More than 3 million Texans waking up Wednesday morning went to bed without power after a winter storm increased consumer demand for electricity while pummeling the state’s grid.
Now the state is bracing for yet another arctic blast, with a winter storm warning in effect for dozens of counties in the Fort Worth-Dallas area until Thursday morning. Ice accumulation and one to three inches of snow are expected, with up to six inches of snow northeast of the metro region.
There was little respite Tuesday night from the previous storm, with freezing rain across much of Central Texas and several inches of snow north of Dallas. Winter weather has left at least 23 people dead across the country since last week, along with bitterly cold temperatures.
Here’s a breakdown of what has unfolded in Texas over the past several days.
Texans are forced to face historically cold temperatures — and extended power outages:
As a winter storm forced the state’s power grid to the brink of collapse, millions of residents were submerged this week into darkness, bitter cold, and a sense of indignation over being stuck in uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions.
Historically low, dangerously cold temperatures are expected this evening in Southeast Texas. This will be the coldest night across the Houston area in over 30 years. Travel will remain hazardous due to ice covered roads. Remain indoors tonight!#houwx #txwx pic.twitter.com/rfm98suqX1— NWS Houston (@NWSHouston) February 16, 2021
The storm, among the worst in a generation in Texas, led to the state’s grid becoming overwhelmed as supply withered against a soaring demand.
Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed the need for electricity beyond the worst-case scenarios planned for by grid operators. At the same time, many of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, and some plants appeared to suffer fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked nationwide.
Across the state, highways were iced over and not drivable. Cars slid through intersections in San Antonio, where Interstate 10 was closed, prompting the authorities to redirect 18-wheeler trucks along surface streets.
A line of vehicles snaked down the road at one of the few open gas stations. Snacks and bottled water had been sold out, as many grocery stores remained closed.
Texas is bracing for yet another arctic blast, with a winter storm warning in effect for dozens of counties in the Fort Worth-Dallas area until Thursday morning.
These graphics depict the next 3 day snowfall and ice accumulation potential. Several inches of snow has already fallen in the TX panhandle, and 1-2 inches more is possible. Swaths of a half inch of ice will be possible in the red areas from TX to MS & the Mid-Atl. pic.twitter.com/uvxvFI1yFR— National Weather Service (@NWS) February 17, 2021
Climate change means trouble for power grids — and the situation in Texas reveals deep inequities:
Huge winter storms have plunged large parts of the central and southern United States into an energy crisis this week as frigid blasts of arctic weather crippled electric grids and left millions of Americans without power amid dangerously cold temperatures.
But the grid failures were most severe in Texas. On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott called for an emergency reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, saying the operator of the state’s power grid “has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.”
Analysts have begun to identify a few key factors behind the grid failures in Texas. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed demand for electricity beyond the worst-case scenarios that grid operators had planned for.
At the same time, many of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, and some plants appeared to suffer fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked nationwide. Many of Texas’ wind turbines also froze and stopped working, although this was a smaller part of the problem.
The resulting electricity shortfalls forced grid operators in Texas to impose rotating blackouts on homes and businesses, starting Monday, to avert a broader collapse of the system.
The tragedy unfolding in Texas is a natural disaster, but the disproportionate impact it’s having on lower income, Black, and brown communities is completely engineered. This outcome has been a century in the making.— Abdallah Fayyad (@abdallah_fayyad) February 16, 2021
For years, energy experts argued that the way Texas runs its electricity system invited a systematic failure.
In the mid-1990s, the state decided against paying power producers to hold reserves, discarding the common practice across the United States and Canada of requiring a supply buffer of at least 15 percent beyond a typical day’s need.
The crisis has highlighted a deeper warning for power systems throughout the country. Electric grids can be engineered to handle a wide range of severe conditions — as long as grid operators can reliably predict the dangers ahead.
But as climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face novel and extreme weather events that go beyond the historical conditions those grids were designed for, putting the systems at risk of catastrophic failure.
A word on the viral downtown photos: It's literally how the system was built. Put the critical infrastructure in the most expensive part of town. Keep the lights on in empty office buildings while people freeze in their homes blocks away, so that the whole grid doesn't collapse. pic.twitter.com/fItPlIXcmj— Amal Ahmed (@amalahmed214) February 17, 2021
Building electric grids that are resilient in the face of increasingly wild and unpredictable weather will be an enormous challenge. In many cases, it may prove expensive, although, as Texas shows, the costs of grid failure can be extremely costly, too.
The task of building resilience is becoming increasingly urgent.
Many policymakers are promoting electric cars and electric heating as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But as more of the nation’s economy depends on reliable flows of electricity, the cost of failures will become ever more dire.
Texas is declared to be in a state of emergency — and politicians disagree over how to handle the crisis:
President Biden declared over the weekend that “an emergency exists” in Texas and ordered “federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts due to the emergency condition” resulting from the storm.
Abbott has declared an emergency reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electrical grid and is struggling to restore power.
The strain revealed the vulnerabilities of a distressed system and set off a political fight as lawmakers called for hearings and an inquiry into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator managing the flow of electricity to more than 26 million customers.
Texans are suffering without power because those in power have failed us. As with Covid, a natural disaster has become far deadlier due to the inaction & ineptitude of Abbott and Texas’ Republican leadership. This didn’t have to happen and doesn’t have to continue. 1/4 pic.twitter.com/fqEun4fU97— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) February 16, 2021
State leaders don’t get to say that they didn’t see this coming. Energy experts and State House Dems, among others, were warning of this for years. Abbott chose to ignore the facts, the science and the tough decisions and now Texans will once again pay the price. 4/4— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) February 17, 2021
While Abbott blasted the Green New Deal on Fox News — and promptly received pushback for deflecting responsibility during the crisis — Representative Joaquin Castro led the Texas delegation in demanding “answers and accountability” from ERCOT.
