Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo signed an emergency warrant on Sunday when an explosion in the Arctic threatened to cause power outages and make roads in the area impassable for days.
All METRO services are suspended. District and city buildings will remain until Tuesday or until conditions improve.
“The window of preparation for this historic storm has closed,” said Hidalgo.
WINTER STORM: This is how you can prepare for the freeze.
Cameron Baptiste, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, warned that icy roads would make travel difficult and nearly impossible later on Sunday after “periods of light drizzle and fog”. Ice will form on roads first – especially on bridges and overpasses – and spread to surface roads when night falls, he said.
“Essentially, you want to be where you need to be by 6 p.m.,” Baptiste said, adding that travel until Tuesday morning is not recommended.
Drivers who have no choice but to go anywhere should drive slowly and keep a shovel, sand, and blanket in their cars.
The drivers were already affected by the conditions on Sunday. Almost a dozen cars were stranded on US 290. Harris County MPs responded to nearly 30 traffic accidents at 3 p.m., five of which were labeled serious. Some of these collisions involved vehicles sliding into walls along a stretch of US Route 290 from FM 2920 to Highway 99.
Later that morning, the Texas Department of Transportation began handling icy roads reported from State Highway 6-290 and in Montgomery County along Interstate 45. Ice was also reported on FM-1488 at FM-149 and on Highway 249 near FM-. 149.
“Conditions will only get worse,” warned Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
The storm is expected to pack freezing rain, sleet, and some snow that can range from half an inch to 2 inches through most of Houston to a dusting closer to the coast.
PROTECT YOUR PETS: It is illegal to leave your pet outside when the temperature is below zero
Harris County and Houston officials spent the weekend distributing blankets, sleeping bags, and winter coats to the homeless in front of the historically low temperatures. The wind chill could make the outside feel closer to single-digit temperatures, officials said.
A shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center was due to open for those in need at 4 p.m., while Lakewood Church officials off Interstate 69 said they would open their doors. The mega church did not provide any further details.
Additional heating centers are expected to open at 3 p.m. at Copperfield Church on 8350 Highway 6 and the UMC Foundry at 8350 Jones Road in the Cy-Fair area.
The freezing temperatures also pose a threat to Houston’s infrastructure as plumbing and water pipes burst and power outages occur. The Texas Public Utility Commission has urged Texans to save electricity by Tuesday, as the additional electricity consumption “could reduce the margins between cold-driven demand and the supply of available electricity.”
The commission urged households to set their thermostats to 68 degrees or less and avoid the use of large appliances such as ovens or washing machines.
CenterPoint Energy officials said Sunday that their electrical teams in the Houston area are working 16-hour shifts during power outages.
Local governments started shutting down some services over the weekend. Houston city courts suspended operations through Tuesday. Fort Bend County has closed its offices for Monday.
Governor Greg Abbott announced that the White House has issued a Federal Emergency Declaration for Texas in response to the severe winter weather.