Cold blast could set record-low temperatures

Pedestrians cross a street on a cold February day in New York City. Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg/TNS

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.”

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.

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.

New York will be dealing with ice and some snow showers 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.

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