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Who can forget the February deep freeze that crippled the state’s power grid, leaving millions of Texans without electricity and heat? Gov. Greg Abbott certainly can’t. And he’s now promising there won’t be a repeat this winter of February’s lights-out disaster.

“I can guarantee the lights will stay on,” Abbott boldly told Austin’s Fox 7 TV station in an interview that aired November 26.

Abbott says his guarantee is backed by nearly a dozen measures he signed into law this year that make the state’s power grid more effective.

Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat and former Texas congressman now running to unseat Abbott, is hammering Abbott over what he believes is the governor’s lackluster response to the February storm.

Abbott also is feeling the heat from Republican foes he’ll face in next year’s gubernatorial primary. For instance, Dallas businessman Don Huffines, a Republican who previously served in the state Senate, maintains “the carelessness of current leadership has ruined” the state’s power grid. On his website, Huffines declares Texas deserves a governor “who can keep the lights on.”

On Wednesday, December 1, power generators across Texas must notify the state Public Utility Commission about their winter weatherization plans, Fox 7 notes. If a massive storm slams Texas this winter, those plans will be put to the test.

Also bolstering Abbott’s optimism about the upcoming winter is that Texas utility providers report they’ve got 15 percent more power-generating capacity than they did last winter, according to Fox 7.

Ed Hirs, an energy expert at the University of Houston, describes Abbott’s lights-on guarantee as a “conditional” promise.

“Well, the governor is betting the weather stays mild, and if it gets cold, that the electric utilities are ready to go. There is no evidence that they are,” Hirs told Fox 7.

For his part, Abbott claims that natural gas pipeline operators have undertaken winterization work that most Texans aren’t aware of, and that the much-criticized Electric Reliability Council of Texas is better positioned to respond to a wintertime crisis. Taylor-based ERCOT oversees the majority of Texas’ power grid. Critics pin much of the blame for February’s power failure on an ill-prepared ERCOT.

“Last year, they were reactive and waited until a crisis mode before they summoned more power, more energy. Now, the way ERCOT works is they work days in advance in summoning that power to make sure they will have enough power to keep the lights on,” Abbott told Fox 7.

According to a report from the University of Texas Energy Institute, the February weather disaster claimed 57 lives statewide, caused more than 4.5 million Texas homes to lose power, and led to $195 billion in property damage.

Courtesy of Colossal

Texas bioscience company makes colossal move to resurrect the extinct woolly mammoth

EVOLVING FOR THE FUTURE

In a move that may conjure up fanciful thoughts of a particular Steven Spielberg film, a newly launched bioscience and genetics company with Texas ties is pioneering a plan to ensure the long extinct woolly mammoth will once again trudge through the Arctic tundra. (No need to panic, movie fans, as the furry beast is an herbivore and has no taste for human flesh, lest we forget the lessons learned from Jurassic Park.)

The appropriately named Colossal, which is based across Austin, Dallas, and Boston, has secured $15 million in funding from a variety of sources (including Austin-based Capital Factory and famed self-help guru Tony Robbins) to bring the woolly mammoth back from its roughly 10,000-year extinction.

Colossal, the brainchild of Baylor University grad and tech and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has innovated new approaches to gene editing. Their goal is to pioneer animal de-extinction technology to restore lost ecosystems for a healthier planet. And they’re starting by resurrecting the woolly mammoth back to its cold-resistant, curled-tusk, fur-covered glory.

Specifically, Colossal will work to bring to life a cold-resistant elephant-mammoth hybrid with the core biological traits of the woolly mammoth, meaning it will walk, look, and sound like the giant creature, and will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem left abandoned by the woolly mammoth’s extinction.

The company uses breakthrough advances in CRISPR genetic engineering to make such scientific dreams a reality. It’s all in an effort to “rewild lost habitats and help combat the effects of climate change and the loss of biodiversity.” And Colossal notes that its gene-editing process also has the potential to help advance biotechnology products and genomics while also treating diseases. Such technological advancements will also be used to help recover species on the brink of extinction.

“Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth, and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals,” Lamm says in a release. “In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species like the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore animals where humankind had a hand in their demise.”

Indeed, Colossal points to a 2019 United Nations report that warned that more than 1 million animal, plant, and fungi species are now threatened with extinction. That situation could domino, leading to the collapse of ecosystems and negatively impacting human health and livelihood.

