Texas is experiencing one of its coldest winter in decades , with temperatures expected to drop to as low as 11F (-12C) in Houston and 9F (-13C) San Antonio under a winter storm warning.
The governor, Greg Abbott, issued a disaster declaration for every county in the state on Friday, as conditions continued to get colder over the weekend.
“Every part of the state of Texas will face freezing conditions. That includes all the way down to Brownsville, Texas, over the coming days,” Abbott said in a press conference. “In many of those locations across the state of Texas, the high temperature for the day will be in the single digits.”
Warnings were issued by other government officials across the state, including Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, who cited concerns about icy road conditions and urge people to not drive and stay home. Last Thursday, the city of Fort Worth saw a pileup of up to 100 cars, where five people died and several others were injured.
Unlike north-east states, Texas roads are not typically laid with salt, which helps melt ice. So roads in the state are not equipped to handle ice or sleet and most cars in the state don’t have snow tires. The average temperature for February is about 48F in Houston and 43F in San Antonio, making this winter exceptionally cold.
Public transportation authorities in cities like San Antonio are modifying bus schedules , and in some cases, pausing them altogether. Jeff Arndt, the CEO of San Antonio’s transit authority, VIA, told the Guardian that informing riders of the changes to public transportation – like suspending all bus services Sunday evening and operating a weekend bus schedule on weekdays – will be difficult.
“The biggest challenge is making sure the customers know what we’re doing,” Arndt said. “We can handle the logistics of getting people in and making sure the buses are fueled. It’s really getting the information to the customers.”
Disabled riders received a call from VIA letting them know that buses wouldn’t be running, but for others, Arndt said it’s a challenge to get word out that public transit operations will be modified.
“Every route in our system has a detour due to icy roads right now,” Arndt said.
Texans all over the state are preparing for the winter storm, now dubbed an “Arctic Blast.” HEB, the state’s largest supermarket chain and the nation’s 20th largest retailer, reduced store hours.
“I was out this morning, because of course you have to go to HEB,” Arndt said. “The traffic was extremely light on the freeway, but I probably saw half a dozen cars pulled over on the shoulder facing the wrong way because obviously they spun out.”
Concerns about power outages due to the high demand for energy across the state prompted officials to urge residents to conserve where possible. Raymond Villalba, 42, said living in Houston, a city with a history of significant natural disaster events like 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, has prepared him for the cold weather anomaly.
“Living in Texas, I’m always prepared. I have a generator if we lose power. I’ve got plenty of charcoal and propane just in case. I don’t just do it now, I do it all the time. Even though we don’t get too many of these arctic blasts, we do get hurricanes and floods,” Villalba said.