Record cold, power outages close schools, leave residents chilly
Last updated 2/16/2021 at 1:50pm
Snow, record cold and power outages left most eastern New Mexico and Texas Panhandle residents huddling at home early this week.
Most schools closed Tuesday due to a mix of difficult weather conditions on the roads and controlled power outages in the morning.
Xcel Energy spokesman Wes Reeves said the challenges with most winter storms are inclement weather damaging power lines and transformers, but this week's difficulties are more fundamental.
"What happened this (Tuesday) morning is demand outpaced what was available to generate," Reeves said. "These plants are not getting the natural gas fuel they need. A lot of plants have to be idled or not produce at their normal level. The gas is freezing up in the production areas and not getting to the pipeline."
Xcel announced Monday it would be instituting controlled outages "to protect the regional grid and maintain reliability." The outages were expected to last about an hour, but many area residents reported they were out without power for much longer.
More than 9,000 Xcel customers in Clovis were without power at 10:40 a.m. Tuesday. More than 1,000 were without power in Portales at that time.
Reeves said the controlled outages would continue through Tuesday.
"We knew (Monday) night it was going to be very dicey," Reeves said. "We got through on a razor-thin margin, and then we got the word at 6 (on Tuesday morning) there wasn't going to be enough power. I'd love to hear, 'Hey, it's going to be OK,' but I can't guarantee that at this point."
Wind energy production was also down, Reeves said, but the issue was more related to a windless pattern than any icing issues with turbines.
Snowfall totals from the weekend, according to the National Weather Service's Albuquerque office, were between 1.5 and 4 inches, with drifts reported up to 4 feet. The Clovis Municipal Airport reported a Monday morning low of minus-11 degrees.
"The previous low was 0 degrees; we obliterated that record," NWS meteorologist Todd Shoemake said.
The largest report of snowfall came north of Clovis at 4 inches, and the NWS reported 3 inches south of Clovis, 1.5 inches in Portales and an inch in Melrose.
High temperatures are expected to reach the upper 20s today, then trend back up in the mid-30s Thursday and the low 50s on Friday.
Most area schools, including Clovis Municpal Schools, Clovis Community College and Eastern New Mexico University, originally hoped to operate on a two-hour delay but ended up closing for Tuesday. Portales Municipal Schools had planned to operate remotely, but decided to cancel classes and close offices Tuesday morning.
Curry County canceled its Tuesday morning commission meeting, and decided to close offices at noon. Roosevelt County also closed its offices early. Clovis city offices also closed because of power outages.
The impact on schools was mitigated for various reasons on Monday. Clovis Municipal Schools and ENMU already had the day off for Presidents Day, and Portales Municipal Schools already treats Monday as a remote instruction day in its hybrid learning model. Other schools made Monday a remote instruction day.
"I've got at least 4 inches (of snow) everywhere," Melrose schools Superintendent Brian Stacy told The News Monday morning, "and where the wind got to it I've got a foot."
Stacy said with school districts spending significant portions of the last two school years in virtual learning platforms, an option to go remote is always there as opposed to losing a day of instruction.
"If it was a year ago, (Monday) would have been a snow day," Stacy said. "Now that we're in remote, it's easier (to switch to remote learning) and we're prepared to do that."
Xcel officials declared an Energy Alert on Monday and urged customers to find ways to limit their use of electricity. A news release asked customers to turn off lights and appliances unless doing so would be harmful to their health.
Law enforcement said service calls were limited, likely because people were mostly staying home.
Clovis Police Capt. Roman Romero told The News that between 12:01 a.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Tuesday, the CPD responded to 13 calls for weather-related crashes and took eight reports due to some happening on private property. The most significant crash came Sunday night when a semi tractor trailer crashed into a light pole at the intersection of Seventh and Grand streets in Clovis.
Curry County Sheriff Wesley Waller reported two accidents without injuries and six calls for assistance from motorists stuck in the snow, while Roosevelt County Sheriff Malin Parker reported no accidents as of Monday morning. Sgt. Nickolas Laurenz of the Portales Police Department said the department had received two calls for weather-related crashes.
Across Texas, more than 4.3 million electricity customers were without power Monday night, while Louisiana had more than 110,000 outages and Mississippi had another 50,000, according to PowerOutage.us.