By resurrecting certain extinct species, Colossal hopes to rewild habitats and revitalize lost ecosystems, thereby creating a healthier planet. To wit, restoring the woolly mammoth can potentially revitalize the Arctic grasslands, which could combat the dire effects of climate change through a variety of properties, including carbon sequestering, methane suppression, and light reflection.

“Technologies discovered in pursuit of this grand vision — a living, walking proxy of a woolly mammoth — could create very significant opportunities in conservation and beyond, not least of which include inspiring public interest in STEM, prompting timely discussions in bioethics, and raising awareness of the vital importance of biodiversity,” Church says.

Photo by Getty Images

ERCOT urges Texans to reduce power usage due to soaring temperatures

watch that thermostat

Texas' power grid operator issued a conservation alert on Monday, June 14 as much of the state flirts with record high temperatures.

Under the alert, ERCOT urged Texans to safely reduce electricity use during this time.

Officials base the tight grid conditions on a significant number of forced generation outages combined with potential record electric use for the month of June.

The power operator's website states the need for voluntary energy conservation through this Friday, June 18.

Officials offered these actions to help reduce electric use:

  • Set your thermostat to 78 degrees or higher. Every degree of cooling increases your energy use by 6 to 8 percent.
  • Turn off lights and pool pumps and avoid using large appliances like ovens, washing machines, and dryers.
  • If you don't need something, we are asking you to turn it off and unplug it if possible.

The alert is similar to the one issued back in April as a means to avoid an energy emergency.

"Declaring an emergency would allow us to access additional resources," ERCOT explained at the time.

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Continue reading on our news partner on ABC13.

Photo by Tyler Schmitt

Matthew McConaughey gathers big-name celebs for Texas' winter storm benefit

The Stars At Night

Texas' homegrown Hollywood hero (and future governor?) is gathering some of the state's most beloved celebrities for a star-studded affair benefitting victims of Winter Storm Uri.

On Sunday, March 21, Matthew McConaughey and Camilla Alves McConaughey will host We Are Texas, a special event to raise funds for those impacted by February's catastrophic winter storms. We Are Texas begins at 7 pm and is available online via Matthew McConaughey's YouTube channel and on Spectrum 1 channels across the state.

The lineup is a mix of famous Texas natives and residents, ranging from pop superstars to Oscar winners to top-tier athletes. Lone Star State musicians slated to perform include Gary Clark Jr., Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves, Kelly Clarkson, George Strait, Post Malone, Leon Bridges, Lyle Lovett, Miranda Lambert, Don Henley, Khalid, Kirk Franklin, Lukas Nelson, Parker McCollum, and Randy Rogers.

Also scheduled to appear are Megan Thee Stallion, Jonas Brothers, Renée Zellweger, Woody Harrelson, Selena Gomez, Jamie Foxx, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Jennifer Garner, Clayton Kershaw, Dak Prescott, Angie Harmon, Dr. Phil McGraw, Marcus Lemonis, Joe Rogan, and Troy Aikman.

All proceeds from the We Are Texas benefit will go to the McConaugheys' just keep livin' foundation, which in turn is supporting Austin- and Texas-based relief organizations Austin Disaster Relief Network, Meals on Wheels Central Texas, Salvation Army of Texas, Save the Children, St. Bernard Project, and Team Rubicon.

Last month's storms left millions without power for days and 1 million without running water, causing an estimated $200 billion in damages.

“A lot of Texans are hurting right now,” said Matthew McConaughey in a release. “After the disaster of the worst freeze here in over 70 years, so many are still without clean water, and unable to repair water damage that has made their homes unlivable. One of my favorite things about Texans is that we like to help ourselves, and while that spirit is still alive and well, a lot of Texans can’t help themselves right now unless we help them."

How the winter storm could affect Texas' bluebonnets and wildflowers this spring

Spring flowers

Hope sprung up for an early and abundant wildflower season around Texas when the first beloved bluebonnets of 2021 surprised Houston in January. By mid-February, hope froze to death with the rest of the state.

Now that Texas has thawed out, the question on every wildflower watcher’s mind is: What'll happen with our bluebonnets?

