last year's storm. Some providers insulated parts of their plants to make sure nothing froze, and a final report from ERCOT leaders said out of the 324 electric generation units and transmission facilities across the state, only three did not fully pass inspection for new winterization regulations
Another indicator that ERCOT is confident the lights will stay on this time were the tweets ERCOT sent out early on Feb. 15, 2021, leading up to the rolling power outages announcements. ERCOT had announced that energy conservation was needed and that rotating outages could be required. ERCOT also asked Texans to start conserving energy throughout the day on Valentine's Day 2021.
As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, ERCOT has not tweeted any alerts telling customers to conserve energy – possibly indicating that, this time around, the power grid will be more stable.
Britny Eubank on social media: Twitter
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