Texas Gov. Abbott Gives Update On Major Winter Weather Affecting Entire State

Texas Gov. Abbott Gives Update On Major Winter Weather Affecting Entire State

Video Transcript

GREG ABBOTT: I want our fellow Texans to hear us very clearly. All of Texas is facing a extremely dangerous winter storm in the coming days. A disaster declaration has already been declared for all 254 counties in Texas. Every part of the state of Texas will face freezing conditions, meaning that includes all the way down to Brownsville, Texas, will face freezing conditions over the coming days.

Many of those locations across the state of Texas, the high temperature for a day will be in the single digits. The severity of the cold weather that is about to be experienced here in the coming days is unprecedented in Texas history, and we need people across the state to get ready for this extremely harsh conditions that are coming. The ultra low temperatures will last for several days, meaning that what becomes frozen will remain frozen for a long period of time.

Every part of the state will be getting either snow or ice. Some snow accumulations will break records and will make movement virtually impossible. We have all essential agencies in the state of Texas that are actively involved in helping the state respond all ready. I'm going to run through some of the things that some agencies have done, and then others will be described by the other participants in this press conference today.

Roads will be one of the biggest challenges that people will be facing. For the Texas Department of Transportation, they have 25 regions in the state of Texas. All 25 regions are already working 24/7 around the clock to address challenges in those regions. All 25 TxDOT regions have winter weather conditions.

I want to get out a number that I think may be showing behind me. Two-- there's a website address you can go to, there's a telephone number you can go to, to find out information about roadways across the state. One on the internet would be DriveTexas.org. That's DriveTexas.org. Or you can call 1-800-452-9292.

Already there are more than 1,000 roadway segments that have snow or ice on them. And the worst part of the weather storm hasn't even hit the state yet. Over a thousand pieces of TxDOT equipment are being used, more than 1,600 employees, and 745 snowplows are activated. Pretreatment for roadways began on Tuesday and has continued since then. All 25 Texas Department of Transportation regions have received pretreatment on multiple roads in each of those regions.

The treatment will help, but I cannot emphasize what I am about to say enough. The effectiveness of the treatments will be limited because of the ultra low temperature. The temperature will go so low and remain so low for so long, it will mean that there will be many roads across the entire state that will be extremely dangerous and treacherous to drive on. There will also be roads that get closed because of the snow and ice.

Road closures typically will be up to either law enforcement or local officials. So it's so important both with regard to roadways as well as other issues to listen to and to heed local warnings and local directions. But the state will be working with local officials as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety will be engaged in the process of closing down roads that are either impassable or that are too dangerous to drive.

One thing that's going to happen, and that is, there will be people who will venture out, and there will be people who will get stranded. And we want you to know that if you do get stranded, you need to make a call immediately. And the place where you find the number is on the back of your driver's license. On the back of your driver's license, there is a phone number to call for roadside assistance. I will tell you the number now. It's 800-525-5555.

Along those lines, the Department of Public Safety director, Steve McCraw, said, and I quote, "There are no experts when it comes to driving on ice." Some people think they will know how to drive on ice, and there have been some people who've driven on ice before and snow before. But these conditions are so unprecedented in so many regions of the state of Texas, there will be so many other people who have never driven on ice before. And it could be one of the most hazardous things that you can do.

Once you lose control of your vehicle on ice, it can lead to exactly what we saw happen in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this week. We as a state and everybody in the state, we should have several collective goals over the next few days, one of which should be that we will not replicate what happened in Fort Worth, Texas. That we will not allow anybody else to be involved in these mass accidents or any accident of any kind. This is the kind of thing that every Texan has the capability of themselves being responsible for making sure it does not happen, and that is not getting out on the roads in a way that will cause you and cause others to be involved in traffic accidents.

The DPS director also said that all travelers will be very vulnerable. Stranded travelers may be exposed to extreme cold temperatures for long periods of time. Imagine if you're out on the roadway and you run out of gas, or imagine if you're on the roadway and you run into snow and you're incapable of moving. Who knows how long you will be stuck in that position? And the temperature that you will be in, maybe 10 degrees or less, your life will be compromised simply because of the harsh weather conditions if you get out and get stuck.

There will be people that you can try to call, such as that number that I gave you earlier, such as DPS officers that will be working to help stranded drivers, as well as other agencies. But no one knows how long it may take for them to be able to reach you. And so if you do get stranded, you are putting yourself in a position where your life could be compromised simply because of the ultra low cold temperatures.

The Department of Public Safety has already worked on more than a thousand crashes just since this past Thursday that have resulted in more than 10 fatalities. And this, of course, is only expected to get worse if people do not heed the warning to stay off of the roads. To assist roadways, as well as to assist public safety in general, the Texas Department of Public Safety has deployed 3,000 troopers that are working 24/7.

