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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

ERCOT underestimated peak power demand

Houston Thursday will have to contend with one of the chilliest cold fronts in years, followed by a hard freeze that will drop temperatures into the teens for many parts of the region. Follow along for live updates from the Houston Chronicle on the freeze and its effect on Houston and the rest of Texas.

Did ERCOT underestimate Texas’ power demand?

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While there appears to be plenty of power to meet Texans’ demand on Thursday night, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas may have underestimated how much demand there would be on the grid, according to Houston Chronicle energy reporter Shelby Webb.

On Wednesday, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas said they expect to have 85,000 megawatts available Friday morning when peak demand reaches an estimated 70,000 megawatts — about 2,500 megawatts more than normal for this time of year.

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In reality, power demand passed 70,000 megawatts by 9 p.m. Thursday, according to ERCOT’s public data dashboard.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Winds still gusting, but will die down through the night

There is no comprehensive collection of the strongest wind gusts around Houston, but some locations have touched 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service in League City.

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A gust of 40 mph was recorded at Bush Intercontinental Airport around 4:30 p.m., according to Josh Lichter, a meteorologist at the weather service. The winds have stayed consistent in the hours since then. A number of gusts between 30 mph and 40 mph were recorded between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m

The winds will start to die down around midnight, Lichter said.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Few power outages reported so far

At 7:45 p.m., there were about 8,000 homes and businesses without power around the Houston area, according to CenterPoint Energy. The number of outages has stayed about the same since 7 p.m. According to CenterPoint’s outage tracker, the greatest number of outages are north of Interstate 10.

The reason for the outages wasn’t given, but CenterPoint earlier this evening warned customers that winds and downed branches could cause localized power outages. ERCOT, Texas’ electric grid operator, reported that grid conditions were normal and that the state’s energy supply remained well above demand.

About 90,000 homes and businesses across Texas were without power at 8 p.m.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Watch out for frozen turtles on Texas beaches and bays

If, for some reason, you find yourself walking on Texas beach or along the shore of a bay on Friday, keep an eye out for animals in need.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday asked people to look out for cold-stunned turtles that might have washed up on the shoreline.

Sea turtles cannot regulate their body temperature and at water temperatures below 50 degrees and they become immobilized, according to the agency.  Cold-stunned turtles are found primarily along the inshore areas, including canals, bays, estuaries and passes. The turtles float to the surface and often wash ashore due to strong prevailing northwest winds, the agency said.

If the stunned turtles are rescued quickly, they can be saved and released when temperatures increase, the agency said.

If you find a cold-stunned sea turtle, report it to the Texas Sea Turtle Hotline number at 1-866-TURTLE-5 (1-866-887-8535).

— John Wayne Ferguson

Houston hits the freezing mark

The temperature at Bush Intercontinental Airport has dipped to 32 degrees, officially putting Houston below the freezing levels. Temperatures in Houston dropped about 30 degrees over the course of three hours.

Temperatures overnight are forecasted to drop to as low as 15 degrees. A hard freeze warning is in effect until noon on Saturday.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Hundreds head to warming centers when doors first open

At 3:30, a trickle of people entered the convention center while some clustered outside smoking or talking. Some said they hadn’t decided yet whether they would be entering the shelter.

Both unhoused and housed people gathered at the convention center, which allows anyone inside without question. One Houston resident, Darryl Carter, said he has a home with functioning electricity and heat, but feels safer at the convention center.

“I know they have hella generators in there,” Carter said.

During the last freeze, Carter, who doesn’t own a generator, said an electrical fire caught his house on fire.

“I don’t want to chance it this time,” Carter said. “Last time I was cold for a few days.

According to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office, about 400 people sought out the city’s five warming centers when their doors first opened.

Several people asked each other for provisions such as food, blankets and coats. One woman sheltering at the convention center, Teresa Mace, said no food was available and blankets were on the way.

Dulce Serrano, Giovanni Serrano and Pamela Franco handed out bagged meals and blankets outside the convention center.

Each paper bag contained a meat and cheese sandwich — with lettuce and tomato on the side — a water bottle, an apple and a piece of chocolate.

Serrano also handed out fleece blankets they had purchased. She said they had made and distributed 45 care packages so far.

“It’s our first time doing this,” Serrano said. “We wanted to help out. Hopefully we can make this a tradition.”

— Bailey Gaillion

Track freeze impacts with our Texas Power Outage Tracker

Thousands of customers, mostly in Harris, Montgomery and Brazoria counties, have lost power across the Houston region as the cold front approaches.

