Arctic Blast in US Triggers Pipeline Freeze-offs
(Bloomberg) -- There’s no respite this weekend for much of the U.S. with temperatures likely to hit new lows. Arctic cold is already gripping much of the interior, freezing natural gas pipelines and threatening snow as far south as Houston.
Nearly 300 new daily temperature records could be set mainly across the Great Plains from Canada to Texas through Tuesday, said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. The frigid air is heating up gas and electric markets as U.S. residents turn up thermostats to stay warm.
“One of the main stories is the very cold temperatures and the expanse of the cold,” Chenard said. “Most of the country will be at or below average except Florida.”
Furthermore, a series of winter storms will ride along the leading edge of the cold from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast. That could bring 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of snow across western Washington and Oregon, including Seattle, while ice and sleet could touch Houston before coming up the East Coast early next week.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state’s main power grid, warned of record power demand due to extreme temperatures. The average spot price for electricity in North Texas climbed 738% to $289.40 a megawatt-hour Thursday at 2 p.m. local time, after much of the region spiked briefly to about $1,900 earlier, according to data compiled by Genscape Inc.
Prices for gas, propane and heating oil, fuels used to heat homes, are also surging, and not just because of elevated demand. Temperatures are low enough to trigger so-called freeze-offs, when wells shut down because of liquids freezing inside pipelines. Texas facilities operated by pipeline companies DCP Midstream LP and Targa Resources Corp. were reported shut on Thursday due to the cold.
The impact on regional gas prices has been dramatic. The rate for next-day delivery at the Oneok hub, which hauls Oklahoma gas to networks serving the Midwest, rose sixfold Thursday. Gas for next-day delivery to Houston and Chicago climbed to the highest in seven years.
Chenard said the country can expect a mix of ultra-cold lows, with high temperatures that struggle to be anything but frigid. What makes the outlook all the more remarkable is that it’s the dead of winter, so the air has to really chill to set new marks.
Also noteworthy is how far into Texas the cold will get, along with the potential of snow, sleet, and freezing rain reaching Houston late Sunday into Monday. In Lubbock, Texas, Monday’s forecast high will be 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 Celsius), which will shatter the old record of 30 for the date.
A series of winter storms will result in widespread snowfall accumulations across the higher terrain and into the lowlands of Washington and Oregon into the weekend. https://t.co/eh5HNSxJpY pic.twitter.com/LvwfdKGm6h
— National Weather Service (@NWS) February 11, 2021
“You don’t often see records being broken by that much,” Chenard said.
While temperatures will chill along the East Coast, they won’t be as extreme as what sweeps across the Great Plains and Midwest. It will be a parade of storms bringing ice and snow that may cause the most issues along the Atlantic coast.
New York will be dealing with ice and some snow showers from Saturday through Tuesday, the National Weather Service said. A larger storm could arrive Monday into Tuesday, but it is still too early to gauge the impact from that.
--With assistance from Brian Eckhouse, Naureen S. Malik, Sergio Chapa and Gerson Freitas Jr..
© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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