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Texas power woes linger as Arctic air heads for New England

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As rising temperatures offered some hope for frustrated Texans shivering in their homes days after losing power in a deadly winter storm, another wave of frigid weather was taking aim Friday at the northern U.S.

An Arctic cold front was expected to move from Canada into the northern Plains and Upper Midwest and sweep into the Northeast. Wind chills in some areas could dive below minus 50 Fahrenheit (minus 45 Celsius).

In Austin, city officials compared the damage from fallen trees and iced-over power lines to tornadoes as they came under mounting criticism for slow repairs and shifting timelines to restore power.

“We had hoped to make more progress today,“ said Jackie Sargent, general manager of Austin Energy. ”And that simply has not happened.”

Across Texas, more than 250,000 customers lacked power early Friday, which was down from 430,000 on Thursday, according to PowerOutage.us.

The failures were most widespread in Austin. Impatience was rising there among about 126,000 customers two days after the electricity first went out, which for many also meant no heat. Power failures affected about 30% of customers in the city of nearly a million at any given time since Wednesday.

By Thursday night, Austin officials backtracked on early estimates that power would be fully restored by Friday evening, saying the extent of the damage was worse than originally calculated and they could no longer predict when all the lights would be back on.

For many Texans, it was the second time in three years that a February freeze caused prolonged outages and uncertainty over when the lights would come back on. Temperatures were in the 30s Fahrenheit (minus 1 to 3.8 Celsius) Thursday with wind chills below freezing.

Unlike the 2021 blackouts in Texas, when hundreds of people died after the state’s grid was pushed to the brink of total failure because of a lack of generation, the outages in Austin this time were largely the result of frozen equipment and ice-burdened trees and limbs falling on power lines. But the differences were little comfort to Austin residents and businesses that also lost power for days two years ago.

The freeze has been blamed for at least 10 traffic deaths on slick roads this week in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

In a briefing Thursday with the federal Weather Prediction Center, New Englanders were warned that wind chill — the combined effect of wind and cold air on exposed skin — in the minus 50s Fahrenheit (minus 45 to minus 50 Celsius) “could be the coldest felt in decades.”

The strong winds and cold air will create wind chill “rarely seen in northern and eastern Maine,” according to an advisory from the National Weather Service office in Caribou, Maine.

Jay Broccolo, director of weather operations at New Hampshire’s Mount Washington observatory, which for decades held the world record for the fastest wind gust, said Thursday that wind speeds could top 100 mph (160 kph).

“We take safety really seriously in the higher summits,” Broccolo said, “and this weekend’s forecast is looking pretty gnarly, even for our standards.”

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For more AP weather coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/weather