Although Gov. Greg Abbott said this week that the Texas power grid and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the organization that manages it, will be able to withstand the cold front, CenterPoint Energy has warned of the possibility of downed power lines and localized outages during the freeze.

 See where fellow Texans have lost electricity right now.

— Jhair Romero

Cold front creeps into Houston, starting winter freeze

Temperatures have already begun to drop in some parts of the region as the cold front continues to make its way into Houston.

With cities such as Huntsville and College Station already below freezing, Conroe and The Woodlands have seen their temperatures fall into the low 40s in the last couple of hours. Forecasts expect those municipalities and other suburbs and exurbs north of Houston to drop below freezing within the next few hours.

As for areas further south, the front could be a few hours away from pushing temperatures to below freezing.

Houston is forecast to reach the low 40s at around 6 p.m. before dipping into the 20s later in the evening.

Southern suburbs such as Sugar Land, Pearland and League City also won’t see freezing temperatures until later in the night.

— Jhair Romero

Centerpoint warns of power outages because of high winds

Strong winds from the approaching cold front could bring down power lines and cause localized power outages, Centerpoint Energy said on Thursday afternoon. The company, which is Houston region’s primary electricity and natural gas utility provider, said the winds could break tree limbs or even knock down entire trees.

Sustained wind speeds Thursday evening could reach 20 to 25 miles an hour as the cold front moves in, Space City Weather said, and gusts could reach 35 to 40 miles an hour.

There were no major outages reported in Houston as of 3:50 p.m. You can track outages in real time here.

John Wayne Ferguson

Dozens of Houston flights canceled, hundreds delayed

As of 3 p.m., more than 60 flights out of Houston’s two major airports had been canceled and nearly 300 more had been delayed because of the winter storm sweeping across the United States, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

Houston travelers weren’t in as bad a spot as people in other parts of the country, but the worst weather is still to come. Officials with Houston Airports said people should be prepared for more delays on Friday. Already about 1,000 flights have been canceled for Friday. 

Erica Grieder

Texas coastal areas to be closed to fishing

Deepwater areas along the Texas coast capable of providing thermal refuge for vulnerable fish during the upcoming freeze will be temporarily closed beginning Saturday morning, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced Thursday.

Matt D. Wyatt

“The front is on our doorstep”: NWS meteorologist shares freeze updates

The freeze looks to play out matching closely with what had been predicted during the days leading up to the freeze, Meteorologist for the National Weather Service Dan Reilly said Thursday afternoon.

As Thursday afternoon progresses into night, conditions are anticipated to get colder and windier. Around 1 p.m., the cold front of arctic air arrived at College Station, meaning Houston would be hit around 3 p.m., Reilly said. By 6 p.m., temperatures are expected to be close to freezing in Houston.

“We’ve been talking about this for over a week, and right now the front is on our doorstep,” Reilly said around 1 p.m. on Thursday.

The most extreme points of the freeze were expected to be Thursday night and Friday morning, when wind chill is still a factor, Reilly said.

“The combination of wind and temperature will bring the wind chill indices down to about zero,” he said.

Friday temperatures are not expected to get above freezing, but the winds will gradually diminish leading into the day, Reilly said. Friday will be a sunny, but cold, day.

“Despite the sunshine, we won’t get out of the 20s,” Reilly said.

What set this freeze apart from the February 2021 freeze is that no rain or snow is predicted, he said. The cold front of air is expected to be dry. Compared to February 2021, Reilly said the temperatures look to be in the same ballpark, but the major difference was the lack of ice and snow characterizing the current freeze. Both 2021 and 2022 freezes were caused by arctic fronts.

“We’re not really concerned about any sort of ice or snow,” Reilly said. “As the front comes through a little light rain shower can’t be ruled out but it’s not going to have an effect, we think, on the roadways.”

The rain should dry just as quickly as it falls — if there is any, he said.

— Clare Fonstein

Lakewood Church to open as a warming center

For those who need a place to stay warm when the cold front arrives Thursday afternoon, the city is opening four warming centers across Houston.
People can warm up at Moody Community Center at 3725 Fulton St. in Northside, at the Fondé Community Center at 110 Sabine St. near Buffalo Bayou Park, the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center at 6719 West Montgomery Road or the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown.
All of them will open their doors at 3 p.m. Thursday.

NACC Disaster Services, a faith-based nonprofit, opened a warming shelter at Green House International Church at 200 West Greens Road, according to Jose Ortega, the organization’s disaster services director.