The National Guard is also working to help in this effort. They are working primarily to assist the Department of Public Safety as well as other state agencies to help things like stranded travelers. They will also be conducting welfare checks in remote areas across the state. And so let me explain this a little bit. There are so many areas across the state that may not be within cities and may not have easy access to things that people need. They could be areas where people run out of power or people get stranded out in fields.

Whatever the case may be, the National Guard will be there to try to help, but they may not know exactly where everybody is who is in a difficult situation. Again, if you find yourself in a difficult situation, reach out and call local law enforcement, call-- whatever you need to call, including the number on the back of your driver's license, so that people can try to come help you. But just know that the National Guard will be there to assist people in remote areas.

Texas Parks and Wildlife will also be assisting. They've deployed well over 400 vehicles to respond to needs such as accidents or stranded drivers. They also have search and rescue teams, including both aviation and drones, that will be looking for anybody and assisting anybody who may be stranded in any type of situation. And the Texas Forest Service has deployed personnel as well as resources across the state, including chainsaw crews to help clear roads.

Among other things, one of the big challenges that we're going to be facing, especially Monday and Tuesday, will be power. Power in the state of Texas will be very stressed, and others will be talking about that here shortly. Demand for power is expected to potentially exceed supply during parts of Monday and Tuesday. The chair of the Public Utilities Commission, as well as Bill Magness from ERCOT, will talk more about that shortly.

But here's the deal. We do, as a state, have the ability to ensure that we do not run out of power. To do that, however, we need everybody in the state to pitch in and to follow the directions that will be given here shortly about ways that we can reduce power usage on Monday and Tuesday to make sure that there will be no outage whatsoever. We need all Texans to pitch in and help out ensure that we have plenty of power that will be needed to make sure that we keep our fellow Texans warm.

Power companies have crews in place already, as well as having received crews from other states. And this is so important because one thing that we anticipate is with all of the frozen ice on trees and tree limbs and other objects, we do expect a large number of trees and tree limbs falling and compromising power lines. And we need every single power crew that we have already lined up to be fully engaged 24/7 to assist in that process to get power back up and running as quickly as possible.

In addition to the state disaster declaration that I've already made, our team has already spoken with the White House and let them know that as soon as we finish our press conference here today, I am asking for a federal emergency declaration. And that formal request will go in momentarily. This is going to be a very challenging time for Texas and for Texans, but it is a challenge that we know that our fellow Texans are up to. And if everyone follows the responsible steps that they themselves can control, we are going to get through this challenge in ways that reduce the loss of life, that maximize our ability to access the power that we need, and that also maximizes the safety and security of everybody in this state.

With that, I'm going to pass it to the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Nim Kidd.

NIM KIDD: Thank you, Governor. And thank you to all the Texans that are out there that are staying off the roads right now. I think the highways are going to be one of the more dangerous places to be right now, not only for people driving, but for our first responders, our TxDOT employees, those out there trying to keep the roads open. Please do your part and stay off of our roads for the next few days if at all possible because of the severe weather conditions.

Also working with our local cities and counties, there are over 30 warming centers that are open at the local level right now. You can call 2-1-1 or 3-1-1 in your area for the address to those warming centers working with our local partners to make sure that the homeless are taken care of and moved inside. As the governor said, these weather conditions are going to be very stressful right now to the human body with the prolonged cold that we plan on having. And so please make sure that check on your neighbors. We've got to take care of people, we've got to take care of pets, and we've got to take care of our pipes.

Another thing I want to mention and talk about is carbon monoxide. Every time we have power losses, we lose people to carbon monoxide poisoning. It's a silent killer. Please help us get the message out-- do not burn gas-burning appliances inside your home. If you're going to use some sort of heater outside, make sure that it's away from windows that may be open, drawing that carbon monoxide in.

Carbon monoxide is a preventable death. So please-- we do believe we have about 16,000 customers without power right now. This could go on for a while. Help us get the message out to be very aware of carbon monoxide.

That's all I have, Governor.

GREG ABBOTT: Thank you. And I want to double down on one thing that you talked about in addition to avoiding monoxide poisoning. Many people that will have their homes or where they're living subject to this ultra cold weather may not have been through this before. They may not have been through this as long as we will be experiencing this with temperatures below freezing for such a long time. They need to take the caution and steps that are needed to make sure they don't have frozen pipes that will wind up bursting.

If you haven't had that happen before, it can flood your entire house as soon as that ice begins to melt. And so there are simple precautionary actions that you can take to make sure that you will not have frozen pipes that wind up bursting that flood your house in the coming days.

Next I want to pass things over to Commissioner Christi Craddick of the Texas Railroad Commission.

