Texas Snowstorm Disaster


Creator: Spencer Platt

Karyna Hetman

Starting Saturday, February 13, a severe snowstorm swept its way through the U.S., surprisingly hitting the South the hardest. While snow days can be filled with excitement and the beauty of the fluffy winter wonderland can be captivating, this snowstorm was no ‘marshmallow world’. This snowstorm has left approximately 50 dead and millions without power in the South. Texas, the state suffering the most from this disaster, is still facing damages from the storm and has become a nationwide focus. 

On Monday, February 15, temperatures throughout the state of Texas reached historical lows with Dallas at 5 degrees Fahrenheit; the coldest weather the city had experienced since 1989. In Austin and San Antonio, temperatures reached the single-digit mark for the first time in 30 years. The worst of the storm does not stop at the chilling temperatures as more than 14 million are lacking a consistent supply of clean water. Additionally, many homes and buildings are without power, worsening the living conditions overall especially with the cold being unbearable without a heat source. Those without power scavenge for firewood or even spend the cold nights sleeping in cars to keep warm. In the harsh living conditions, more than 50 deaths have occurred due to hypothermia, house fires, and carbon monoxide poisoning, a result of the use of cars and ovens to stay warm. Transportation is also a dangerous task during this time with 550 reported vehicle crashes between Sunday and Tuesday in the Houston area alone due to icy roads. Besides the dangerous health risks of Texans, this has become the most costly weather disaster in the state’s history. According to the Insurance Council of Texas, this disaster has surpassed the $19 billion in claims for Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

One of the biggest issues regarding this disaster is Texas’s deregulated electrical grid that has left thousands struggling to keep warm and safe without electricity and heating. This stream of blackouts began the morning of Monday, February 15 after the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) announced it was experiencing a “record-breaking electric demand”. ERCOT CEO Bill Magness claims the problem regarding the power outages was the lack of energy supply as a result of the cold temperatures obstructed power facilities and that the ERCOT controlled blackouts helped in adverting the system’s collapse. The ERCOT is under investigation and faces two lawsuits due to its failure in executing its job of managing Texas’s power grid when it should have been prepared for cold, snowy weather. With these power outages, many households received expensive electric bills from the state’s various variable-rate plans, which charged households thousands for just a few days of power. In response to this outrage, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said “it is unacceptable for Texans who suffered through days in the freezing cold without electricity or heat to now be hit with skyrocketing energy costs.” He added that he was in the works of finding solutions alongside other state leaders to “ensure that Texans are not on the hook for unreasonable spikes in their energy bills.” 

Along with electricity, water supply has been a big issue leaving Texans in the dark. By Thursday, February 18, around 13.5 million Texans had experienced water disruptions with 800 reported issues to water systems such as frozen or broken pipes. By Saturday, February 20, more than 15 million households had been affected by water disruptions across the state. Bursting pipes due to the bitter cold has become a statewide and dangerous issue. In Austin alone, the water supply lost 325 million gallons as a result of burst pipes as of Friday, February 19. Water leaks and burst pipes due to weather prompted an announcement from San Angelo city officials where they issued a boil-water notice. Texas officials tweeted, “we have been advising people to drip their faucets to prevent pipes from freezing, however, due to low water pressure and supply concerns, we are asking citizens to refrain from doing this as much as possible so that we can conserve as much water as possible.”

Another tragic issue Texas is combating is food shortages. As the temperatures decreased the food supply in grocery stores followed. Shelves are being wiped empty and pipe bursts threaten the safety of grocery stores as well. “Grocery stores are already unable to get shipments of dairy products. Store shelves are already empty”, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller says. “We’re looking at a food supply chain problem we’ve never seen before, even with COVID-19.” Speaking of the pandemic, the winter storm has hindered COVID-19 relief efforts such as closing food banks as well as delaying vaccine shipments, and canceling vaccine appointments. 

On Saturday, February 20, President Biden signed a major disaster declaration that will give Texas vast reserves of federal aid. This also allows business owners and the general public to apply for temporary housing grants, home repair loans, and other emergency aid. In recent days the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided generators, food, water, and other supplies throughout the state. With Texas still in crisis, Congress is likely to open an investigation this week into what went wrong in preventing the statewide blackouts. In the meantime, our condolences and best wishes go out to Texas, additionally, there are many ways to donate towards relief efforts, such as the Houston Food Bank and Texas Relief Warriors.