The church, which will stay open as a warming shelter through Friday, can fit up to 500 people and will have cots and showers available. The church has backup generators as well, Ortega said.

Joel Osteen’s Lakewood megachurch will open to those in need on Thursday at 5 p.m.

Jhair Romero

Harris County Public Health closes clinics, animal shelter 

The Harris County Public Health Department has closed its offices and several clinics across the county as the cold front approaches, the department said in a Twitter post on Thursday afternoon. 
.
All of its women, infants and children clinics — from its Tomball location in the north to its Scarsdale Boulevard location in the south — are closed. Also closed are its HIV and tuberculosis testing sites, all of its dental clinics, its refugee clinic and the wellness clinic at Harris County Pets.

The clinics and the department’s offices, already scheduled to close Friday through Monday for the holiday weekend, are expected to open again on Tuesday after the cold front passes.

Jhair Romero

Officials help prepare at-risk residents for the incoming freeze 

Fort Bend County’s department of health and human services was offering 100 blankets for low-income or homeless residents ahead of the coming cold, according to officials.

Residents in need of blankets can contact the county’s social services department, 281-238-3502, or veterans service, 281-341-4550, officials said.

Matt deGrood

Christmas religious services are planned to proceed despite the freeze 

The Houston area’s largest churches said they’re planning to hold Christmas weekend services as planned despite the oncoming cold.

Representatives for Lakewood Church, Woodlands Church, Second Baptist Church, New Light Christian Center Church and The Fountain of Praise said they will carry on with regularly scheduled services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Lakewood Church will also open its doors as a warming center on Thursday afternoon. The worst of the winter freeze is expected to have passed by Saturday and Sunday, when the megachurches usually hold their services.

Sam González Kelly

Some IAH and Hobby flights canceled, travelers advised to arrive early to airports

Despite forecasts calling on inclement weather to descend on Houston late Thursday, officials at George Bush International Airport and William P. Hobby Airport were preparing for hundreds of thousands of travelers to move through their concourses in coming days.

Travelers, however, were encouraged to arrive early and be prepared for increased traffic at both airports, according to Melissa Correa, a spokeswoman for the system.

Both airports were prepared to welcome almost 200,000 passengers Thursday and another 200,000 Friday, she said.

About 27 flights had been canceled at George Bush International Airport, with another 23 cancelations out of Hobby Airport, according to a tracker on FlightAware.

Compared to other areas of the country, flights were still moving in and out of Houston’s airports as of lunchtime Thursday, Correa said.

Matt deGrood

The National Weather Service issues series of advisories for the freeze 

A wind advisory went into effect beginning at noon that was to last until midnight, according to the National Weather Service. The advisory will cover portions of south central and southeast Texas. The advisory warns residents to expect winds that may have the power to move items that are not secured. Forecasters note tree limbs could be taken down by the wind and cause power outages. 

Starting at 6 p.m. Thursday a wind chill warning is expected, which will last until noon Friday. It signifies the weather service expects dangerously cold wind chills, ranging from below zero to single digits. The wind chill warning covers portions of south central and southeast Texas. Forecasters warned residents the weather has the potential to cause hypothermia or frostbite if people are outside and don’t take precautions. 

At 6 p.m. Thursday a hard freeze warning also planned, lasting until noon Saturday. The hard freeze warning will come with below-freezing temperatures forecast to hit portions of south central and southeast Texas, including Houston. The weather service cautions residents the conditions are expected to damage crops, sensitive vegetation and could damage outdoor plumbing, if unprotected. 

— Clare Fonstein

Several Houston-area colleges and universities plan to close Friday 

College closures were expected to mostly affect employees, as students had already been released for winter break.
 
Lone Star College buildings were planning to close Friday, while Prairie View A&M University non-essential employees were to ork remotely in the morning, according to the schools.
 
The University of Houston encouraged employees to work remotely Friday.
 
Houston Community College and San Jacinto College closed Thursday and were to resume normal hours Jan. 2. Sam Houston State University planned to close at 1 p.m. Thursday.
 
— Samantha Ketterer 

How to wrap pipes to prevent them from freezing

Your pre-freeze preparations should begin outside. Make sure that your outdoor hose bibs are protected with some type of insulation or a foam cup that covers the bib to keep it protected. A hose bib is the faucet on the outside of your home where you likely screw in a garden hose. Remove the hose or anything else attached to this tap. Wrap the bib with insulation or pipe wrap from a hardware store. Do not use old clothing, towels or even newspaper; these materials will get wet, hold moisture and accomplish the opposite of what you’re setting out to do.

