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Emergency officials assess winter storm damage

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Officials with the Grayson County Office of Emergency Management are reporting significant electric, water outages and issues following winter storms over the weekend.

Following historic storms that inundated much of the state in snow and ice earlier this week, local emergency officials are assessing the damages around the county.

The Grayson County Office of Emergency Management is reporting widespread power outages, water line breaks and other issues following Sunday night's storms and historically low temperatures.

One of the biggest concerns is the ongoing power outages that have struck not only Grayson County but much of the state. These outages include intentional rolling blackouts aimed at preserving the statewide power grid and other damages to the system that occurred during the storms.

"We have not experienced this level of temperatures and wind chill factors," GCOEM  Director Sarah Somers said. "I'm very concerned that the outages started so quickly into the onset of this event. For it to happen on day one is concerning."

Somers could not estimate the scope of the outages in Grayson County as it changes on an hourly basis due to the rolling blackouts. However, she noted that there have been some outages that can be attributed to damage to local electrical systems.

The statewide outages started in the overnight Sunday and into Monday morning as ERCOT reported many power stations going off line. As a precaution, ERCOT asked providers to issue rolling blackouts to help offset some of the demand on the state power grid.

While these outages were originally expected to roll within an hour, many customers are reporting hours-long waits, if power returns at all. 

"We even have people who have been without power since around 2 a.m. yesterday," Somers said.

Some residents have been calling 9-1-1 to report power outages. However, Somers encourages people to instead contact local power companies who have more control. This also frees up emergency workers to focus efforts on other matters.

"I can understand why people are upset," she said. "These are bone-chilling temperatures and it is not safe in an unheated environment."

ERCOT has reported plans to have some relief power generation back online some time Tuesday.

In some ways, Somers compared the storms to the ice storms that occurred in the fall of 2013. While both events saw power demand outweigh generation, the major impacts occured much faster with the current storm.

Somers said cities, churches and other groups have set up warming stations throughout the communities to allow those without power some respite from the cold weather. These stations include St.Luke's Episcopal Church in Denison, the Sherman Municipal Ballroom, King's Trail Cowboy Church in Whitewright, The First Baptist Church Youth Center in Gunter and the community centers for Van Alstyne and Tom Bean.

Somers said additional stations are on standby if the need arises. However, she said many people are not taking advantage of this resource.

"People are not availing themselves of that service for whatever reason," she said. "I think some folks are just more comfortably staying home, but there are some folks who have been without power for some time."

Somers encouraged people to call 2-1-1 or area churches for assistance in getting to a warm shelter.

Area cities have also reported issues with water services and broken pipes. The cities of Sherman, Whitewright and Pottsboro have all issued boil orders due to issues with water service.

Sherman city officials said the current issues mostly impact the city's surface water resources, including west and north Sherman. Crews continued to work to bring the water pressure back to acceptable levels throughout Tuesday. However, officials still have worries about frozen pipes that have been without water for over a day now.

"As things begin to thaw, we are going to see more and more problems," Somers said.

The one utility that has not seen widespread outages is natural gas, Somers said. Some businesses have had gas shut off, but the residential market has been mostly untouched.

Once the snows have melted, and statewide assessments of the event begin, Somers said she anticipates that there will be talk if how to strengthen utility services throughout the state.

"I think for our infrastructure for power, I think we will have to find ways to harden those systems," Somers said.

However, it may be too early to start clean up, officials with the National Weather Service said. A second wave of winter storms are expected to roll into the region over the next day.

Meteorologist Jason Godwin said the storms are expected to begin some time Tuesday evening and remain overnight, dropping up to six additional inches of snow in the process.

"The good thing is that it looks like we have had the coldest temperatures we will with this event," he said. "We will still be below freezing until at least Friday." 

The first major chance for a melt will come on Saturday when temperatures rise into the lower 40s.

"Once we get to the weekend it looks like we will be on a warming trend," Godwin said.