Killeen-Fort Hood area residents woke up to a blanket of snow, single-digit temperatures and rolling electricity blackouts Monday after a winter storm passed through, crippling much of Texas in its wake.
Roads across the city were covered in 2 to 6 inches of snow Monday morning after hours of snowfall that started late Sunday. The white stuff made the road conditions worse after they already were hazardous after days of freezing rain and sub-freezing temperatures in the area.
A few cars and trucks were seen Monday morning driving slowly on interstates 14 and 35, where Texas Department of Transportation had plowed the roadway, however, conditions were still slippery.
Electricity provider Oncor initially said rolling blackouts could last for about 45 minutes, but then later on Monday said they could last for hours, as thousands of outages are being reported in the Killeen-Fort Hood area.
“Due to the severity of the electric generation shortfall, our expected outage length of 15 to 45 minutes has been significantly extended. Outages due to this electric emergency could last for hours and we ask you to be prepared,” Oncor reported on its power outage website. “In addition, we are responding to separate outages caused by the record-breaking winter storm that continues to impact our entire service territory. We are doing everything possible to respond to each of these power emergency events.”
According to Oncor’s online power outage map, nearly 12,000 customers in Killeen were without power at about 1:30 p.m. Monday. In Copperas Cove, close to 8,000 were without power, and nearly 3,000 customers in Harker Heights were without electricity.
Oncor said they were currently operating at “critical level 3” the highest emergency level for Oncor operations.
“This is historic for me,” Oncor spokesman Karl Green said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Some Killeen and Copperas Cove residents said their power went out around 2 a.m. Monday, and was still out by Monday afternoon.
Green said electricity reserves are at a critical low, and of the thousands of outages in the area, he did not know how many were from rolling blackouts and how many were from storm damage.
The Herald was peppered with questions Monday from concerned relatives and others asking about the power outages.
“There are two major issues affecting many of customers right now: winter storm outages and controlled power outages directed by ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), which serve to reduce high demand and protect the integrity of the electric grid. Due to the fast moving nature of these two power emergency events, we are not currently able to break down the difference in outages on our Oncor Outage Map,” Oncor said in a news release. “Given the unique combination of lack of generation and historic winter storm damage, estimated restoration times are not yet known. For outages related to the winter storm, our crews continue working around the clock to restore power. However, continued winter impacts such as extreme cold, treacherous road conditions and ice buildup is impacting progress.”
Oncor said customers do not need to report their outages at this time. “Our crews continue to make repairs from the storm so that when electric generation is available it can be delivered. We urge any customer who is experiencing a life threatening or emergency event to please call 911,” according to the electric company. “We are using all designated power lines for controlled outages so that hospitals and other critical infrastructure remains intact and system stability is preserved. This means that customers near critical facilities, or those in limited areas where rolling outages won’t take place in order to maintain grid stability, may not experience outages, while those farther from these facilities or areas may be out multiple times or for longer instances.”
The temperature was about 5 degrees at 8 a.m., not counting the wind chill, and had risen to about 10 degrees two hours later. The high in Killeen was slated to reach 21 Monday afternoon before dropping back to the single digits by Tuesday morning.
For the the remainder of the week, another system is expected to move in overnight Tuesday, with ice accumulation expected, according to National Weather Service Meterologist Allison Prater. This will change to a wintry mix mid morning on Wednesday into Wednesday evening, then turning more to snow overnight Thursday.
“Stay indoors and keep off the roads as much as possible throughout the week,” Prater said on Monday. “Cover and drain your pipes and outdoor sprinklers.”
Prater added that Friday will finally see above freezing temperatures, with highs in the upper 30s and lower 40s.
Killeen and Copperas Cove are both providing warming shelters for those who need them.
The City of Killeen warming station has relocated to Skyline Baptist Church, 906 Trimmier Road, city officials announced Sunday. The warming shelter was previously located at the Rosa Hereford Killeen Community Center.
“Those using the center have been relocated and future persons in need should go directly to the church,” city officials said in a news release.
In Copperas Cove, the warming center has been moved to the Copperas Cove Public Library, 501 S. Main Street.
“The doors are open and citizens will be welcomed in for some warmth. The Warming Center is offered for temporary relief from freezing weather conditions but does not offer full sheltering services,” Cove officials said in a release, adding about five people were at the library Monday morning.
Residents who visit the center are encouraged to bring a change of clothing, bedding, toiletries and other things they may need.
At Texas A&M University-Central Texas, officials closed the campus and canceled classes Monday and Tuesday, and said online classes would resume when network services are restored.
At Central Texas College, “all operations and all classes ... are suspended for the Central and Fort Hood campuses” through Wednesday, officials said.
Killeen ISD canceled classes Monday and Tuesday, and Copperas Cove ISD said it was canceling all classes today and Wednesday.
Bell County Judge David Blackburn declared a state of emergency in the county Monday, announced the closure of non-essential county offices, and canceled the operations of all three of the county’s COVID-19 vaccination centers through the end of the week.
“Given the current and forecasted weather conditions, the rotating brown outs that ERCOT has announced, and continuing poor road conditions, I am authorizing the closure of non-essential county offices for Tuesday,” Judge Blackburn said. “We’ll assess conditions tomorrow for what we might need to do for Wednesday.”
In keeping with this action, Blackburn also canceled this week’s meeting of the Commissioners Court, which was set to convene Tuesday.
“Even though we are posted to conduct the meeting either in person or virtually, our internet provider has advised us that internet coverage over the next 24 to 48 hours is not going to be reliable,” Blackburn said. “That being the case, it wouldn’t be prudent to try and conduct the meeting virtually.”
For everyone with scheduled to receive their first doses from either the Sammons Community Center in Temple or the Killeen Community Center, their booking will automatically be shift one week, officials said.
In Killeen, Mayor Jose Segarra issued a local disaster declaration for a winter weather emergency following the governor’s statewide declaration.
City of Killeen municipal offices will be closed today due to the weather, officials said.
Emergency services will operate without interruption, however, road conditions will not allow safe collection of trash. Monday and Tuesday collections will not be made this week. Thursday and Friday collections will be on normal schedule, weather permitting, according to the city. Youth and adult sports are cancelled until further notice. Stonetree Golf Club is closed until further notice.
At the Bell County Sheriff’s Department, “we have collected all of our 4 wheel drive vehicles from all divisions and made them available to our patrol division to ensure we have the ability to respond to calls for service when needed,” said spokesman Lt. Bob Reinhard.
“We are not expected to get above freezing until sometime on Friday. With that, we ask everyone to limit their travels unless it is absolutely necessary to be on the roads. While at home, limit electricity consumption so that we can all do our part to alleviate as much burden from the power grid as possible,” Reinhard said.