The Urethane Blog

Cold Temperatures In Houston

Sub-freezing temps in US Gulf could disrupt plant operations, logistics

Author: Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–A cold front making its way across the US this weekend could disrupt plant operations or impact logistics if temperatures spend enough time below freezing.

But the impact on chemical plants along the US Gulf Coast, where sub-freezing weather is rare, could be limited if daytime highs rise above freezing.

Forecasts from the National Weather Service show overnight temperatures in some areas along the US Gulf could fall as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius) on Sunday and Monday nights.

The NWS forecast for Deer Park, Texas, calls for temperatures to drop below freezing on Sunday night and to stay there until Tuesday morning.

Forecasts can still change, and the daily highs could be warm enough to prevent plant shutdowns, said Brian Pruett, senior vice president of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) with CDI.

Generally, plants are designed to run within a set range of temperatures, said James Wilson, senior analyst at ICIS. Below that range, some pieces of equipment may not run well and some lines can freeze.

In places such as Russia, companies design plants with cold temperatures in mind, Wilson said. Process lines are heavily insulated or even heat traced.

Such frigid temperatures are rare on the Gulf Coast. It is unlikely that chemical companies adopted such extra steps in the new units that they built during the past decade, said Kimberly Haberkost, director of olefins at CDI.

Idled plants could be more at risk of damage, a producer told ICIS, because they are not generating heat and they could have water in the pipes that could freeze and cause issues.

Even without any plant shutdowns, icy roads could slow down deliveries and keep workers from getting to the plants.

Freezing rain or sleet could weigh on trees, causing them to fall and possibly take down power lines.

The NWS forecast includes a 60% chance of snow or sleet overnight on Sunday through Monday.

Bitterly cold temperatures are causing logistical issues, as rivers connecting chemical production in the US Gulf with the Midwest region of the country begin to freeze.

The last time that frigid weather shut down plants on the Gulf Coast was in mid-January 2018.

On 17 January 2018, the temperatures ranged from 20-37 degrees Fahrenheit in Houston, according to the Weather Underground. On 18 January 2018, the range was 26-38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before that, cold temperatures disrupted operations in 2011, when temperatures were 24-34 degrees Fahrenheit from 2-4 February.

Additional reporting by Al Greenwood and Antoinette Smith