Huge winter storm blankets United States south in snow and ice, causing fatal crashes and emergency declarations.
At least 8 people were reported dead and more than three million were without power in the southern US state of Texas after a rare deep freeze placed an enormous burden on the state’s electrical grid, prompting rolling blackouts and limited ability of some providers to generate power.
In Texas, three young children and their grandmother died in the Houston-area fire, which likely began while they were using a fireplace to keep warm during a power outage, a fire official said.
Other Texas deaths included a woman and a girl who died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston at a home without electricity from a car left running in an attached garage, and two men found along Houston-area roadways who likely died in subfreezing temperatures, law enforcement officials said.
PowerOutage.us, which tracks power outages, said 3,674,987 Texas customers were experiencing outages at 3:28pm local (09:28 GMT) on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden declared an emergency on Monday, unlocking federal assistance to Texas, where temperatures ranged from -2 degrees Celsius to -22C (28 degrees Fahrenheit to -9F).
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) sought to cut power use in response to a winter record of 69,150 megawatts (MW) on Sunday evening, more than 3,200MW hour higher than the previous winter peak in January 2018.
Weather, more generation outages last night bring load shed to 18,500 MW. For today…generators to return, renewable output to increase = increased customer restoration.
— ERCOT (@ERCOT_ISO) February 16, 2021
“Controlled outages will continue through today and into early tomorrow, possibly all of tomorrow,” Dan Woodfin, director of systems operations at ERCOT, told a briefing.
About 18,500MW of customer load was shed, ERCOT said on Twitter on Tuesday morning.
“The Texas power grid has not been compromised. The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen,” Governor Greg Abbott wrote on Twitter. “They are working to get generation back on line.”
The Texas power grid has not been compromised.
The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen.
This includes the natural gas & coal generators.
They are working to get generation back on line.
ERCOT & PUC are prioritizing residential consumers. https://t.co/wDiDXN17Fu
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) February 15, 2021
Despite the outages and calls on customers to lower their thermostats to save energy, many of Houston’s downtown office building remained lit, sparking angry comments on social media asking why empty buildings still had power when many were without it.
Hey @ERCOT_ISO can we not sacrifice these lit up empty office buildings in downtown #houston and restore a residential section of the grid instead? People are literally freezing inside their homes all over the city pic.twitter.com/9NMUECOq4N
— Kim (@kimisnotamused) February 16, 2021
The storms knocked out nearly half the state’s wind power generation capacity on Sunday. Wind generation ranks as the second-largest source of electricity in Texas, accounting for 23 percent of state power supplies, ERCOT estimates.
Ok so we lowered our a/c and kept the minimum usage of electricity all day long because we feel so lucky to have it! But why downtown Houston empty office buildings lit up like nothing is happening? pic.twitter.com/mQ1Vbw6uZB
— anna veselova (@bravolesfilles) February 16, 2021
Of the 25,000-plus MW of wind power capacity normally available in Texas, 12,000MW was out of service on Sunday morning, an ERCOT spokeswoman said.
An emergency notice issued by the regulator urged customers to limit power usage and prevent an uncontrolled system-wide outage.
Abbott also deployed the National Guard statewide to assist in the restoration of electricity.
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport said it would remain closed until at least 1pm local time (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday, while the city’s Hobby Airport ceased operations until at least noon on Tuesday due to the inclement weather.
The toll of the worsening conditions included the delivery of new COVID-19 vaccine shipments, which were expected to be delayed until at least midweek. Massive power outages across Houston included a facility storing 8,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, leaving health officials scrambling to find takers at the same time authorities were pleading for people to stay home.
The freeze also hit the state’s energy industry, by far the country’s largest crude producer, shutting oil refineries and forcing restrictions from natural gas pipeline operators.
Apart from Texas, much of the US was in the grip of bone-chilling weather over the three-day Presidents’ Day holiday weekend.
In west Tennessee, a 10-year-old boy died after falling into an ice-covered pond on Sunday during a winter storm, fire officials said.
Three people were also found dead after a tornado hit a seaside town in North Carolina.
The cold snap also reached the northern part of neighbouring Mexico, where authorities said 4.7 million users lost power early on Monday. Around midday, the service had been restored to almost 2.6 million of them.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said an Arctic air mass had spread southward, well beyond areas accustomed to freezing weather, with winter storm warnings posted for most of the Gulf Coast region, Oklahoma and Missouri.
In Louisiana, where freezing temperatures also prompted power outages and road closures, some parishes imposed curfews to keep residents off the road. Another 110,000 homes and businesses were without power on Monday night.
Extreme weather affected much of the US. Three people died and 10 were injured after a tornado tore through Brunswick County, North Carolina, on Monday night. More than 150 million people were under winter weather alerts on Tuesday.
The NWS said the Arctic blast will not subside until later this week. There is another storm on the way on Wednesday, expected to bring more snow, ice and sleet from the Texas panhandle through Kentucky and up through Washington, DC to New York City, New Jersey and Boston.
“It’s not really going to warm up until at least Friday,” said David Roth, of the NWS Weather Prediction Center. “We’re not getting a break.”