Your sprinkler also needs to be addressed. Joe Bany, director of field operations and responsible master plumber at John Moore Services, said it’s really not possible to drain sprinkler pipes, but you do need to wrap or insulate the backflow preventer, the big brass object that stands up above ground where your sprinkling system was installed. Turn off the water to the backflow preventer, and make sure it is protected with a water heater blanket and duct tape or insulation. Don’t use any materials that hold moisture.

Check for more tips on how to prep your home here. 

 – Diane Cowen

Hitchcock mayor goes above and beyond to help constituents prep 

The mayor of Hitchcock – a small town about 37 miles southeast of Houston – has taken the title “public servant” to a more literal level than others ahead of expected the cold weather set to hit the region late Thursday.

Mayor Chris Armacost took to social media in the days leading up to the expected freeze, offering his help insulating pipes and prepping homes to sustain the colder temperatures.

“I can still wrap pipes/hose bibs in the community tomorrow,” he wrote late Wednesday. “If you need help please let me know. This is completely free.”

As of Thursday morning, Armacost had helped about 20 people prepare their homes for winter weather, he said. A few people who reached out were residents who had already insulated their pipes, but wanted to make sure they’d done it correctly, he said.

But the majority of those 20 people were elderly residents or those with disabilities, who needed extra help getting work done outside the home, Armacost said.

The idea for helping people began during the February 2021 freeze, when Armacost had extra materials left after preparing his own home, and offered it to those who might have needed it, he said.

But that was not as formal an effort as he made ahead of this freeze, he said.

“It helps to have done preventative maintenance ahead of time, so you’re not out trying to buy supplies at the last minute,” he said.

When not serving as an elected official, Armacost works as the director of technology, transportation, facilities and operations for Hitchcock Independent School District. So, he’s used to preparing infrastructure for inclement weather, he said.

Armacost and others had offered to help more people Thursday before temperatures plunged, but so far only one person had called him for help, he said around 8:40 a.m.

Matt deGrood

What time will the Houston freeze hit?

The day many Houstonians have been preparing their homes for has arrived and temperatures may drop earlier in the day than expected, according to the National Weather Service.

The Arctic cold front is expected to reach Brazos Valley counties by midday and should roll into Houston by 2 or 3 p.m.

“The Arctic front’s forward speed is faster than much of the guidance suggests,” according to the weather service’s forecast discussion

By 4 or 5 p.m. the front will have made it all the way down to the coast, meteorologists reported. 

“Given recent trends, it is possible the front could arrive a little earlier,” according to the weather service. 

Before the highly anticipated cold settles in, Thursday temperatures in Houston were forecast to reach a daytime high of 57 degrees. 

As the Arctic front headed for Houston passed through the Texas Panhandle earlier, temperatures dropped 20 to 30 degrees in a matter of minutes, according to the weather service. 

How bad will the winds get when the front arrives? 

Houstonians can expect rapidly dropping temperatures and 30 to 40 mph wind speeds. Wind gusts were expected to be stronger near the coast. The low temperature Thursday night was expected to drop to around 18 degrees, with the wind chill factor making it feel as cold as 5 degrees, according to forecasters

Meteorologists did not note any chance of rain in the forecast for upcoming days. 

Friday morning is expected to be the coldest point of the freeze. Temperatures were expected to be in the low to mid-teens north of Houston, in the upper 10s within the city and in the low 20s by the coast, according to the National Weather Service. When accounting for wind chill, the temperature drops even more. Temperatures may break through the freezing point briefly on Friday, but most should expect at least 36 hours straight of the freeze. The wind is expected to lighten up Friday, even though the temperature will not. 

Friday night was expected to have a low temp around 20 degrees with the wind chill factor contributing to making it feel more like 10 to 15 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. 

Saturday, the high temperature will bring Houston out of freezing and is expected to reach 40 degrees. Saturday night, temperatures are expected to drop to a low of 24 degrees. 

Christmas Day will be cold, but the hard freeze is expected to be finished by then. Things will begin to warm gradually and on Christmas Day the temp was expected to warm to 45 degrees, according to the weather service. Sunday night lows are expected to be around 29 degrees.

— Clare Fonstein 

This story will be updated throughout the day with the latest coverage on the Houston hard freeze, as information becomes available. To receive live updates, sign up for our Breaking News newsletter or download the Houston Chronicle mobile app.

