Weather

UPDATE: Water Has Returned To All Parts Of Houston, But Pressure Is Still An Issue, City Says

Houston and much of Harris County’s nearly 5 million residents are under a boil water notice, as harsh weather and frigid temperatures continue to impact infrastructure in the region and across Texas.

Containers are filled with non-potable water at a water distribution site Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Houston. The city and surrounding cities remain under a boil water notice as many residents lack water at home due to frozen or broken pipes.

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Updated 2:30 p.m. CT Friday

Water has returned throughout Houston, but it will still take more time for pressure to go back to normal, according to Houston Public Works.

“We are making steady, sustainable progress on bringing the system back up,” said Public Works Director Carol Haddock. “We are confident we will be able to maintain this progress. It's going to take time to do it in a measured manner.”

Downtown buildings have begun to see pressure restored, as well as the Texas Medical Center, which late Thursday told the city it had enough pressure to repressurize its own system, Haddock said.

The system saw “less than a couple hundred breaks,” due to the pipes being larger and underground, Haddock said. Public Works fielded almost 3,000 calls by the end of the day Thursday for water breaks, the majority of which were in homes and businesses.

The state of Texas requires a minimum pipe pressure of 35 pounds per square inch, or PSI, for normal operations. The minimum for emergency operations is 20 PSI.

Houston dropped below 20 PSI this week, triggering a boil water advisory.

Pressure has since returned somewhat, rising above 26 PSI late yesterday. Once pressure comes back to normal, the city will pull samples and send them to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which typically sends back results within 24 hours, before lifting the advisory.

The goal is to have water pressure back to 35 PSI by the end of the day Friday, and to lift the boil water advisory by Monday — though if more pipes burst in that time it could push back the timeline, Haddock told Houston Matters on Friday.

“Realistically, there will be 36-48 hours before we get the all-clear,” she told host Craig Cohen. “The mayor has been saying that he's hoping we are out Monday. We are on target for getting this out on Monday if we continue on the progress that we are on today.”

Haddock added that lack of funding for public utilities played a role. Houston is under a revenue cap, which limits the growth of property tax revenue the city can collect, something Mayor Sylvester Turner has said makes it difficult to invest in such upgrades.

"Most utilities are underfunded,” Haddock told Cohen. “The city of Houston itself does have a significant backlog of infrastructure that needs to be upgraded and replaced. We continue to work on that."

HERE’S WHAT WE KNOW


  • While water pressure in Houston continues to rise after plummeting due to the extreme cold, the city remains under a boil water notice through at least Sunday. Much of Harris County is also under a boil water notice.
  • All 254 counties in Texas are under a disaster declaration.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott made the power outage crisis an emergency item for this legislative sessions, and asked the legislature to prioritize weatherizing the grid.
  • House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has called for a hearing on ERCOT’s response.
  • HISD schools and offices will remain closed through at least Friday. Other districts, colleges and universities in the region have also modified their schedules due to the storm. See the full list.

Updated 11:47 a.m. Friday

A shopper prepares to unload a full shopping cart of groceries in the parking lot of Kroger on North Shepherd on March 13, 2020.

H-E-B will limit certain product purchases in all of its stores in Texas, as supplies wear thin amid the winter storm and threaten the state’s food supply chain.

The following limits are in place at all H-E-B stores:

Food

  • Water Gallons – Limit 2
  • Water multipack – Limit 2
  • Baby Water Gallons – Limit 2
  • Baby Water multipack – Limit 2
  • Eggs – Limit 2
  • Milk – Limit 2
  • Bread – Limit 2
  • Ice – Limit 2
  • Charcoal – Limit 2

Non-food items

  • Propane Tanks – Limit 2
  • Aerosol disinfectant sprays – 2 items
  • (Isopropyl) Alcohol swabs – 2 items
  • First Aid and Cleaning Gloves – 2 items
  • Trial & Travel Size Disinfectant Wipes/Sprays – Limit 2

“Limiting product purchases is a proven way to ensure the best service and product availability for all customers,” read a statement on the chain’s website. “Our stores are in strong supply and we continue to restock products daily.”

H-E-B and Kroger have also announced they would suspend all curbside and home delivery orders at locations across the state, including all Houston locations.

H-E-B, which on its website wrote it hoped to resume “as soon as possible,” said the service had been cancelled because stores were unable to fill orders “the way customers would expect us to.”

Kroger said its service suspensions would last through at least Sunday.

Updated 8:36 a.m. CT Friday

Fort Bend County has set up a system to report price gouging during the winter storm, amid reports of skyrocketing prices for necessities across Texas.

County residents can fill out a form online or call 832-471-1600 to report an incident of price gouging.

A similar system set up Wednesday in Houston for residents to report incidents of price gouging received more than 450 complaints in less than 20 hours, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, the chief civil attorney for Texas’ largest county, told the Associated Press.

"The main types of things we’re seeing is hotels setting prices at ridiculous rates,” Menefee told AP. "We’ve seen allegations of packs of water being sold for two to three times the normal price, or packs of water being divvied up and the individual bottles being sold at excessive prices.”

