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“True Blue Norther” to bring dangerously cold temperatures to West Texas

(Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
A view of Marfa on a winter day in February 2022.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Midland say a fast-moving arctic cold front will bring bitterly cold temperatures to the region Thursday and into the weekend.

A blast of arctic cold air impacting much of the U.S. just before Christmas is slated to bring bitterly cold temperatures to West Texas as well.

The National Weather Service office in Midland has in recent days described the coming cold front as a “true ‘Blue Norther,’” saying the fast-moving front will blow in with strong winds on Thursday and lead to dangerously cold wind chills across the region into the holiday weekend.

Forecasters said the front should be a dry blast of cold air, with no freezing rain or snow expected.

“We’ll have single-digit lows Thursday night, Friday morning, again Friday night and Saturday morning, and these will likely set records for this time of year,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Brian Curran.

The good news, he said, is that temperatures will start to warm up on Christmas Day.

“This cold shot is going to be quite significant and quite dangerous to folks, but fortunately it’s not going to hang around very long,” Curran said.

On Thursday, West Texas will see a wide range of high temperatures as the front blows in, with most of the Permian Basin not expected to see highs above 40 degrees while temperatures in parts of the Big Bend region will still reach near 70 degrees.

Thursday night, temperatures are forecast to plunge into the teens and single digits across the region, with wind chills dropping below-zero for many areas, which forecasters warn will lead to dangerous conditions.

(National Weather Service)

Forecasters are urging West Texans to prepare for the coming cold by making plans to check on neighbors and relatives, wrapping exposed outdoor pipes and bringing pets and plants indoors.

Experts also warned that frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly when people or animals are exposed to the kind of extremely cold wind chills the region will see this week.

“Folks should take precautions now to shelter livestock and make plans to bring the outdoor pets into a warm environment, as these temperatures could lead to hypothermia for pets and livestock both,” Curran said.

The Salvation Army plans to open its locations in Midland and Odessa as warming shelters for those in need.

Robert Coriston, with the organization’s Midland location, said the shelter keeps its doors open to anyone needing to warm up as long as the temperature remains below 41 degrees. The Odessa location will be open Thursday through Friday night, the Odessa American reported.

The Ector County Sheriff’s office said it would also open a warming shelter from Thursday evening through Christmas Day.

Brewster County Commissioner Sara Allen Colando said in a Twitter post that the Red Portillo Community Center in Study Butte would open as a warming shelter at 7 p.m. Thursday.

There were no immediate plans for warming shelters in Marfa or Alpine, though local officials said they would be keeping an eye on the weather and that police would be available to help those in need.

“The Alpine Police Department is always available if needed for travelers and residents,” said Alpine City Manager Megan Antrim. “The Police Department also checks on those in the area who do not have proper housing. Brewster County also has the Emergency Operations Center available in extreme cases.”

Presidio Mayor John Ferguson said the city would make the Presidio Activity Center available as a warming shelter as needed. Ferguson said anyone needing assistance during the cold snap can contact the local police department.

Though the arctic blast may resurface memories of the February 2021 winter storm that led to blackouts and deaths across the state, experts have cautioned that this week’s dry cold front is unlikely to stress the electric grid in the same way, as KUT reported.

Dr. Monty Dozier, director of the Disaster Assessment and Recovery Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, told the Texas Standard this week that people should take precautions when using backup power generators.

“Make sure that that generator stays outside, that you run an extension cord from outside into the house if you’re trying to power up an electric heater or those kinds of things,” he said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.