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story by The Texas Tribune Source link

Houston Thursday will have to contend with one of the chilliest cold fronts in years, followed by a hard freeze that will drop temperatures into the teens for many parts of the region. Follow along for live updates from the Houston Chronicle on the freeze and its effect on Houston and the rest of Texas.

Did ERCOT underestimate Texas’ power demand?

While there appears to be plenty of power to meet Texans’ demand on Thursday night, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas may have underestimated how much demand there would be on the grid, according to Houston Chronicle energy reporter Shelby Webb.

On Wednesday, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas said they expect to have 85,000 megawatts available Friday morning when peak demand reaches an estimated 70,000 megawatts — about 2,500 megawatts more than normal for this time of year.

In reality, power demand passed 70,000 megawatts by 9 p.m. Thursday, according to ERCOT’s public data dashboard.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Winds still gusting, but will die down through the night

There is no comprehensive collection of the strongest wind gusts around Houston, but some locations have touched 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service in League City.

A gust of 40 mph was recorded at Bush Intercontinental Airport around 4:30 p.m., according to Josh Lichter, a meteorologist at the weather service. The winds have stayed consistent in the hours since then. A number of gusts between 30 mph and 40 mph were recorded between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m

The winds will start to die down around midnight, Lichter said.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Few power outages reported so far

At 7:45 p.m., there were about 8,000 homes and businesses without power around the Houston area, according to CenterPoint Energy. The number of outages has stayed about the same since 7 p.m. According to CenterPoint’s outage tracker, the greatest number of outages are north of Interstate 10.

The reason for the outages wasn’t given, but CenterPoint earlier this evening warned customers that winds and downed branches could cause localized power outages. ERCOT, Texas’ electric grid operator, reported that grid conditions were normal and that the state’s energy supply remained well above demand.

About 90,000 homes and businesses across Texas were without power at 8 p.m.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Watch out for frozen turtles on Texas beaches and bays

If, for some reason, you find yourself walking on Texas beach or along the shore of a bay on Friday, keep an eye out for animals in need.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday asked people to look out for cold-stunned turtles that might have washed up on the shoreline.

Sea turtles cannot regulate their body temperature and at water temperatures below 50 degrees and they become immobilized, according to the agency.  Cold-stunned turtles are found primarily along the inshore areas, including canals, bays, estuaries and passes. The turtles float to the surface and often wash ashore due to strong prevailing northwest winds, the agency said.

If the stunned turtles are rescued quickly, they can be saved and released when temperatures increase, the agency said.

If you find a cold-stunned sea turtle, report it to the Texas Sea Turtle Hotline number at 1-866-TURTLE-5 (1-866-887-8535).

— John Wayne Ferguson

Houston hits the freezing mark

The temperature at Bush Intercontinental Airport has dipped to 32 degrees, officially putting Houston below the freezing levels. Temperatures in Houston dropped about 30 degrees over the course of three hours.

Temperatures overnight are forecasted to drop to as low as 15 degrees. A hard freeze warning is in effect until noon on Saturday.

— John Wayne Ferguson

Hundreds head to warming centers when doors first open

At 3:30, a trickle of people entered the convention center while some clustered outside smoking or talking. Some said they hadn’t decided yet whether they would be entering the shelter.

Both unhoused and housed people gathered at the convention center, which allows anyone inside without question. One Houston resident, Darryl Carter, said he has a home with functioning electricity and heat, but feels safer at the convention center.

“I know they have hella generators in there,” Carter said.

During the last freeze, Carter, who doesn’t own a generator, said an electrical fire caught his house on fire.

“I don’t want to chance it this time,” Carter said. “Last time I was cold for a few days.

According to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office, about 400 people sought out the city’s five warming centers when their doors first opened.

Several people asked each other for provisions such as food, blankets and coats. One woman sheltering at the convention center, Teresa Mace, said no food was available and blankets were on the way.

Dulce Serrano, Giovanni Serrano and Pamela Franco handed out bagged meals and blankets outside the convention center.

Each paper bag contained a meat and cheese sandwich — with lettuce and tomato on the side — a water bottle, an apple and a piece of chocolate.

Serrano also handed out fleece blankets they had purchased. She said they had made and distributed 45 care packages so far.

“It’s our first time doing this,” Serrano said. “We wanted to help out. Hopefully we can make this a tradition.”

— Bailey Gaillion

Track freeze impacts with our Texas Power Outage Tracker

Thousands of customers, mostly in Harris, Montgomery and Brazoria counties, have lost power across the Houston region as the cold front approaches.