The Texas Attorney General’s Office urged residents who suspect they are victims of price gouging to file a complaint with their office. Violators may be required to reimburse consumers and can face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation. Additional penalties of up to $250,000 can be imposed if the victims are elderly.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Updated 6:10 a.m. CT Friday

A Houston Public Works employee gets vaccinated on Monday, Jan. 4, 2020.

Houston and Harris County will resume COVID-19 testing and vaccinations this weekend, after being put on hold this week due to the winter storm.

The Houston Health Department said it was contacting 4,784 people Friday and Saturday for second-dose appointments this weekend, for those who received a first dose between Jan. 18 and Jan. 23. Those who received doses at that time who don't hear from the city by Saturday afternoon should call 832-393-4220.

The department will schedule new appointments next week.

Harris County announced second-dose vaccinations will take place Friday noon-6 p.m. for people scheduled. All morning appointments were moved to noon, according to Harris County Public Health. Normal COVID-19 vaccination operations resume Saturday at 8 a.m. for both first and second scheduled doses.

The M.O. Campbell, San Jacinto Central, and Lonestar College Cypress Center COVID-19 testing sites will also reopen at noon Friday. All HCPH mobile testing sites remain closed, but the county said it expects all testing sites to reopen as normal beginning Monday.

The city had not announced plans to resume testing as of Friday morning.

Electricity remained on for most of Houston during the freeze overnight and into Friday morning, after days of outages that left more than a million people without power in freezing temperatures across the region.

CenterPoint Energy's outage tracker showed more than 99% of customers with power as of 5:30 a.m., as the company continued to repair equipment damaged by the storm.

Remaining outages in the region are due to repair issues, not lack of power generation, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Thursday.

Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed on Twitter that no residential power outages across the state are due to power generation issues.

Updated 6:12 p.m. CT Thursday

The sign outside a CenterPoint Energy building.

About 27,000 Houston-area customers of CenterPoint Energy this week opened their email to an unpleasant surprise: a whopping $202,102.16 bill from the electricity provider.

As you might imagine, the bill was generated in error due to a technical issue, the company said Thursday.

“Customers who received an e-mail notification showing an amount due of $202,102.16 for natural gas, should disregard and not pay it as they don't owe this amount,” according to a statement from the company. “We are sorry for the inconvenience. This was only an email message error, not a billing error.”

Customers were told to log in to their accounts online, and view “current amount due” for the real total. Customers can expect an updated bill notification email Friday, which will reflect the correct amount, the company said.

So while people across the region are dealing with any number of problems related to the storm, “paying $200,000 to the energy company” is, thankfully, not one of them.

Updated 4:34 p.m. CT Thursday

Faith leaders across the state are calling on legislators to winterize the Texas energy grid and supply people with food, water and shelter.

In a press call, religious leaders said their parishioners have been cold, hungry and now many have busted pipes and permanent damage to their homes.

Others have dealt with the loss of family members.

"One of our member's sister and brother-in-law perished in a fire caused by not having electricity and by using other modes of heat," said Jacqueline Hailey with New Hope Baptist Church of Houston.

Updated 3:49 p.m. CT Thursday

Gov. Greg Abbott adjusts his mask after giving an update on the categories of medical surge facilities at a press conference at the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas legislature to update the state’s power generators, after failures across the electric grid led to outages across Texas.

Millions of Texans this week lost power after record demand on the state’s power grid led to widespread, sustained outages, in part because power plants across the state were not prepared for the frigid weather. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas struggled to manage the grid, as generators were dropping as fast as they were coming back online.

On Thursday, Abbott told the legislature to make sure that doesn’t happen during future storms, by placing new emergency items on the agenda tasking legislators with mandating and funding the weatherization of generators in the power system.

The move comes two days after Abbott made investigating ERCOT another emergency item for the legislature, calling for reform in the wake of days of outages.

The state also announced Thursday that about 13 million Texans are under a boil water notice, nearly double the total from Wednesday.

"We are not yet out of this, but we're closer to this challenge being behind us,” Abbott said at a Thursday press conference. “We will not stop until normalcy is restored to your lives. Until that moment comes though, I ask all texans to continue your efforts to take the proper precautions needed to stay safe and to stay warm.”

Updated 2:21 p.m. CT Thursday

Power has been returned to about 98% of Fort Bend County residents, according to Fort Bend County Judge K.P. George. But despite the return of power to most residents, many in the county continue to undergo frequent power and water outages, George told Houston Matters host Craig Cohen on Thursday.

The biggest concerns people have are a boil-water notice, price gouging, and waiting for power to be completely restored. George said he has even gotten calls from residents boiling snow in order to flush their toilets.

"Some people are not just frustrated, they are angry," George said.

The county judge continued to tell residents to be patient as they waited for power to fully return. Those struggling the most are the elderly and families with newborn babies, he said.

Growing uncertainty is beginning to take a toll on the residents who have been calling George with comments and concerns. George said he's unsure how to address many of the concerns himself, as there was no estimated time of availability of when power will be restored.

“I'm not trying to blame anybody at this point, but I hope we learn from our mistakes so we can at least better plan,” George said.

George said he is doing what he can to listen to the voices of local residents, and encourages those to reach out to other elected officials as well.

