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Local parks, holiday lights adjust to predicted polar vortex

frozen cactus in Llano

A frozen cactus on the outskirts of Llano during the winter storm of 2021. The Highland Lakes and much of Texas froze for over a week, overloading the state’s power system and leaving many without water or electricity. Officials are assuring Texans that the power grid will be able to handle the polar vortex this time around. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

A polar vortex is expected to sweep through the Highland Lakes and the rest of Texas over the Christmas holiday weekend, causing local parks to close their restrooms and some lights displays to adjust entertainment schedules. The Highland Lakes weather forecast calls for high winds beginning around 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22, and temperatures dropping as low as 12 degrees overnight. Frigid conditions are expected to continue until Monday, Dec. 26.

The National Weather Service warns that winds could reach gusts of up to 40 mph, creating a wind chill of sub-zero temperatures. The severe winds are predicted to last from 6 p.m. Thursday until noon Friday, Dec. 23.

Restrooms in Johnson and Westside parks in Marble Falls will be closed until further notice. Walkway of Lights will remain open.

Llano’s Starry Starry Nights lights display at Badu Park will also remain open, but restrooms will be closed and all concession sales suspended. Musical entertainment and a visit from Santa are also canceled for Friday evening.

Local officials are asking residents to take extra precautions in preparation for freezing temperatures. Horseshoe Bay Utilities Director David Millegan issued a stern reminder to residents that the city’s irrigation restriction ordinance would be strictly enforced during the freeze.

“Irrigation systems shall not spray water over surfaces made of concrete, asphalt, brick, wood, stones set with mortar, or any other impervious material, such as, but not limited to, walls, fences, sidewalks, streets, etc.,” reads the ordinance.

Irrigation systems left on can cause dangerous ice slicks in the high winds and freezing temperatures, Millegan said. Sprinkler systems should be shut off at the source and outdoor watering should be restricted during the freeze.

The city of Granite Shoals issued a public service announcement on how to prevent frozen plumbing and what to do if it does freeze.

Outdoor plumbing like spigots, pool piping, irrigation lines, or uninsulated exterior pipes are the most vulnerable. Piping in attics or crawl spaces can be susceptible to freezing as well. To prevent freezing, insulate pipes with sleeves, towels, or any material that can retain heat. Set your thermostat to at least 55 degrees and leave it on throughout the freezing event. Leave faucets dripping to allow a steady movement of water to prevent freezing.

If a pipe does break, it is important to know where your water shutoff valve is and how to turn it off until the break is repaired.

Pets and plants should be brought inside for the duration of the freeze. Communities should be in contact with vulnerable neighbors such as the elderly or those with young children to ensure they have the means to stay warm.

Statewide, Gov. Greg Abbott addressed concerns about the electric grid’s ability to handle the freezing temperatures. The grid failed during the winter storm of 2021 and left many Texans without power for days.

“The State of Texas is ready to fully and robustly respond to the severe cold weather event expected to impact Texas this holiday week,” reads a statement from Abbott. “Our state’s electrical grid is absolutely prepared to meet demand over the course of this storm.”

In the same statement, Public Utility Commission Chairman Peter Lake and Electric Reliability Council of Texas President Pablo Vegas both said more energy is available now than in previous years. The state also has a hefty reserve of backup fuel in case of any failures, they assured.

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