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An arctic front will bring bitterly cold temperatures to West Texas this weekend

Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
The landscape near Marfa on a winter day in 2022.

A powerful blast of arctic air is set to bring bitterly cold temperatures to West Texas this weekend and into next week, with single-digit wind chills expected for much of the region starting Sunday morning.

The National Weather Service said this week the front affecting much of the U.S. is likely to arrive in the northern Permian Basin by Saturday evening and will then push south toward the mountain areas of the Big Bend overnight.

Temperatures across the region early Sunday morning are expected to range from the teens to low-30s, with even colder conditions expected on Monday and Tuesday mornings.

Forecasters are not expecting any rain or snow with the front, but the cold itself will be potentially dangerous, as wind chill readings are expected to drop below zero for parts of the Permian Basin Sunday morning.

Dangerously cold wind chills are expected to continue across the region, from the Permian Basin to the Rio Grande, on Monday and Tuesday mornings.

“Prolonged freezing temperatures may result in damage to exposed pipes and property damage, possible power outages, and damage to plants and agriculture,” the weather service’s Midland office said in a briefing.

Daytime temperatures behind the front should vary across West Texas, with parts of the Permian Basin remaining below freezing for multiple days as the Big Bend area warms up into the 50s and 60s.

“Arctic air is very cold and it generally sits very low to the ground, so once it reaches the higher elevations of the Davis Mountains, it has difficulty getting past the mountains,” said David Hennig, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Midland office. “It’s going to reach the Davis Mountains and then kind of come to a stop until it gets a stronger push around Monday, Tuesday.”

ERCOT, the state’s power grid operator, has issued a Winter Weather Watch ahead of the arctic front, meaning the grid is likely to see higher demand for electricity alongside lower reserves. Still, ERCOT indicated it is not expecting conditions to mirror those seen during the winter blackouts of February 2021.

“At this time, grid conditions are expected to be normal, and there is not a current expectation of an energy emergency,” the grid operator said in a statement on Wednesday.

As the Houston Chronicle has reported, experts say the grid’s overall condition has improved since the 2021 blackouts:

Grid experts don’t expect the impact of any outages to be as severe or as long-lasting as in 2021. That’s because there’s three times as much solar on the Texas power grid and 18 times more battery storage than 2021, according to Doug Lewin, president of Stoic Energy Consulting.

Oil and gas regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission issued a “notice to operators” on Thursday, advising companies to secure and monitor their facilities for winter weather impacts.

The bitter cold front comes on the heels of a windy week in West Texas. The National Weather Service said Thursday that 90 mph gusts were recorded in the Guadalupe Mountains. The extreme winds caused two fires to break out in Jeff Davis County on Thursday night, the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department said in a Facebook post.

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