"I have been sleeping in my office the last three days so I can constantly communicate with our citizens," he said.

For more information and updates in Fort Bend County, visit fbcoem.org.

A Houston boil water notice will likely be in effect until at least Monday as water pressure continues to slowly rise again throughout the city, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Water pressure Wednesday dropped below 20 pounds per square inch, a pressure point that triggered a requirement by the city to issue the notice. By 9 a.m. Thursday, pressure returned to 23 PSI, and at 10 a.m. the average was 26 PSI across the system, according to Houston Public Works.

The city is now working to stabilize pressure at that level, and build on that throughout the afternoon.

But while things are improving, Turner said the city also has to continue testing the water in the coming days, and said water would not be back until Sunday at the earliest, though he expected Monday to be more likely.

MORE | Houston Boil Water Advisory Will Remain In Place Through The Weekend

People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston. Customers waited over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their tanks.

Updated 7:50 a.m. CT Thursday

Power was restored overnight and this morning for thousands of Houstonians.

As of 7:30 a.m., Centerpoint Energy's online tracker showed some 46,000 customers without power. That's the lowest number since early Monday morning when more than one million households had their power shut off, as Houston was hit by severe winter weather and below-freezing temperatures.

Still, boil water notices remain in effect for millions of Greater Houston residents.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said water pressure should be back to normal by this afternoon, but it may not be safe to drink by then.

"We probably won't be clear of having to boil the water until sometime Saturday morning. If we can do it before then we probably will," Turner said to Town Square's Ernie Manouse.

The public health and infrastructure damage from the severe weather continues to be far reaching.

Since Monday, Houston Public Works has received over 1,500 calls reporting water leaks and water main breaks.

The combination of the freezing weather and lack of electricity has also caused a spike in carbon monoxide poisoning cases in Houston.

The Houston Fire Department has responded to over 100 calls of carbon monoxide poisoning during the last few days, according to Fire Chief Samuel Peña.

Peña says using stoves, ovens, or grills as a heat source inside the home will likely lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

“It is extremely dangerous, it doesn’t take much for the carbon monoxide to build up in your homes, and cause sickness and even death," he said.

Harris County as a whole has documented more than 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning since temperatures plummeted Sunday night.

Dr. David Persse, Chief Medical Officer for the City of Houston, said we’re currently seeing an unprecedented number of cases in a very short time.

“We’ve had more carbon monoxide poisonings here recently than I can remember any other time in my career," he said.

Carbon monoxide is tasteless and odorless. Warning signs include headaches, fatigue, and nausea.

Updated 5:35 p.m. CT Wednesday

Houston area officials say water and power could be restored in the next few days.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said water pressure should be back to normal by Thursday afternoon, but it may not be safe to drink by then.

“We probably won’t be clear of having to boil the water until sometime Saturday morning. If we can do it before then we probably will,” Turner said to Town Square’s Ernie Manouse.

Boil water notices have continued to impact millions of Greater Houston residents. In addition to Houston, cities in Harris County that have issued official notices include Pasadena, Clear Lake, Baytown, Tomball, and Deer Park. The city of Galveston issued its own boil notice, and has shut off water due to major water line breaks. The cities of Pearland, Magnolia, and parts of Sugar Land also have boil notices in effect.

Turner also said it will take a couple more days to get power back as well — though he said that the electric grid manager ERCOT just released an additional 900 megawatts to Centerpoint Energy, which will restore more homes with electricity in the Houston area.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said despite the increase, residents still need to be prepared to go a couple of days without power.

"The current increase may not be enough to cover every resident," she said. "We are in a direction where we see some hope."

As of 5 p.m., some 1 million Centerpoint customers were still without power in the Houston area, but Hidalgo said it’s a significant improvement from earlier in the week.

"That's actually the least number of customers out of power since that Monday morning around 1 am where so many neighborhoods lost power," she said.

Nearly 80% of Galveston County was still without power as of Wednesday afternoon and county officials there say they’re not getting clarity on when power will be restored to most of their residents.

On Twitter, Galveston County officials said they’re continuing to pressure the state and power providers to restore services to residents as soon as possible, but they have not received estimates on when that will happen from either the state or ERCOT.

On a media call earlier today, ERCOT officials said they still don't have a timeline for when power will be fully restored. But they hope that by tomorrow they'll have enough power to be able to rotate outages.

"The best case at this point is that today or tomorrow we're able to at least get back down to the point where all the consumers are experiencing outages that are no longer than say 30 minutes to an hour at a time," said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's director of system operations.

The power outages combined with the boil water notices have also forced numerous grocery stores across Houston to close due to lack of power and low water pressure.

A spokesperson from HEB said the stores that are open are prioritizing eggs, bread, water, and milk, while a representative from Kroger said that they have 200,000 pallets of water currently coming in the coming days.

As residents are trying to restock on essentials, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said they’re seeing attempts at price gouging, such as charging $1,000 a night for an Airbnb with electricity.

"To those out there that are thinking they can make a quick buck out of our community’s pain, know that we will not tolerate price gauging on our watch," she said.

