An ice storm that glazed North Texas left behind power outages and schools closings for a second straight day.
Ellis County schools cancelled class again Wednesday (see complete list on Page 10) and many government offices posted delays for opening this morning as the region deals with lingering slick roads and bitter cold weather from an Arctic storm that has socked the Midwest.
Oncor, a utility that serves 7 million customers in Texas, announced this morning it has begun electrical outages statewide in response to high demand following an ice storm.
Oncor spokeswoman Jaeamy Molina says the structured outages began around 6 a.m. Wednesday, at 15-minute intervals. She says the planned outages are not considered blackouts.
Molina said the Dallas-based utility is complying with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the electric grid and manages the deregulated market for 75 percent of Texas.
Oncor is urging consumers and businesses to reduce their electricity use to the lowest level possible, including these steps:
• Limit electricity usage to only that consumption which is absolutely necessary. Turn off all unnecessary lights, appliances, and electronic equipment.
• 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.
Residents are also encouraged to learn more conservation tips at “Powerful Advice,” Public Utility Commission of Texas:
Molina had no time frame for when the outages would end, after Tuesday’s storm that shut down schools across North Texas, dumped snow in the Panhandle and West Texas and iced runways at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Oncor crews were continuing work this morning to restore electricity to nearly 2,200 customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area still without power. Oncor reported about 3,900 outages in West Texas.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter at a gymnasium in Odessa for residents without electricity.
The National Weather Service says temperatures in Odessa were in the single digits before dawn Wednesday and temperatures were expected to fall in single digits in Ellis County today, with wind chill factors making the temperature feel below zero.
Roads in Ellis County remained icy in areas this morning, although in much better shape than Tuesday’s morning that coated the area in a layer of ice. Emergency personnel throughout the county responded to a high number of accidents throughout the day Tuesday.
With the cold temperatures, safety needs to be everyone’s mindset. There are certain steps people can take to protect themselves and their property to avoid a costly mistake.
“People need to take extra precautions in this type of weather. Sometimes people, when the extreme cold sets in, they want to heat their homes to a more extravagant degree with auxiliary heating devices. These auxiliary heating devices can be dangerous. Space heaters, for example. You have to be really cautious with those space heaters. Sometimes that will overload the circuitry if you plug too many of those things in,” Waxahachie Assistant Fire Chief Randall Potter said.
“Be careful where you place them in the room and don’t put them right up against a bed or curtains because it will overheat items like that and cause a fire,” he said. “Be careful with the auxiliary heating units that you put in. Don’t bring in any type of heating unit that is not rated for indoor use. People in extra cold go to extreme measures and bring something into the house and they should not.”
It’s also important to have furnaces and fireplaces inspected at least once a year by a professional to make sure there are no potential problems. Chimney sweeping should be done once a year by a professional chimney sweep to remove soot and creosote buildup. Chimneys, fireplaces and the flue need to be inspected to spot areas where it needs to be repaired or to show where animals have built nests.
Potter cautions people not to bring items that are intended for outside use into the home recalling an incident last year where a family using a hibachi to heat their house. Firefighters were dispatched to a call about a child having chest pains, finding a mobile home with four adults and six children all sick and vomiting. It was discovered the family was suffering from the effects of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
An air reading with a carbon-monoxide meter was 400 parts per million with the door open. A safe level of carbon-monoxide in a home is 9 parts per million or less. When a reading is from 10-99 parts per million residents are advised to leave and at 100 parts per million or greater it’s considered to be lethal. While the family did make a full recovery, Potter strongly encourages residents to make safe choices during this cold weather.
Working outside in this weather presents its own set of dangers and, if precautions aren’t taken, a person might be susceptible to the effects of frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite include numbness in your extremities. When you start not to be able to feel your fingers or toes, you need to move into a warmer area. If frostbite does set in, call 9-1-1 immediately for assistance.
“If you are going out in this type of weather, cover up everything. Our skin is really sensitive and you have to be really careful. If you go out, be sure to wear gloves and be sure to wear a knitted cap over your head and make sure that it is something that covers your ears. A lot people call them scarves and others call them mufflers that wrap around your neck and when you pull them up they nearly come up to your eyes,” Potter said.
“If you are going to be out for a while, breathe through that because sucking the cold air in straight to your lungs can hurt your lungs. If you suck the air in through the muffler or the knitted scarf it kind of warms the air a bit – it’s better for you that way,” he said, saying hot soup and hot chocolate are better than hot coffee to warm up in cold weather. Hot coffee opens ups the body’s pores, which cools a person down, he said.
Apart from protecting yourself, your home also needs to be protected in cold weather. The first step is to safeguard your plumbing.
“Most of this has been said over and over again, remove all of the outside hoses from your faucets and protect them the best you can. If they come out of the ground I usually wrap the pipe coming out the ground with a towel and put a five-gallon bucket over it to keep the heat in it that is coming up from the ground. If it’s one that is coming up out of the wall you want to make sure and disconnect the hose from it and you can wrap it but they also sell these little styrofoam covers that keep the heat in and the cold from getting to it,” said Rick Gatto, owner of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.
“Anything on an outside wall, what I usually do is at my house is I will open up the cabinets and let the heat from the house circulate underneath the cabinets. So that will try to keep some of that heat on that wall. Then I’ll take each side – both the hot and the cold drip – and get a steady stream. Now, if it stays as cold as they say it is going to be, sometimes a steady stream will work but you might have to make it more of a flow then you normally would have. As long you keep the water moving through there you replace that water that is in the wall getting cold with warmer water that is getting out of the ground. So it helps to keep it from freezing that way,” he said.
Gatto also advises people to know where their main shut-off valves are in case there is a water break. If you can’t find it he advises homeowners to contact the city water department. According to the city of Waxahachie’s website, residents can report a water leak or emergency water or sewer problem by contacting dispatch at the Waxahachie Police Department through the non-emergency telephone number, 972-937-9940. Water employees are on call 24 hours a day to handle such emergencies.
It’s also advised that a home’s central heating system be checked out on an annual basis by an authorized dealer, with the air filters changed at least every three months, according to TXU’s website.
Associated Press writers contributed to this report.
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