Annalisse Galaviz
News Editor

Over one-third of the continental U.S. has been affected by intense snow storms from the Rio Grande to Ohio, with sub-zero temperatures. Among these states, Texas has been hit hardest due to weak infrastructure.

The storm began Thursday, Feb. 11 and continued until roughly Feb. 22, spreading low and even sub-zero temperatures, icy roads, and power outages. On Monday, some Texans began experiencing the effects of their state’s weak infrastructure, as the private grid controlling 90 percent of Texas’s electricity, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), began rolling power outages across the state due to high demand from Texans trying to keep warm. 

Weather conditions severely impacted travel by car, prompting many car accidents and causing decreased access to necessities, like grocery stores. As a result, Texas saw emptying food shelves amidst major food supply and electricity issues that further hurt access to cooking food. Additionally, low temperatures triggered water disruptions for about half of Texas’ population when frozen pipes burst. This extreme weather also hurt COVID-19 relief efforts, as food banks were forced to close, vaccine shipments were delayed, and vaccine appointments canceled. Wildlife has likewise been affected, with more deaths from cars and weather.

Amidst electricity loss, a worker fixes a utility pole that was damaged in Odessa, Texas’ Thursday winter storm. Photo courtesy of Odessa American and Eli Hartman for CNN.

Still, power outages and decreased water access continued. ERCOT CEO Bill Magness described Texas’s electric infrastructure issues as caused by a lack of energy supply since the cold weather affected power facilities. Magness also maintained that the rolling, controlled outages prevented the system’s total collapse. Despite this, millions were left without power for multiple days.

3.4 million Texans were without power on Wednesday, Feb 13. On Thursday, Feb. 14, 22 million people across the South were placed under a “hard freeze warning.” On the same day, over 13.5 million people in Texas experienced water disruptions, and 800 water systems had frozen or broken pipes. Austin, Texas lost 325 million gallons of water due to burst pipes after reaching single-digit temperatures for the first time in over 30 years.

The negative effects of the storm have also disproportionately hurt Black and Latino communities. Utility companies prioritized using power in downtown areas, where hospitals and nursing homes are located, but these areas are also the wealthiest and highly populated. As a result, low-income households are located further from downtown and have been left with less power and disproportionate services.  

Snow piles on roads in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Perhaps most disturbing has been the rising price of energy bills for residents impacted by the fatal storms. A resident in Dallas saw their bill multiply by over nineteen times their usual amount. In response, Governor Greg Abbott announced the state Public Utility Commission’s issuing a moratorium on disconnections for nonpayment, which will also restrict electricity providers from sending customer invoices. However, there has been heavy retaliation against energy companies from Texas residents. After a family’s son died of hypothermia, the family decided to sue their electricity provider, Entergy Texas, as well as ERCOT.

Additionally, residents have been outraged against the seeming lack of preparation from the Texas government to minimize the effects of the storm. Meteorologists had warned officials up to a week in advance, yet widespread effects continued.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has also come under fire for flying to Cancun, Mexico to take his daughter and her friends to celebrate school being canceled on Wednesday, Feb. 17 as residents dealt with harsh conditions. Cruz had planned to remain on vacation out of the country until the upcoming Monday, Feb. 22, though he returned on Thursday, Feb. 18 due to public outcry. This action has also been criticized for ignoring COVID-19 travel advisories. 

Texas residents wait for electricity to return to fill their propane tanks during low temperatures. Photo courtesy of Mark Felix Getty.

As a storm relief effort, Texas officials deployed the National Guard to conduct welfare checks on residents and opened 135 warming centers to provide shelter from the storm. Officials also advised residents to conserve energy and boil water, since water treatment plants lost power which reduced functioning as well. Governor Greg Abbott also announced that Texas is bringing in more plumbers to help with broken pipes, and urged residents to contact their insurance agents. Abbott also suspended regulations for food supply trucks to increase delivery of food and supplies, as well as open more kitchens and meal services, given they comply with health regulations. In another effort to increase food access in the wake of near-empty groceries, every retailer in Texas now accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from customers purchasing hot food and ready-to-eat meals. The federal government also granted FEMA assistance to reimburse residents without insurance whose homes or apartments have been harmed because of the storm. On Saturday, Feb. 16, President Joe Biden declared Texas to be in a major disaster, which allocated more federal resources to assist the state. By Sunday, thankfully, Texans’ weather began returning to near-normal, with temperatures in the 60s.

Freeways fill with snow, causing driving hazards. Photo courtesy of Brett Coomer/ AP Photo.

Sadly, over 24 people have died in Texas (though officials expect a higher count in the following weeks) due to car accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning for residents attempting to shelter in their cars for warmth, house fires caused by frequent fireplace usage, and lack of access to adequate shelter or heating. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has heavily criticized ERCOT as unreliable amidst rolling outages. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation — federal agencies that review grid reliability — are opening a joint inquiry into the grid operations during the storm.

Though temperatures may be rising in Texas, recovering from the storm is predicted to take months. For more information for Texas residents about applying to FEMA for economic relief, readers can visit TexasTribune.org. The Quaker Campus hopes all residents of Texas and other states affected by harsh weather are safe, and that the effects of the storm minimize soon. 

Featured image: Courtesy of  Joe Raegle/ Getty.

Author

  • Annalisse Galaviz is the News Editor for the Quaker Campus. She has worked for the paper since 2018 in former roles as a copy editor and news assistant. She likes writing about hard-hitting current events and, naturally, spends most of her time on political Twitter so she can do this. Assuming she has free time, she enjoys writing bad poems and fiction stories.

Annalisse Galaviz is the News Editor for the Quaker Campus. She has worked for the paper since 2018 in former roles as a copy editor and news assistant. She likes writing about hard-hitting current events and, naturally, spends most of her time on political Twitter so she can do this. Assuming she has free time, she enjoys writing bad poems and fiction stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Next Post

Office of International Programs Says Study Abroad to Reopen in Fall