She said the County Attorney's Office is launching a new task force to investigate price gouging. Residents can report price gouging at readyharris.org or by texting 436-354-7459 with the complaint, pictures and receipts.

There's a $10,000 fine per violation of the law, with fines totaling up to $250,000. There can also be an additional quarter-million-dollar violation if the price gouging is against people 65 and older

Updated 1:47 p.m. CT Wednesday

Lia Ubidia, left, and her son, Andrew Velarde, carry groceries as they walk home through the snow Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to more than 2 million people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads.

Houston water pressure should start to return to normal by Thursday, city officials said.

According to Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock, the city's water pressure plummeted after the system's generators failed due to the extreme cold. The agency is prioritizing the restoration of the city’s water pressure Wednesday.

"Our team is working around the clock to get these generators all back in service and to make sure that our wells are all operational," she said.

The news comes after the city issued a boil water notice as a result of low water pressure. The city's water pressure began dropping Tuesday afternoon, and the notice was issued after it became apparent that the city was not going to be able to recover the water pressure after it dropped below 20 pounds per square inch, Haddock said.

The city is now on track to get back to normal water pressure levels Thursday by bringing additional wells back into service. Haddock added that the water pressure coming from the city's east water purification plant is back up after the process was slowed down Tuesday due to chemical feed lines being frozen.

"We believe that we're on a path right now to have pressures restored system wide enough today that most people will be able to use toilets and normal operations around their house," she said. "By the end of the day tomorrow, we should be system wide, full operational pressures that we normally see throughout the city."

As water pressure is restored across the region, Haddock said Public Works was prioritizing water pressure within the Texas Medical Center and other medical complexes.

"It is imperative that they have the ability to keep basic sanitation needs in these areas for the people they're currently serving," she said.

Haddock is urging residents to reduce water demand while the city's pressure is being stabilized by using water for critical uses only.

Updated 11:23 a.m. CT Wednesday

Houston and much of Harris County’s nearly 5 million residents are under a boil water notice, as harsh weather and frigid temperatures continue to impact infrastructure in the region and across Texas.

The city and county advised anyone with water access to boil it for at least two minutes and cool before drinking. Residents without running water have been asked to use bottled water.

In addition to Houston, cities in Harris County that have issued officials notices include Pasadena, Clear Lake, Baytown, Tomball, and Deer Park. The city of Galveston issued its own boil notice, and has shut off water due to major water line breaks. The cities of Pearland, Magnolia, and parts of Sugar Land also have boil notices in effect.

All parts of Harris County should assume they’re under a boil water notice unless their local municipality has advised them otherwise, Hidalgo said Wednesday.

She added that widespread power outages have affected generators, and the low water pressure and busted pipes are affecting first responders.

"Our hospitals, our firefighters are facing low water pressure,” Hidalgo said. “And it’s an enormous problem for them.”

These water issues are happening as 3 million people in Texas are still without power.

The operator of the state's electric grid ERCOT says it was able to restore some power to the grid last night — enough to power about 700,000 households.

But the grid also lost power when the Midwest had its own emergency and ERCOT was no longer able to import some 600 Mega Watts from there.

The main problem is still the generators that went offline because of the weather.

ERCOT is holding a media call RIGHT NOW and we’ll bring you new details coming up in our Noon newscast.

She asked residents to turn off their faucets, since the temperature has risen and freezing pipes are no longer a major risk.

The other main threat to the region, besides ongoing power outages, continues to be poor weather. But Hidalgo suggested people take advantage of the rising temperatures and safe roadway conditions during the day to stock up on food and supplies as needed — though she asked shoppers not to hoard supplies.

"There are so many people in this region, and everybody’s going through the same thing,” Hidalgo said. “So please only purchase enough supplies to get you through the weekend."

There’s no timeline on when full power will be restored, though forecasters have predicted temperatures in the 50s and 60s on Saturday afternoon, with a possibility of Sunday highs in the 70s.

"It’ll be just less tragic, less terrible than it is right now," Hidalgo said, before adding later, "We’re not through yet."

Kent Prochazka with the National Weather Service in Houston said that freezing temperatures are likely to last until Saturday. A cold front is moving through the region Wednesday evening, bringing the possibility of a bit more snow and sleet.

Thursday night and Friday morning will also be cold, before temperatures begin to rise again, Prochazka said.

"On Saturday, we’re looking for things to begin to improve dramatically," he said. "Should be the last morning of freezing temperatures. But the winds become more southeasterly and southerly during the day on Saturday. And that’s really going to boost temperatures up"

Saturday afternoon will see temperatures in the 50s and 60s and Sunday could even climb into the 70s.

Additional reporting by Houston Public Media intern Daisy Espinoza.

Updated 6:04 a.m. CT Wednesday

More than 43% of CenterPoint energy customers — 1,350,881 in total — were without power as of 5 a.m. Wednesday, according to the company's online outage tracker.

On day three of frigid temperatures Texas still does not have the electricity supply to restore power to all homes and businesses. As many as 2.7 million electricity customers across Texas are still without of power, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's energy grid manager.

The harsh weather has made it difficult for ERCOT to handle the state's power supply. Generators continue to come on and offline, forcing prolonged and sporadic outages across the state.