The answer, Texas horticulture experts say, is hard to pinpoint because Winter Storm Uri was such an extreme and unusual weather event. But Texans needn't worry. The state flower is still going to blanket fields, parks, and roadsides this year. We'll just need to be patient, experts say, because their grand entrance could be delayed.

Wildflowers and bluebonnets typically bloom in March and April, but timing and bounty actually depend on temperature and rainfall starting many months before. In North Texas, a mild winter had been setting the region up for the possibility of an early season, says Steve Huddleston, public relations manager of the Fort Worth Botanical Garden and Botanical Research Institute of Texas. In fact, a few early bloomers had already shot up in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden the first week of February.

After the cold snap, he says, bluebonnets' arrival in Dallas-Fort Worth could be fashionably late. But that's only an educated guess since spring-like weather came back so quickly, he says.

Fortunately, while air temperatures and wind chill dipped below zero, the snow actually protected flowers like a nice, warm blanket, explains Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

“The snow acted as a great insulator and saved a lot of foliage that might have been damaged otherwise,” she says. "I am so glad for the snow!"

DeLong-Amaya admits she'd been worried that a warm winter had the blooming season moving a little too fast in Central Texas. That’s likely what prompted those January blooms in Houston, experts said then.

“If the warm weather we had in January and early February had continued without the cold, they may have begun to bloom earlier than normal," she says. "The cold will probably reset them to bloom more in line with their regular schedule of mid-March.”

Besides slowing down their blooming, the winter storm also offered moisture that could bring more bountiful bluebonnets than we might have seen otherwise, she says. Many parts of Texas had been experiencing drought conditions early in the year.

“The snow provided some much-needed moisture that will certainly perk up the wildflowers that were puny from thirst," DeLong-Amaya says.

So, when will they "peak," and where?

Late March and most of April are usually safe bets for beautiful flowers, DeLong-Amaya says.

“Peak wildflowers, I would say, the month of April is when we have the most diversity and the most quantities," she says. “Sometimes people get discouraged they’ve missed a good show of bluebonnets, and when exactly they peak will be hard to predict now. But generally if it’s not bluebonnets, it’s other (wildflower varieties), too."

It's also worth remembering, she says, that generally the southern part of the state blooms earlier than the north. So, Dallas is two weeks later than Austin, which is two weeks later than San Antonio.

With the deep freeze behind us, plans for spring bluebonnet festivals are already under way in hot spots like Burnet (April 9-11), Chappell Hill (April 10-11), Ennis (April 16-18), and Fredericksburg (April 24).

Marble Falls, a perennially popular destination for wildflowers in the Hill Country, is expecting a colorful spring from March to early May.

"Luckily, the bluebonnet experts in Marble Falls say the wildflowers and the state flower season won't be negatively affected (by the winter storm) in their area," says a spokeswoman for Visit Marble Falls.

In Ennis, home of the famous Bluebonnet Trails, initial reports after the storm are positive. The trails will be open April 1-30, and the Ennis Trails Bluebonnet Festival — called off last year due to COVID-19 — is back on to coincide with the flowers' projected peak the third week in April.

“I live on the Bluebonnet Trails, and all of the plants in the field next to my house look perfect," says Ashley Colunga, marketing director for the city of Ennis. “They are green, they look good, and they don’t look sad.”

Resources to keep up with wildflower and bluebonnet season:

Courtesy photo

San Antonio blows onto list of worst places for seasonal allergies

GESUNDHEIT!

Frostbite is giving way to mild weather, and that leads to Texas’ most dreaded springtime trait: allergy season. According to a new report, San Antonio is among the most challenging cities in the U.S. for those suffering with seasonal allergies — and it’s likely to get worse in coming years.

In its annual Allergy Capitals report, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America identified the top 100 most allergy-inducing metropolitan areas in the country for 2021, with the Alamo City landing at No. 14 and earning a worse-than-average overall score.

As anyone who endures cedar fever can attest, Texas’ springtime allergens (which can appear out of thin air as early as December) are merciless. But according to the AAFA report, it’s actually fall allergens like ragweed that pack the most seasonal wallop in San Antonio, a detail that secures the city a spot at No. 12 on the report’s list of most allergic cities in the fall season versus its ranking as 16th worst city for spring allergens.

