Millions are still without power as winter storms continue

Henrietta Brewer
February 18, 2021

The storm that overwhelmed power grids and immobilized the region of Southern Plains carried heavy snow and freezing rain into New England and the Deep South and left behind painfully low temperatures.

Almost a third of the nation's population lives under some sort of winter weather warning, watch, or advisory, according to the National Weather Service. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide from auto exhaust in their garage; another perished after flames spread from their fireplace.

Four died in Monterrey, three of them homeless people who succumbed to exposure and one person who died at home from carbon monoxide poisoning from a heater. Scientists say global warming caused by humans is partly responsible for making its southward escapes longer and more frequent.

Single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts.

Millions of people are still without power in Texas, the oil and gas capital of the United States, as an unusual winter storm pummeled the southeastern part of the country and another blast of ice and snow threatened to sow more chaos.

More than 2.5 million Texas power customers remain in the dark after unprecedented winter storms froze several of the state's power sources.

"There's really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area", said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

The weather has also put a crimp on the national COVID-19 vaccination drive.

President Joe Biden has assured the governors of states hit hard by storms that the federal government stands ready to offer any emergency resources needed.

After a brief lull on Tuesday that may allow authorities to assess damage, rough weather, including potential twisters, was expected to return on Wednesday into Thursday, Grams said. The state opened 35 shelters to more than 1,000 occupants, the agency said.

Texas saw the worst of the US power outages, which affected more than 2 million homes and businesses. Entergy started rolling blackouts Tuesday night in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas under instructions from its grid manager.

Travel remains ill-advised in much of the United States, with roadways treacherous and thousands of flights cancelled. Many school systems have delayed or canceled face-to-face classes.

Customers, whose homes are without electric power, wait in line to purchase food and snacks at a gas station in Pflugerville, Texas, Feb. 16, 2021. Four family members also perished in a Houston-area house fire while using a fireplace to stay warm.

In hardest-hit Texas - where freezing conditions prompted utility companies to implement rotating blackouts - a woman and girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after using a vehicle to generate heat, according to NBC News.

At least 13 children were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth and one parent died of the toxic fumes, hospital officials said.

Texas' deregulated energy market gives little financial incentives for operators to prepare for the rare bout of intensely cold weather, an issue critics have been pointing out for years.

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