One More Morning Freeze in U.S. and the Arctic Blast Will Pass

(Bloomberg) -- The Arctic blast that has plagued oil refinery operations, shut poultry plants and sent energy prices soaring across the southern U.S. will start to fade by Friday.

But first, another morning of dangerously cold weather. Hard freeze warnings -- meaning plants and animals could die -- will remain in place until early Thursday from Texas to Florida. The frigid air has already hurt sugar cane crops in Louisiana, sent power demand to record levels and affected operations at oil refineries in the Gulf Coast.

“The good news is we’re almost done with these bitter cold temperatures,” the National Weather Service in Shreveport, Louisiana, said Wednesday. Temperatures had already fallen to record lows across parts of Texas and the Mississippi Valley.

One More Morning Freeze in U.S. and the Arctic Blast Will Pass

Texas saw some of its coldest weather in 18 years, according to Katie Magee, a weather service meteorologist in Texas. The weather station at College Station, Texas, recorded two of its top 10 coldest days since 2000 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Houston Hobby Airport set a daily record low temperature of 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-7 Celsius) Wednesday, breaking the old mark set in 1965.

Daytime highs on Wednesday failed to rise above freezing across parts of the region, and those locations that did didn’t remain so for more than about an hour. The weather service in Mississippi warned that such a “long duration of very low temperatures will once again put stress on life and property.”

U.S. Weather Prediction Center forecaster Marc Chenard said the cold should begin to ease after Thursday. Temperatures in Dallas will reach 55 degrees Friday and 70 on Saturday. Warmer air will also sweep into Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.

Among the most significant market impacts of this latest cold snap:

  • Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s refinery in Garyville, Louisiana, had a power outage early Wednesday. Units were said to be on circulation, heated up but unable to process anything.
  • Elsewhere in Louisiana, Valero Energy Corp.’s Meraux refinery shut after losing power late Tuesday but had begun restarting. Several other plants in the region faced technical issues, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Norco complex in Louisiana and LyondellBasell Industries NV’s Houston refinery.
  • Natural gas prices surged as heaters kicked into overdrive. The amount of gas burned for power in the region jumped 25 percent from Tuesday to more than 6.8 billion cubic feet, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Jacob Fericy. Prices at a Texas hub rose to the highest since February 2014.
  • In Texas and other parts of the southern U.S., electricity demand reached records for the winter heating season. Power use hit 65,731 megawatts in the Lone Star State between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., up from a prior record this month of 62,855 megawatts. Average wholesale power there surged briefly to $2,267 a megawatt-hour early Wednesday, according to Genscape data.
  • One power plant tripped offline in Texas, reducing supplies shortly after midnight, and at least five coal- and natural gas-fueled generators ramped early Wednesday to meet higher demand, according to Genscape.
  • The cold didn’t last long enough to cause significant damage to citrus groves in Florida, said Andy Karst, a meteorologist at World Weather Inc. in Overland, Kansas. But it may lead to “significant damage” to the sugar-cane harvest that begins on Oct. 1.
  • Sanderson Farms Inc. poultry plants in Mississippi and Louisiana were closed on Wednesday, while Tyson Foods Inc. stopped work at six poultry and five prepared food plants. Snow that fell further north in North Carolina and Virginia might curb the slaughter of hogs, said Rich Nelson, chief strategist at Allendale Inc. in McHenry, Illinois.

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