“We haven’t been able to add as much back during the course of the day as we’d like to,” said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT, on a Tuesday afternoon call with reporters. “And what we have added back, we’re hoping to keep online but if additional generation doesn’t become available as the day goes on, we might actually have to take some of it back offline to maintain that power supply balance.”

The grid manager on Wednesday said it directed utilities to restore 600,000 households overnight.

A winter storm warning has been extended through Thursday morning for the Houston area. Freezing rain in College Station is expected to hit Katy by 6 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

The frigid cold has led to hazardous road conditions, with Houston TranStar reporting more than 160 locations with ice on roadways Wednesday morning. There have been hundreds of traffic crashes over the last few days due to the winter weather.

Houston officials also say they've seen hundreds of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, with more than 300 in Harris County since Monday as people without electricity look for other heating sources.

Officials have also been responding to fires in the greater houston area and urging people to use flashlights instead of candles if possible.

Updated 6:35 p.m. CT Tuesday

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned residents to prepare for the possibility of prolonged outages, in the wake of the state energy grid manager's erratic response to the severe winter storm in Texas.

Hidalgo, who said the county will have some hard questions for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas after the current power outages are over, said the utility should not to be overly optimistic in its predictions of how quickly the crisis will be resolved.

Until ERCOT's more optimistic estimates for power generation start to pan out for more people, "we have to assume the worst," Hidalgo said.

"Every night since this started, we've seen less generation, not more," she said. "So, let me give it to you straight, based on the visibility I have: Whether you have power or not right now, there is a possibility of power outages even beyond the length of this weather. There's a generation shortfall right now, and it's a matter of when ERCOT's going to get that power up and running."

Roughly 1.2 million customers remained without power due to ERCOT's forced shortages as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The county judge also said there have been at least 300 emergency calls reporting carbon monoxide poisoning since the power outages began, calling it "a disaster within a disaster." Those include at least two deaths.

Many of those are due to using ovens and grills indoors as a heat source, and turning on cars inside garages for warmth, Hidalgo said.

She also noted that freezing temperatures are having an effect on water pressure and safety.

"Check with your local utility district to see if there's a boiled water notice," she said. "If you still have water, remember to preserve some."

Updated 4:35 p.m. CT Tuesday

The Galveston County Medical Examiners Office has requested refrigerated trucks to accommodate for what could be an influx of weather-related deaths.

A spokesperson for Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said two trucks are on the way after local funeral homes lost power during the winter storm. The county is expanding capacity to 50 bodies in case the need arises.

Henry’s office could not confirm the exact number of deaths or where they occurred. The medical examiner's office also serves Brazoria County.

At one point during the storm, 95% of Galveston Island was without power, though officials say power is being restored to homes that have been without for more than 24 hours. That includes parts of downtown, and the east and west ends of the island.

In a video posted to Twitter, Henry called the response from the state’s grid manager “unacceptable.”

“The Energy Reliability Council of Texas has proven to be anything but reliable," Henry said. "And it's not like they didn't know this was coming. The forecasted ice storm was in the forecast for at least a week prior to the event."

Henry also said in the video he would ask for accountability from Austin lawmakers.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday had already announced he would make the power outage crisis in Texas an emergency item for this legislative session. He called on lawmakers to investigate the widespread power outages to make sure they never happen again.

Separately, House Speaker Dade Phelan is scheduling a joint hearing next week with the House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees, in an attempt to find out why more than 4 million Texans lost power during the winter storm.

Another Republican, Chris Paddie, who leads the House State Affairs Committee, said the blackouts raise questions about the reliability of the state's electric grid and if it can withstand extreme weather events in the future.

Updated 3:18 p.m. CT Tuesday

A woman covers her head with a blanket as she walks outside in freezing temperatures Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to more than 2 million people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads.

A city-run warming shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center is completely full, even after nearly quadrupling capacity form what was originally expected when the storm first hit, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Turner said the city expected about 200 people to seek shelter at the convention center, though the space was prepared for up to 500. That capacity was nearly reached within hours of opening Monday.

By Tuesday afternoon, nearly 800 people were inside seeking relief from the cold, the mayor said.

The shelter wa sinitially intended just for the city’s homeless population. But because of power outages across the region that knocked out peoples’ heating systems, that had to be expand, Turner said. And that expansion is limited by the still-surging coronavirus pandemic in Houston.

“One of the reasons why we just can’t add additional people to the George R Brown is because of the health care protocols,” Turner said. “We still have to have the social distancing, the sanitizers. I mean, all of the medical protocols we have to adhere to. So that’s critically important.”

Metro buses are transporting those in need to other warming centers, including Lakewood Church, which still has plenty of space, Turner said. Pastor Joel Osteen said anyone is welcome at that center.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale offered up two of his Gallery Furniture locations as shelters for people escaping the winter chill.

The 6006 North Freeway location in Houston the 7227 W. Grand Parkway S. location in Richmond are both with electricty, and will both provide hot food and water to people without power.

COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place, and McIngvale asked people to bring extra masks for those who don’t have one.