Millions of Texans are cold and in the dark during a dangerous winter storm—and I led the Texas delegation expressing our grave concerns that power outages are not distributed fairly.— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) February 17, 2021
Texans deserve immediate answers and accountability from @ERCOT_ISO, and their power restored. pic.twitter.com/hvCo803knB
I go offline a few days and return to a GOP Gov blaming policies he hasn’t even implemented for his own failures.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 17, 2021
Gov. Abbott doesn’t seem to have a grasp on his state, so here’s a reminder: Texas runs 80-90% on fossil fuels.
The real “deadly deal” is his failed leadership. https://t.co/a3YoEqks7K
Texas Senator Ted Cruz was among a group of state Republicans whose tweets mocking power outages in California resurfaced Tuesday night. Last August, Cruz directed aim at New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a champion of the Green New Deal — and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who were in the midst of running for president and vice president.
Cruz claimed that the trio wanted to make California’s “failed energy policy the standard nationwide.”
“California is now unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity,” he said. “Hope you don’t like air conditioning!”
Once his previous remarks came to light, Cruz wrote on Twitter that he “got no defense,” adding a shrugging emoji to his response to the backlash.
“A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down,” he wrote. “Not good. Stay safe!”
Many remain without power — and face dangers including carbon monoxide poisoning:
As the winter storm increased consumer demand for electricity, the worst outages nationwide were in Texas, which has entered its third day of widespread distress.
Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council, said Tuesday that the agency was “trying to get people’s power back on as quickly as possible,” while also balancing the need to “safely manage the balance of supply and demand on the grid” to avoid larger collapses in the power system.
Officials said that the council was moving quickly to return power. At one point, 400,000 homes had their electricity restored in a one-hour span. But in a meeting with lawmakers Tuesday, council officials could not give an estimate on how long it would take to fully restore service.
The agency “is restoring load as fast as we can in a stable manner,” the council said in a statement Tuesday. “Generating units across fuel types continue to struggle with frigid temperatures.”
The sprawling winter storm that has swept across the country this week blanketed much of Texas, with temperatures reaching record lows in many cities. Dallas had the coldest day in more than 70 years Tuesday, with a recorded low of minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
The consequences of the frigid weather, and the loss of electricity and natural gas, rippled across the state.
Efforts to stay warm that did not require power carried their own risks.
Two Houston emergency rooms treated about 100 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning over a 16-hour period from Monday to Tuesday. Houston police said a woman and a girl died after a car was left running in a garage to generate heat, and doctors said they were concerned about running out of treatment options if the rush of patients continued.
Dr. Salil Bhandari, an emergency medicine physician affiliated with the Memorial Hermann hospital at the Texas Medical Center, and medical staff treated 57 patients late Monday and early Tuesday — half of them children. The hospital typically treats about 75 to 100 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning during an entire year.
Most of the poisoning cases stemmed from people using generators improperly, often keeping them functioning inside of garages or close to windows, instead of outside. Entire families were poisoned in some cases.
The Houston Fire Department responded to more than 90 calls for carbon monoxide poisoning in a 24-hour period, Chief Samuel Peña said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “It’ll punch victims when they least expect it,” he said, “especially in their sleep.”
Carbon Monoxide is a real danger. Do not become a victim. Harris County Fire Marshal Christensen is here with tips on how to avoid this silent but deadly toxin. Follow @hcfmo for more tips on fire safety! pic.twitter.com/1NeVIoi7mA— Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (@ReadyHarris) February 17, 2021
The freezing cold settles in — and Texans feel its effects:
Texas is bracing for yet another Arctic blast, with a winter storm warning in effect for dozens of counties in the Fort Worth-Dallas area until Thursday morning.
Texans shivered under blankets as their electricity flickered off and temperatures inside their homes plummeted. Some awoke Tuesday to find icicles had formed from dripping kitchen faucets.
I can’t stop thinking about this photo my friend texted me this morning. She lost power in her house in the Heights, where she slept overnight. She woke to find the water dripping from her sink froze. People are still stuck at home — or worse, outside — in these conditions. pic.twitter.com/HBBySB9o1V— Emily Foxhall (@emfoxhall) February 16, 2021
The consequences of the frigid weather, and the loss of electricity and natural gas, rippled across the state.
Six people are killed in a 130-vehicle pileup on an icy Texas interstate:
A massive crash in Dallas involving more than 130 vehicles on an icy Texas interstate left six people dead and dozens injured last Thursday amid a winter storm that dropped freezing rain, sleet, and snow on parts of the United States.
At the scene of the crash on Interstate 35 near downtown Fort Worth, a tangle of semitrailers, cars, and trucks had smashed into each other and had turned every which way, with some vehicles on top of others.
At least 65 people were treated at hospitals, with 36 of them taken by ambulance from the crash site, including three with critical injuries. Numerous others were treated at the scene and released.
The crash happened at about 6 a.m., as many hospital and emergency workers were heading to and from work, so some of those involved were health care workers and emergency responders, including police officers.
The ice storm that led to the crash came as a polar vortex — swirling air that normally sits over the Earth’s poles — had moved near the US-Canada border, resulting in colder weather farther south than usual.
At least six people are dead after a massive freeway pileup in Fort Worth, Texas, according to police.— ABC News (@ABC) February 11, 2021
Over 100 vehicles were involved in the Thursday morning crash on I-35, and multiple people were trapped in their cars, fire officials said. https://t.co/m4s0YakHt9
Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.