Although Gov. Greg Abbott said this week that the Texas power grid and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the organization that manages it, will be able to withstand the cold front, CenterPoint Energy has warned of the possibility of downed power lines and localized outages during the freeze.

 See where fellow Texans have lost electricity right now.

— Jhair Romero

Cold front creeps into Houston, starting winter freeze

Temperatures have already begun to drop in some parts of the region as the cold front continues to make its way into Houston.

With cities such as Huntsville and College Station already below freezing, Conroe and The Woodlands have seen their temperatures fall into the low 40s in the last couple of hours. Forecasts expect those municipalities and other suburbs and exurbs north of Houston to drop below freezing within the next few hours.

As for areas further south, the front could be a few hours away from pushing temperatures to below freezing.

Houston is forecast to reach the low 40s at around 6 p.m. before dipping into the 20s later in the evening.

Southern suburbs such as Sugar Land, Pearland and League City also won’t see freezing temperatures until later in the night.

— Jhair Romero

Centerpoint warns of power outages because of high winds

Strong winds from the approaching cold front could bring down power lines and cause localized power outages, Centerpoint Energy said on Thursday afternoon. The company, which is Houston region’s primary electricity and natural gas utility provider, said the winds could break tree limbs or even knock down entire trees.

Sustained wind speeds Thursday evening could reach 20 to 25 miles an hour as the cold front moves in, Space City Weather said, and gusts could reach 35 to 40 miles an hour.

There were no major outages reported in Houston as of 3:50 p.m. You can track outages in real time here.

John Wayne Ferguson

Dozens of Houston flights canceled, hundreds delayed

As of 3 p.m., more than 60 flights out of Houston’s two major airports had been canceled and nearly 300 more had been delayed because of the winter storm sweeping across the United States, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

Houston travelers weren’t in as bad a spot as people in other parts of the country, but the worst weather is still to come. Officials with Houston Airports said people should be prepared for more delays on Friday. Already about 1,000 flights have been canceled for Friday. 

Erica Grieder

Texas coastal areas to be closed to fishing

Deepwater areas along the Texas coast capable of providing thermal refuge for vulnerable fish during the upcoming freeze will be temporarily closed beginning Saturday morning, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced Thursday.

Matt D. Wyatt

“The front is on our doorstep”: NWS meteorologist shares freeze updates

The freeze looks to play out matching closely with what had been predicted during the days leading up to the freeze, Meteorologist for the National Weather Service Dan Reilly said Thursday afternoon.

As Thursday afternoon progresses into night, conditions are anticipated to get colder and windier. Around 1 p.m., the cold front of arctic air arrived at College Station, meaning Houston would be hit around 3 p.m., Reilly said. By 6 p.m., temperatures are expected to be close to freezing in Houston.

“We’ve been talking about this for over a week, and right now the front is on our doorstep,” Reilly said around 1 p.m. on Thursday.

The most extreme points of the freeze were expected to be Thursday night and Friday morning, when wind chill is still a factor, Reilly said.

“The combination of wind and temperature will bring the wind chill indices down to about zero,” he said.

Friday temperatures are not expected to get above freezing, but the winds will gradually diminish leading into the day, Reilly said. Friday will be a sunny, but cold, day.

“Despite the sunshine, we won’t get out of the 20s,” Reilly said.

What set this freeze apart from the February 2021 freeze is that no rain or snow is predicted, he said. The cold front of air is expected to be dry. Compared to February 2021, Reilly said the temperatures look to be in the same ballpark, but the major difference was the lack of ice and snow characterizing the current freeze. Both 2021 and 2022 freezes were caused by arctic fronts.

“We’re not really concerned about any sort of ice or snow,” Reilly said. “As the front comes through a little light rain shower can’t be ruled out but it’s not going to have an effect, we think, on the roadways.”

The rain should dry just as quickly as it falls — if there is any, he said.

— Clare Fonstein

Lakewood Church to open as a warming center

For those who need a place to stay warm when the cold front arrives Thursday afternoon, the city is opening four warming centers across Houston.
People can warm up at Moody Community Center at 3725 Fulton St. in Northside, at the Fondé Community Center at 110 Sabine St. near Buffalo Bayou Park, the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center at 6719 West Montgomery Road or the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown.
All of them will open their doors at 3 p.m. Thursday.

NACC Disaster Services, a faith-based nonprofit, opened a warming shelter at Green House International Church at 200 West Greens Road, according to Jose Ortega, the organization’s disaster services director.

