The lights went dark for some Lincoln residents Tuesday morning as the city — and much of the nation — remained in the grip of extreme cold temperatures.
The temperature at the Lincoln Airport dipped to minus 31 degrees just after 5 a.m., the second-lowest temperature ever notched in 135 years of record-keeping. And the frigid weather extended all the way to the Texas Gulf Coast.
With furnaces blasting across the 17-state footprint of the Southwest Power Pool, Lincoln Electric System was forced into a second day of “load shedding,” essentially rolling blackouts.
President and CEO Kevin Wailes said that he was notified early Tuesday morning that LES would need to shed 20 megawatts of power — double what it was asked to shed Monday.
A short time later, that request doubled again, to 40 megawatts, Wailes said, or about 7.5% of the total power LES generates.
As the blackouts moved from one section of the city to another, roughly 44,000 LES customers went without power at some point from about 6:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Power was cut first to areas near 17th and Holdrege streets and 93rd and O streets. Those areas include campuses of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Southeast Community College, both of which canceled classes Tuesday because of the weather, limiting the impact of the blackouts.
Outages continued throughout the morning, typically limited to 30-60 minutes in a given area and at one point affecting close to 20,000 customers at once.
Wailes on Tuesday morning said he was optimistic that there would not be any other outages because of improving weather conditions.
“But, unfortunately, we can’t guarantee it, because we don’t control it,” he said.
The Southwest Power Pool is a regional transmission organization that helps ensure the stability of the power grid through guaranteeing reliable power sources, adequate transmission structure and reasonable energy prices. LES, Nebraska Public Power District, Omaha Public Power District and other Nebraska utilities joined it in 2009.
Those utilities are contractually required to reduce power when asked or face fines from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Wailes said.
He said he wasn’t completely sure why Southwest Power Pool energy sources diminished to the point the blackouts were required Monday and Tuesday, but it appeared to be because of the extremely cold temperatures boosting demand at a time when a winter storm shuttered some power generation in Oklahoma and Texas.
The outages were widespread across Nebraska, with utilities doing their best to update customers over social media channels.
LES worked overnight to be able to post some advance warning of rolling blackouts on its website by Tuesday morning. The utility shared a map later in the day that showed the majority of customers impacted by blackouts in east Lincoln.
Requests to conserve energy came as Lincoln residents dealt with some of the coldest weather of their lives.
After dipping to minus 16 Monday morning — which set a record — the city dropped to minus 25 before midnight and broke the daily record low temperature for a second time.
When the temperature bottomed out at minus 31 on Tuesday morning, it marked the coldest-ever temperature in February and second-coldest ever in Lincoln, topped only by a reading of minus 33 on Jan. 12, 1974.
Elsewhere in Nebraska, Hastings tied its coldest-ever temperature of minus 30. Some places saw even lower temperatures. Beatrice bottomed out at minus 32, Hebron and Superior dropped to minus 33 and Greeley hit minus 34.
Temperatures rebounded throughout the day Tuesday, climbing above zero in Lincoln for the first time since early on Valentine’s Day.
Forecasts call for a high of 16 on Wednesday and Thursday, 25 on Friday and 32 on Saturday.
The last time Lincoln saw above-freezing temperatures was Feb. 4.
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