AUSTIN (KXAN) – As this week's winter storm hit, many KXAN viewers worried about the potential for power outages.
“I wore two thick sweaters and three pairs of socks and a pair of boots because the cold was slowly invading my house,” said Liz Elleson, a North Austin resident who lost power during the January 10th snow storm.
During this storm, Elleson's greatest concern was for her elderly neighbors. In large parts of their neighborhood, the power went out and did not come back for eight hours. She says Austin Energy, which powers her and several neighbors, didn't let her know when power would be back.
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This is not uncommon, according to Austin Energy's Jennifer Herber. While they do report outages, they do not provide estimated recovery times in bad weather. This is because repairing the failure during a weather event can be difficult.
What causes cold weather outages?
Many Texans may remember the winter of 2011 when there were variable outages in cold weather during that event. Power outages in Austin lasted 30-45 minutes. A rotating failure occurs when the demand is too high and not enough power is generated.
ERCOT, the government agency in charge of the power grid, declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement to KXAN that they had advised power producers to prepare for this week's freeze. They recommended checking the fuel and weather equipment available.
“We have issued an operational notice urging the generators to take the necessary steps to prepare their systems for the expected cold weather. This includes checking the fuel supply and planned outages, as well as implementing winter weather procedures. We also work with transmission system operators to minimize outages that could affect generation. “
-Leslie Sopko, ERCOT spokeswoman
If rotating failures are required, ERCOT is the one making the call. At the local level, Austin Energy is taking steps to prevent outages by turning on generators, preheating critical oil used in machinery, heating outside of fuel tanks, using heaters in substations, and ensuring personnel are properly dressed for cold repairs.
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While Austin Energy can take steps to make sure they are prepared for the cold, they cannot prepare for trees.
“When we're dealing with things like strong winds, ice or heavy snow, things that we normally don't have to deal with… these things can weigh branches down. If they are weighed down, they can fall on power lines, ”said Herber.
A broken power line can cause failure for a house or a dozen, depending on which line fails. According to Herber, one side of the street may be on a racetrack while the other side of the street may be on a completely different racetrack. If you see a failed power line, avoid it and call 311.
Prepare for power outages
With so many factors that can contribute to a failure, be prepared for a storm. Herber recommends having snacks and water as well as blankets and battery-operated lights ready. Also an additional battery or charger for your phone. Do not use your stove to heat your home – this is a fire hazard.
Liz was ready for this storm. It has a solar lantern, charger, extra food and even propane heating indoors. It's good it was because Liz's house already lost power due to the storm on Thursday.