CHRISTI CRADDICK: Thank you, Governor. Obviously, electricity is important, but also gas is. And so the Railroad Commission regulates the gas, and one of the things that we did last night-- meaning Friday night-- at 6:30 was approve an emergency order to temporarily amend our Rule 489, which is our rule about who gets priority in gas. And we added electric generation facilities serving human needs customers-- we added it to a higher priority.

So to ensure our gas supplies, our first two that are groups that are important today and continuing always, are residences, hospitals, schools, churches, and other human needs customers, and deliveries to local distribution companies, meaning the gas that comes into your house. We want to make sure that that gas stays on, but use it smart. Please don't use it, or we have carbon monoxide issues. And the other place that we have elevated again is to electric generation facilities which serve human needs customers.

So the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't out right now, so gas and coal are very-- and nuclear are very important today to make sure those are on. And we want to make sure that the gas is flowing in the state. So we appreciate people being thoughtful about their use of gas and be safe with gas. If you have an issue, call your local gas company, make sure you don't light something or do something you're not supposed to. That causes accidents.

And we want to make sure that, again, carbon monoxide is a priority. Those issues can be remediated pretty easily. Be smart about it while we want to make sure gas and power is flowing in the state. Thank you, Governor.

GREG ABBOTT: Thanks. And thanks to you and the Railroad Commission for taking that swift action in advance.

CHRISTI CRADDICK: Thank you. Yes, sir.

GREG ABBOTT: Sure. And now we have the chair of the Public Utilities Commission, DeAnn Walker.

DEANN WALKER: Thank you, Governor Abbott. As Governor Abbott stated, we are facing extreme demand on the system for Monday and Tuesday. We have been working the past few days trying to address that. We've worked with ERCOT, with the Railroad Commission, and all market participants to be proactive in trying to find solutions.

At this point, we really have no additional generation that we can add to the system to address the issues. So therefore, it comes from conservation and demand management, and that's where we need your help. We ask that everyone start conserving energy Sunday through Tuesday. I have a few points that seem minor, but they really do make a difference.

One is turning your thermostat to 68 or lower, especially if you're not home. Please do that. Close your shades and blinds so that it reduces the amount of heat that leaves your home. Turning off and unplugging non-essential equipment that you have in your home. If you have a toaster plugged in and you don't need it, please unplug that because it still does draw current from-- if it's just plugged in. And last, if you could avoid using large appliances during especially the peak, which is the morning and evening, if you could not do your laundry or dishwashing and stuff like that, that would be very helpful to us also.

The last thing I wanted to add is to a point that Governor Abbott had, and that is downed power lines. If you encounter a downed power line, please do not try to go up to it or anything. Please call your utility or 3-1-1, and let them know there's a downed power line. Even if they're on the ground, they can still be hot and still could cause death and injury to you. So please do not go up to any type of downed lines, especially with trees around them. Thank you, Governor.

GREG ABBOTT: Very good. Thank you. And now with ERCOT, we have Bill Magness.

BILL MAGNESS: Thank you, Governor. ERCOT's job is primarily fundamentally to balance supply and demand on the electric system in Texas. And as Chairman Craddick, Chairman Walker, and the governor have said, the extreme extraordinary weather conditions we're seeing, that will persist for a few days and go all the way through Texas, are posing a challenge both to the supply and to the demand. Obviously, it's generating demand that rivals almost what we see in the summers. Extraordinary demands on the system for winter in Texas.

And on the supply side, it makes gas harder to move around. It freezes wind turbines, makes the generation of power more difficult. Now, we have good supplies of power in Texas, and we have everybody out there in the utility industry working to make it available, even in this terrible weather, to everybody in Texas. And maintaining that balance when we have so many challenges really does rely on people, just as Chairman Walker said, to take a few steps. They can be taken safely. They can be taken in your home or in your businesses.

But just as Chairman Walker said, you know, lower that thermostat, close those blinds, and you can reduce the amount of power that's needed on the system. And that's what narrows that gap between supply and demand. That's what keeps us in balance. And that's what will help all of Texas get through what, as the governor has said, is an extraordinary period that we're facing these next few days.

ERCOT will be identifying conditions on the system. If folks want to be informed and keep up with what we're doing on the power system, you can download our free app, ERCOT.com. Or we're on Twitter. We'd encourage you to follow those notices as we go through various conditions in these next few days and really appreciate everyone's participation in making sure Texas gets through this with power available to everyone. Thank you, Governor.

GREG ABBOTT: Thank you. And then last, I want to thank everybody behind the cameras. Behind the cameras is the State Operations Center personnel. Texas has more federally declared disasters than any other state. And we have the best emergency response experts of any state in the United States. They are here 24/7. And I want to thank them for their time and their service to make sure that we're stepping up and keeping Texas as normal as possible during times of extraordinary events like what we are about to experience. Their tireless work makes all the difference in the lives of 30 million Texans, and we thank them for it.