There are also warming locations across Harris and surrounding counties. Anyone who needs a warm place to stay should call 311 to find out which places are open.

At least two unhoused people in Harris County died Monday night, according to county and city officials.

Harris County sheriff’s deupties discovered the body of a 60-year-old man at the overpass of I-10 East at Sheldon Road just before noon Monday. The Sheriff’s office said members of its homeless outreach team had previously offered to take the man to a shelter, but he refused. The cause of the man’s death has not yet been confirmed by an autopsy, but the sheriff’s said his death was “possibly from exposure.”

Houston police Chief Art Acevedo also confirmed the death of a man found at the 3500 block of Spur 527 near Bagby Street. The unidentified man was discovered by someone passing by, who called HPD. The man was dead when officers arrived, Acevedo said.

Two others died of carbon monoxide posioning, Acevedo said.

The Houston Fire Department has responded to more than 90 calls related to carbon monoxide posioning in the city, according to Fire Chief Samuel Peña. There had been 56 fire calls over a last 24-hour period as of noon Tuesday.

The city’s vaccination sites will also be closed Wednesday, with Thursday questionable, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Harris County-run COVID-19 vaccination sites will be closed Wednesday and Thursday due to the cold weather and the possibility of snow and ice, according to the county’s public health department. The changes also impact all COVID-19 testing vaccination sites, an extension from the closures on Monday and Tuesday, as officials are recommending residents to stay off the roads.

The Harris County Public Health Department also announced all of its clinics would be closed in the coming days. The provider was expected to test more than 10,000 people for COVID-19 this week and administer 9,000 first doses of the vaccine.

All appointments will be rescheduled, officials said.

Updated 10:53 a.m. CT Tuesday

First responders from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office fielded more than 7,000 calls on Monday, as frigid temperatures stressed the state’s electricity grid and knocked out power in more than 1 million homes around Houston.

The office of Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said it fielded 5,080 calls to 911 and 2,125 calls to its non-emergency line, more than double the volume of an average day. The calls were largely driven by reports of outages, the office tweeted out Tuesday.

CenterPoint Energy reported that as of 9 a.m. Tuesday, an estimated 1.4 million customers were without power. The company said it was complying with an order from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which asked it to shutdown power for a swath of customers. The company said it had restarted the process of rotating outages last night, but stopped once additional generators went offline.

Meanwhile, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, called for a joint hearing of the House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees to find out what led to the loss of 10,000 megawatts of electric generation and the blackouts that followed.

In a statement, Phelan asked the two committees to convene next Thursday, Feb. 25, to better understand what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.

“We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most, what our state can do to correct these issues, and what steps regulators and grid operators are taking to safeguard our electric grid,” Phelan said.

Updated 8:13 a.m. CT Tuesday

As Houston entered day two of below-freezing temperatures, more than one million residents in the area were still without power.

Centerpoint Energy reported some 1.37 million customers continue to experience outages Tuesday morning, while another 120,000 Entergy customers are also without power.

The state’s electricity grid manager ERCOT said on top of high demand, it also lost significant supply when generators were tripped offline both Sunday night and Monday night. Power outages are expected to continue today and it’s unclear when electricity will come back online for the more than 3 million Texans impacted.

Officials continue to warn drivers in the Houston area to stay off the roads. Some ice may have melted throughout the day yesterday, but many roadways likely froze again as temperatures dipped into the teens.

Houston remains under both a wind chill warning and a hard freeze warning until at least noon on Tuesday. Forecasters say to expect sunny skies with highs in the low 30s. Another winter ice storm is set to impact the area starting at 6 p.m. tonight through 6 a.m. Thursday.

The two airports in the area, Bush Intercontinental Airport and Hobby Airport, will remain closed through at least 4 p.m.

Updated 6:50 p.m. CT Monday

Power outages in the Houston area are expected to continue until tomorrow, according to Centerpoint.

“If you are out of power right now, you should expect to be out of power for the rest of today and into tomorrow," Jason Ryan, a Senior Vice President of Centerpoint, said at a press conference.

Some 70,000 people in the Houston area lost power due to damage to the local electrical system, while 1 million people are out of power due to state grid failures, according to Centerpoint.

This comes as meteorologists warn that temperatures are expected to drop to 5-10 degrees tonight.

"Tonight is going to be the second portion [of the winter storm] which is the extremely cold air,” said Jeff Lindner, the meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District.

Roughly 3.5 million Texans across the state are still without electricity.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state's primary grid operator, said Monday afternoon that it has started restoring some of the power lost during the severe winter storm event.

ERCOT said they are able to restore power to some 500,000 households.

"ERCOT and Texas electric companies have been able to restore service to hundreds of thousands of households today, but we know there are many people who are still waiting," ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a press release.

ERCOT officials said the grid has lost some 34,000 MW of power generation because of the severe weather. Multiple energy sources powering the grid were knocked offline last night, the majority of which were powered by natural gas, coal or nuclear energy.

The state grid was already facing some shortages because of frozen wind turbines and limited gas supply.

Because of the severity of the power shortage, local electricity providers are not able to rotate outages between different service areas, which is why some people are seeing prolonged power outages.