The church, which will stay open as a warming shelter through Friday, can fit up to 500 people and will have cots and showers available. The church has backup generators as well, Ortega said.

Joel Osteen’s Lakewood megachurch will open to those in need on Thursday at 5 p.m.

Jhair Romero

Harris County Public Health closes clinics, animal shelter 

The Harris County Public Health Department has closed its offices and several clinics across the county as the cold front approaches, the department said in a Twitter post on Thursday afternoon. 
.
All of its women, infants and children clinics — from its Tomball location in the north to its Scarsdale Boulevard location in the south — are closed. Also closed are its HIV and tuberculosis testing sites, all of its dental clinics, its refugee clinic and the wellness clinic at Harris County Pets.

The clinics and the department’s offices, already scheduled to close Friday through Monday for the holiday weekend, are expected to open again on Tuesday after the cold front passes.

Jhair Romero

Officials help prepare at-risk residents for the incoming freeze 

Fort Bend County’s department of health and human services was offering 100 blankets for low-income or homeless residents ahead of the coming cold, according to officials.

Residents in need of blankets can contact the county’s social services department, 281-238-3502, or veterans service, 281-341-4550, officials said.

Matt deGrood

Christmas religious services are planned to proceed despite the freeze 

The Houston area’s largest churches said they’re planning to hold Christmas weekend services as planned despite the oncoming cold.

Representatives for Lakewood Church, Woodlands Church, Second Baptist Church, New Light Christian Center Church and The Fountain of Praise said they will carry on with regularly scheduled services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Lakewood Church will also open its doors as a warming center on Thursday afternoon. The worst of the winter freeze is expected to have passed by Saturday and Sunday, when the megachurches usually hold their services.

Sam González Kelly

Some IAH and Hobby flights canceled, travelers advised to arrive early to airports

Despite forecasts calling on inclement weather to descend on Houston late Thursday, officials at George Bush International Airport and William P. Hobby Airport were preparing for hundreds of thousands of travelers to move through their concourses in coming days.

Travelers, however, were encouraged to arrive early and be prepared for increased traffic at both airports, according to Melissa Correa, a spokeswoman for the system.

Both airports were prepared to welcome almost 200,000 passengers Thursday and another 200,000 Friday, she said.

About 27 flights had been canceled at George Bush International Airport, with another 23 cancelations out of Hobby Airport, according to a tracker on FlightAware.

Compared to other areas of the country, flights were still moving in and out of Houston’s airports as of lunchtime Thursday, Correa said.

Matt deGrood

The National Weather Service issues series of advisories for the freeze 

A wind advisory went into effect beginning at noon that was to last until midnight, according to the National Weather Service. The advisory will cover portions of south central and southeast Texas. The advisory warns residents to expect winds that may have the power to move items that are not secured. Forecasters note tree limbs could be taken down by the wind and cause power outages. 

Starting at 6 p.m. Thursday a wind chill warning is expected, which will last until noon Friday. It signifies the weather service expects dangerously cold wind chills, ranging from below zero to single digits. The wind chill warning covers portions of south central and southeast Texas. Forecasters warned residents the weather has the potential to cause hypothermia or frostbite if people are outside and don’t take precautions. 

At 6 p.m. Thursday a hard freeze warning also planned, lasting until noon Saturday. The hard freeze warning will come with below-freezing temperatures forecast to hit portions of south central and southeast Texas, including Houston. The weather service cautions residents the conditions are expected to damage crops, sensitive vegetation and could damage outdoor plumbing, if unprotected. 

— Clare Fonstein

Several Houston-area colleges and universities plan to close Friday 

College closures were expected to mostly affect employees, as students had already been released for winter break.
 
Lone Star College buildings were planning to close Friday, while Prairie View A&M University non-essential employees were to ork remotely in the morning, according to the schools.
 
The University of Houston encouraged employees to work remotely Friday.
 
Houston Community College and San Jacinto College closed Thursday and were to resume normal hours Jan. 2. Sam Houston State University planned to close at 1 p.m. Thursday.
 
— Samantha Ketterer 

How to wrap pipes to prevent them from freezing

Your pre-freeze preparations should begin outside. Make sure that your outdoor hose bibs are protected with some type of insulation or a foam cup that covers the bib to keep it protected. A hose bib is the faucet on the outside of your home where you likely screw in a garden hose. Remove the hose or anything else attached to this tap. Wrap the bib with insulation or pipe wrap from a hardware store. Do not use old clothing, towels or even newspaper; these materials will get wet, hold moisture and accomplish the opposite of what you’re setting out to do.