Nonprofit AAFA has produced the report since 2003 in an effort to help more than 50 million allergy sufferers in the U.S. prevent and manage their seasonal-allergy symptoms. The report is bases city rankings on three key factors: spring and fall seasonal pollen scores, use of over-the-counter allergy medications, and the number of allergy specialists in the area.

This year, the organization also considered how climate change, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, affected those struggling with seasonal allergies. The effects of climate change are having far more impactful and long-ranging effects on allergies, with higher levels of carbon dioxide leading to increased levels of pollen in the air, according to the AAFA.

“Two notable parts of our 2021 report include the effect of COVID-19 and climate change on seasonal allergies,” says Kenneth Mendez, CEO and president of the AAFA. “In 2020, fewer people felt the impact of pollen allergies. This is likely due to COVID-19 restrictions with more people staying indoors. But climate change continues to cause longer and more severe allergy seasons. If we don’t slow down the cycle, pollen production will only intensify. This means symptoms could worsen as climate change continues to evolve.”

In a move likely to surprise any Texan battling allergies, the AAFA claims the most challenging place in the U.S. to live with allergies in 2021 is Scranton, Pennsylvania, followed by Richmond, Virginia, then Wichita, Kansas.

As for how the rest of the Lone Star State measures up for allergy sufferers, Texas border town McAllen lands at fourth on the AAFA list, with a worse-than-average overall score, and Dallas is ranked 19th, also with a worse-than-average overall score. No. 34 El Paso and No. 50 Houston both received an overall ranking of average.

Perhaps the most astonishing assertion the AAFA report makes involves Austin, which is just beginning to emerge from a record-breaking cedar season and is often proclaimed by stuffed-up locals to be a top allergy capital. But according to the report, Austin’s allergen challenges warrant a relatively low overall rank of 61 among the top 100 metropolitan areas in the country, with an overall score of average. Austin’s fall allergens place the Capital City at 50th on the report’s list of most allergic cities in the fall season and only 66th worse for spring allergens.

As most allergy-distressed Texans know, there is no cure for seasonal allergies. And experts at the AAFA say don’t beat around the bush when it comes prevention, recommending sufferers establish a good allergy-treatment plan based on their medical history, the results of allergy tests, and symptom severity.

“It’s important people with seasonal allergies prepare. They should try their best to reduce exposure to pollen,” says Dr. Mitchell Grayson, chair of the AAFA’s Medical Scientific Council. “Schedule an appointment with your allergist to work on a treatment plan together to help reduce allergy symptoms when prevention is not enough.”

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

San Antonio suburb among the richest places in Texas for 2023, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio suburb cashes in among the richest places in Texas for 2023. Alamo Heights has been renamed the third richest place in Texas for 2023 in a recent study.

2. San Antonio home sales slowed in December 2022, report finds. San Antonio sold 36,477 homes all year, a 10 percent decrease from 2021.

3. Here are the top 5 things to do in San Antonio this weekend. Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and more music-centered events made our roundup of the best things to do in Alamo City this weekend.

4. San Antonio Home & Garden Show returns with HGTV star. Ati Williams will headline the San Antonio Spring Home & Garden Show, which takes place February 24-26.

5. H-E-B opens first location in growing San Antonio suburb. The state-of-the-art facility offers 110,000 square feet of floor space, providing everything from cat food to charcuterie.


Popular Pearl brunch spot remixes with new weekend DJ nights

OONCE OONCE OONCE

Though Full Goods Diner has barely been open for half a year, it has already become a San Antonio staple for working weekday lunches and lingering Sunday Fundays. Now the Pearl eatery is looking to be a hot spot after dark.

Via release, the popular local haunt just announced a new limited-time music series, Full Goods at Night. Starting on February 2, Full Goods Diner will open select evenings throughout the month.

The Full Goods at Night series will feature popular local San Antonio DJs, including El West Side Sound, Hector Gallego, DJ Plata, Steven Lee Moya, and Cami Gee. Guests can enjoy live sets while indulging in a specially curated food and drink offerings.

The menu will include some of Full Goods Diner's best—selling items, such as French toast sticks, barbacoa waffle fries, and jumbo cheesy tots. Libations like the Attaboy Negroni, Royal Bermuda Daiquiri, Pink G&T, and more will fuel the festivities.