"We started to quickly see that our ability to function with rolling outages was not going to last because just the magnitude of generation that went offline in a short period of time required us to instantly take more power out and more power out," Centerpoint Executive Vice President Kenny Mercado told Town Square.

Mercado said he isn't able to give an exact estimate of when people can see their power come back on. "In some cases it could take another four to eight to 12 to 24 hours. I just can't predict that," he said.

The widespread power outages have also prompted several school districts to change their lesson plans again.

Some districts, such as Klein, Humble and Spring Branch, had planned for some remote learning Tuesday. Those plans are now canceled due to the collapse of the state's power system.

"Klein ISD just received word from the Texas Education Agency that any school district experiencing widespread power outages due to inclement weather will be eligible for a missed school day waiver and not be required to make-up the day," according to the district's website.

Several districts said they were trying to help curtail power consumption to ease the electricity crisis amid the coldest temperatures in the Houston region since 1989.

"In partnership with CenterPoint Energy, Humble ISD dropped the temperatures in our schools to reduce power consumption for the greater community," Humble ISD explained in an alert.

Charter school networks YES Prep and KIPP Texas also canceled online classes Tuesday, as did Prairie View A&M University.

For the latest roundup of school and higher education closures, visit here.

Updated 3:28 p.m. CT Monday

A snowy street in Pearland on Feb. 15, 2021.

Major Houston freeways remain closed as ice and snow continue to cover large areas of the region.

This includes I-45 downtown (the Pierce Elevated), US-290 at Hollister, I-610 at US-288 and at Scott, the inbound lanes of the Katy Freeway at I-45, and I-69 north of downtown, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said.

He said HPD was responding to seven minor crashes as of 1 p.m.

The Houston Fire Department's call volume is up 50%, mainly for EMS, HFD Chief Samuel Peña said.

He warned Houstonians not to be fooled by the sun melting some of the snow and ice.

"That is going to freeze over and you're going to get ice on these roads," Peña said. "They're going to be even more dangerous than last night, so please be mindful of that."

Peña also asked people not to use space heaters that run on propane or charcoal, as they can produce lethal carbon monoxide. He also said not to turn on a car to get warm inside a garage for the same reason.

Mayor Turner asked people to continue to avoid roads and hunker down at home.

He asked critical care patients who rely on battery-powered medical devices to call 211 or 311 if they need help.

"I would ask people, relatives, neighbors, friends to check on our seniors" who may not be following the news, Turner said.

Airfields at both Hobby Bush and Intercontinental airports remain closed until at least noon and 1 pm tomorrow, respectively.

Updated 1:25 p.m. CT Monday

Some 1 million Houston-area residents have lost power during the winter storm, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday.

Among those are two emergency warming centers for unhoused Houstonians: a Salvation Army location and the Fonde Community Center, Turner said.

The mayor made the comments in an interview with ABC 13.

The George R. Brown Convention Center was at full capacity Monday morning, but Lakewood Church still had available space and electricity, Turner told the station.

About 95% of Galveston is also currently without power, according to Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell.

Maxwell said all city facilities are still operational, and they’re currently looking for a facility large enough to shelter people from the cold.

He added that the city was trying to find someone to speak to after their Centerpoint representative didn’t have much information to provide.

Statewide, millions of Texans woke up Monday morning without power, with what the state grid operator ERCOT called targeted "rolling blackouts" to help relieve historic grid usage during the severe winter storm.

On a media call Monday morning, ERCOT officials said these outages are expected to continue throughout Monday and at least until Tuesday morning, with the potential to last all day Tuesday as well.

Dan Woodfin, the Senior Director of System Operations at ERCOT, said in addition to high demand, they've experienced a loss of power generation due to natural gas supply, wind turbines icing, and generators tripping offline overnight.

“As more generators tripped offline, we had to implement more of these controlled outages to protect the system as a whole,” he said.

Woodfin said because of the severity of the situation, local electricity providers haven't been able to rotate outages between different service areas, which is why some people are seeing such prolonged outages.

“As the night progressed it wound up being such a big number that the transmission providers are having difficulty doing the kind of normal rotation of one area and then switching to a different area being out, a different area being out,” he said. “They just don't have enough options.”

Woodfin said they're working to get additional generators back online, and they're also asking people with power to conserve energy use.

Updated 9:26 a.m. CT Monday

First responders tracked more than 130 vehicle crashes in Houston overnight, as temperatures dropped into the teens and formed ice on the roads that's now covered in many places by about a half-inch of snow.

Local leaders have urged people to stay off the roadways as conditions continue to worsen in the coming days. Houston is likely to see snow and ice on the ground into at least Tuesday.

Most service streets are impassible and hazardous, freeways remain dangerous and even "life threatening," according to Francisco Sanchez of Houston TranStar.

"Essentially the entire transportation system is down," he said.

The storm's greatest impacts were felt in the west and northwestern portions of Harris County, Sanchez added.

Harris County reported wind chills that at points fluctuated between -15 and 5 degrees. Temperatures will continue to remain low at least through tomorrow night, with wind chills again expected to reach below zero.