Your sprinkler also needs to be addressed. Joe Bany, director of field operations and responsible master plumber at John Moore Services, said it’s really not possible to drain sprinkler pipes, but you do need to wrap or insulate the backflow preventer, the big brass object that stands up above ground where your sprinkling system was installed. Turn off the water to the backflow preventer, and make sure it is protected with a water heater blanket and duct tape or insulation. Don’t use any materials that hold moisture.

Check for more tips on how to prep your home here. 

 – Diane Cowen

Hitchcock mayor goes above and beyond to help constituents prep 

The mayor of Hitchcock – a small town about 37 miles southeast of Houston – has taken the title “public servant” to a more literal level than others ahead of expected the cold weather set to hit the region late Thursday.

Mayor Chris Armacost took to social media in the days leading up to the expected freeze, offering his help insulating pipes and prepping homes to sustain the colder temperatures.

“I can still wrap pipes/hose bibs in the community tomorrow,” he wrote late Wednesday. “If you need help please let me know. This is completely free.”

As of Thursday morning, Armacost had helped about 20 people prepare their homes for winter weather, he said. A few people who reached out were residents who had already insulated their pipes, but wanted to make sure they’d done it correctly, he said.

But the majority of those 20 people were elderly residents or those with disabilities, who needed extra help getting work done outside the home, Armacost said.

The idea for helping people began during the February 2021 freeze, when Armacost had extra materials left after preparing his own home, and offered it to those who might have needed it, he said.

But that was not as formal an effort as he made ahead of this freeze, he said.

“It helps to have done preventative maintenance ahead of time, so you’re not out trying to buy supplies at the last minute,” he said.

When not serving as an elected official, Armacost works as the director of technology, transportation, facilities and operations for Hitchcock Independent School District. So, he’s used to preparing infrastructure for inclement weather, he said.

Armacost and others had offered to help more people Thursday before temperatures plunged, but so far only one person had called him for help, he said around 8:40 a.m.

Matt deGrood

What time will the Houston freeze hit?

The day many Houstonians have been preparing their homes for has arrived and temperatures may drop earlier in the day than expected, according to the National Weather Service.

The Arctic cold front is expected to reach Brazos Valley counties by midday and should roll into Houston by 2 or 3 p.m.

“The Arctic front’s forward speed is faster than much of the guidance suggests,” according to the weather service’s forecast discussion

By 4 or 5 p.m. the front will have made it all the way down to the coast, meteorologists reported. 

“Given recent trends, it is possible the front could arrive a little earlier,” according to the weather service. 

Before the highly anticipated cold settles in, Thursday temperatures in Houston were forecast to reach a daytime high of 57 degrees. 

As the Arctic front headed for Houston passed through the Texas Panhandle earlier, temperatures dropped 20 to 30 degrees in a matter of minutes, according to the weather service. 

How bad will the winds get when the front arrives? 

Houstonians can expect rapidly dropping temperatures and 30 to 40 mph wind speeds. Wind gusts were expected to be stronger near the coast. The low temperature Thursday night was expected to drop to around 18 degrees, with the wind chill factor making it feel as cold as 5 degrees, according to forecasters

Meteorologists did not note any chance of rain in the forecast for upcoming days. 

Friday morning is expected to be the coldest point of the freeze. Temperatures were expected to be in the low to mid-teens north of Houston, in the upper 10s within the city and in the low 20s by the coast, according to the National Weather Service. When accounting for wind chill, the temperature drops even more. Temperatures may break through the freezing point briefly on Friday, but most should expect at least 36 hours straight of the freeze. The wind is expected to lighten up Friday, even though the temperature will not. 

Friday night was expected to have a low temp around 20 degrees with the wind chill factor contributing to making it feel more like 10 to 15 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. 

Saturday, the high temperature will bring Houston out of freezing and is expected to reach 40 degrees. Saturday night, temperatures are expected to drop to a low of 24 degrees. 

Christmas Day will be cold, but the hard freeze is expected to be finished by then. Things will begin to warm gradually and on Christmas Day the temp was expected to warm to 45 degrees, according to the weather service. Sunday night lows are expected to be around 29 degrees.

— Clare Fonstein 

This story will be updated throughout the day with the latest coverage on the Houston hard freeze, as information becomes available. To receive live updates, sign up for our Breaking News newsletter or download the Houston Chronicle mobile app.

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