In addition to enjoying moonlight brunch, guests can relish some prime people-watching. And, of course, the restaurant is just a hop from other nightlife destinations like Pink Hill, 3 Star Bar, and Summer Camp Bar, making it the perfect party starter.

The series runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from February 2-25, 6-10 pm. The complete DJ schedule is listed below.

February 2 — El West Side Sound·
February 3 — Hector Gallego
February 4— DJ Plata
February 9 — El West Side Sound
February 10 — Steven Lee Moya
February 11 — Cami Gee
February 16 — El West Side Sound
February 17 — Steven Lee Moya
February 18 — Hector Gallego
February 23 — El West Side Sound
February 24— Steven Lee Moya
February 25 — DJ Plata

4 San Antonio culinary pioneers win $21K from the Texas Food & Wine Alliance

CULINARY INNOVATION

Texas’ skyrocketing culinary scene is about to get a huge boost. The Texas Food & Wine Alliance’s grant program has awarded $107,500 to 19 culinary innovators around the state. This marks the Alliance’s 11th year providing funding to support culinary projects contributing to local communities.

The award winners were announced in a ceremony at Austin's Holdsworth Center on January 21. A private panel of distinguished culinary experts chose the winners out of 40 grant applications this year. Nine winners hail from Austin, three from Dallas-Fort Worth, three from Houston, and four from San Antonio. The awards range from $1,500 to $10,000, with a special $25,000 grant investment from Austin favorite Tito’s Handmade Vodka in honor of the company’s 25th anniversary. Grant funding will support chefs, farms, and culinary education groups, among others.

Out of the four San Antonio area winners, Talking Tree Farm received the most from the grant program, $6,250 to purchase shipping containers for storage and to buy a solar-powered cold room for their harvests. John Marshall High School’s culinary arts program will use their $5,000 grant to establish a morning café. Agricultural project Habitable Spaces and pasture-raised chicken farm Cielito Lindo Farm also won $5,000 each to purchase equipment or build infrastructure to further their endeavors in the culinary space.

Austin-area winners received the most funding from the grant program, totalling $53,750, while San Antonio winners received $21,250 in total. Dallas/Fort Worth winners were awarded $19,750, and the three Houston recipients won $12,750. All of the 2022 winners reflect just how diverse the state's trailblazing culinary scene continues to expand.

“All of this year’s funded projects will further enrich the state through innovation and giveback,” said Erika White, executive director of the Alliance. “We’re extremely grateful to each of the Texas communities, our sponsors and their support in allowing us to reward these mold-breaking projects.”

In Austin, organic farm Trosi Farms was awarded the most funding ($10,000), which will help construct a germination shed for more stable plant start production. Locavore pioneer Boggy Creek Farm won $7,500 in grants to provide ADA-compliant accessibility to their new climate-controlled Tomato House, while Texas’ first organic feed mill, Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill & Farm, received $6,250 to help purchase a building to be used as a store for the local community.

The six other Austin area grant recipients, each winning $5,000, include Vista Farms at Vista Brewing, Jamaican family business Tierra Todun ATX, coffee roasters Rising Tide Roast Collaborative, culinary educator Chef Pascal Simon from Bake Austin, East Austin food truck Community Vegan, and Latinx pastry project Comadre Panaderia (who also just earned a James Beard nomination). All winners will be able to use their grants to improve efficiency and expand their businesses, or in Chef Pascal's case, further research and development for her upcoming cookbook for Gen-Z young adults.

After starting the program in Austin, grant co-chair and TFWA past president Cathy Cochran-Lewis says it was the Alliance’s dream to expand the grant statewide.

“We’re so humbled and thrilled to now not only support worthwhile projects across Texas but also to give more than a half million dollars in funding over the last decade to help dreams come true,” she says. “This is a tribute to the culinary talent and the community mindset we are lucky to have in our state.”

The winners in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas include:

For this year's Honorable Mention, the Alliance chose San Antonio eatery Tacos Cucuy, who will soon open a brick-and-mortar space with an expanded menu. Tacos Cucuy are currently looking for support to develop a Tex-Mex charcuterie program called La Cura Carnes Especiales.

More information about the 2022 grants and its recipients can be found on texasfoodandwinealliance.org.