Updated 7:45 a.m. CT Monday

More than 2.3 million people were without power in Texas early Monday morning as generators went down and local utilities enacted rolling blackouts to lessen an unprecedented strain on the power grid from the ongoing winter storm.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's grid manager, announced a statewide power emergency due to "record-breaking electric demand."

Texas' power grid lost several generating units, which went offline due to the extreme cold, according to ERCOT.

The controlled rotating outages are designed to avoid longer, more widespread power outages, the company said.

CenterPoint Energy, Harris County's biggest energy provider and one of the largest in the state, began the outages across its entire service territory after 1 a.m. Monday, according to ERCOT.

MORE | Rolling Power Blackouts In Effect Across Texas As Massive Winter Storm Drives Demand For Electricity

About 97,500 CenterPoint customers in Harris County were without power as of 5 a.m., according to the energy provider.

Outages could last from 15 minutes to more than an hour, ERCOT said.

To reduce strain on the grid, ERCOT recommended:

  • Setting thermostats to 68 degrees.
  • Closing shades and blinds to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
  • Turning off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances.
  • Avoiding using large appliances (i.e., ovens, washing machines, etc.).
  • Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.
  • Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production processes.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo at a Feb. 14, 2021 press conference. Hidalgo announced she had signed a disaster declaration for the county ahead of a winter storm that threatened to drop temperatures into the teens.

Updated 6:17 p.m. CT Sunday

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has signed a disaster declaration for Harris County ahead of an Arctic blast that’s set to drop temperatures into the teens. The move would give the county felxibility with resources to handle the severe weather event, she said.

“Let’s see this as an extended hurricane,” Hidalgo said. “Right now we have to hunker down and be very careful. Our roads continue to have ice on them, so driving is the last thing you want to do right now.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who said he had also signed a city declaration, said at a press briefing Sunday evening that a Houston-run warming shelter for unhoused Houstonians at the George R. Brown Convention Center was already near capacity. The city had planned for 200 people, but the number of people seeking shelter was approaching 500, he said.

Turner added that he would open additional emergency centers but did not specify the locations, saying the city would rely on emergency personnel and homeless outreach groups, similar to Harris County’s plan.

Lakewood Church is also set to open its doors to those who need shelter from the cold, the mayor said.

Houston Fire Chief Peña reported three fires in the last 24 hours due to inappropriately placed space heaters. The chief advised those planning to use space heaters to place them three feet away from combustibles and plug them directly into the power outlet.

Additional reporting from Matt Harab.

Original story is below:

A sign on the side of the westbound Interstate-10 approaching West Loop 610 on Feb. 13, 2021. Houston is preparing for an arctic blast in the coming days.

The National Weather Service put all of Texas under a winter storm warning, and local officials have urged Houston-area residents to stay off the roads beginning Sunday night as the region gets set to deal with extremely low temperatures through Tuesday

Weather forecasts project an arctic blast likely bring ice, freezing rain, and sleet. The National Weather Servive for Houston and Galveston warned the region could see one-eigth inch of ice or more on the roads along with a mixture of rain, freezing rain, and an expected two inches of snow and a half inch of sleet in some areas.

By Sunday afternoon, Houston Transtar had already begun to report ice on roadways on parts of U.S. 290 near the Grand Parkway, across parts of Montgomery County and in Waller County.

HOUSTON TRANSTAR ROAD CONDITIONS | TXDOT HIGHWAY CONDITIONS

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday warned people to stay off the roads beginning Sunday night through Tuesday morning. The area may face power outages, broken tree limbs, and impassable roads, they said.

Hidalgo compared the potential impact of the weather to that of a category 5 hurricane.

“If the models are right, we’re about to see an incident the likes of which we have not seen in 30 years,” Hidalgo said at a Friday afternoon press conference. “Wherever you are on Sunday evening, prepare to stay there until at least Tuesday morning.”

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday declared a disaster for all 254 Texas counties ahead of the storm, and is deploying the Texas Department of Emergency Management to help areas prepare.

The city planned to open a warming shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center at 2 p.m. Sunday. Mayor Turner said that site at will focus on the city’s homeless population.

A list of county warming centers circulated across social media over the weekend. But on Sunday morning, the county’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the list contained inaccurate information, and asked people not to go to those locations.

The county said details would be released “if/when they are opened.” But in a subsequent tweet, the agency said details would not be made available, and that it was instead relying on emergency personnel and homeless outreach organizations.

Houston Independent School District announced all schools and offices will be closed Monday and Tuesday, and canceled all virtual classes.

MORE | Is Your Houston-Area School, College Or University Closed During The Winter Storm? Here’s A List

All COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites run by the city and county will be closed Monday and Tuesday of next week. Those who are scheduled for appointments on those days will be notified, and the appointments will be rescheduled.

All Metro service will also be suspended Monday and Tuesday due to the inclement weather.

The city’s garbage and recycling collection will be suspended Monday and Tuesday, according to the city.

Emergency services are expected to be fully operational during the duration of the weather event.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña warned people not to use ovens or stoves to heat their homes, which could lead to potential fires or carbon monoxide poisoning.

The chief also advised those who feel symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning to call 911 immediately. The most common symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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