The effects of a week below freezing and record-setting winter weather will certainly be felt long after East Texas begins to thaw.
Starting Sunday, February 14, much of Texas faced a period of historic cold. Snow, freezing rain, and ice triggered the National Weather Service to issue a Winter Storm Warning lasting several days.
In East Texas, the cities of Tyler and Longview experienced the coldest day in recorded history. On Tuesday, Tyler was three degrees colder than a 1930 record, reaching a frigid -6° F. Longview beat its -2° F record from the same year, dropping to -5° F. The average low this time of year is 41 degrees.
While the snow and ice had melted by Saturday, the problems related to this winter storm were far from over.
As of Friday, about 70 deaths across Texas were blamed on the winter storm. A number of those cases were due to hypothermia after homes lost power and heat. In East Texas, three people died Saturday from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. According to law enforcement, they were running an electric generator too close to their homes, letting in the colorless, odorless gas.
As of Saturday, the remaining parts of Texas without power are expected to be restored at any moment. That was the timeline provided by Governor Greg Abbott Friday night. At the height of the crisis, almost 4 million people were without electricity. Last week, it was revealed that the state’s power grid was minutes or seconds from a complete failure. The Texas House and Senate are expected to convene this week to begin investigating the blackouts. State lawmakers will have the opportunity to question ERCOT, the manager of the state’s power grid. Governor Abbott is now calling for state lawmakers to fund winterizing the grid. An initial assessment appears to show power companies were ill-prepared for this winter storm, failing implement changes after a similar winter storm in 2011. Federal oversight will be limited, as most of Texas is on its own power grid. This arrangement was created decades ago to remain independent from federal regulation.
Governor Greg Abbott and other state lawmakers met over the weekend to address these huge electricity bills. Sunday, the state’s Public Utility Commission ordered energy companies to stop disconnecting non-paying customers and to temporarily stop sending bills to customers until the situation is figured out. according to a New York Times report, most of the customers who saw wild spikes in charges on their bills were customers of a small company that uses a sliding scale based on demand. Some are blaming the situation on the deregulated market, but several academics and economists argue a different model wouldn’t have helped with the blackouts.
About half the state’s population is dealing with water issues — everything from outages, to boil water advisories, and conservation requests. The situation is complicated. Individual homes and businesses are dealing with burst pipes, while cities are scrambling to repair broken water mains. In other places, water treatment plants and pumping stations were knocked offline due to power problems. Once water pressure is restored, the state’s environmental quality agency requires a period of testing before the water is deemed safe to drink. The city of Tyler could lift its water advisory on Tuesday. Houston just lifted its water advisory. The state’s capitol city, Austin, could lift theirs later in the week.
Friday may have been the most dangerous day of the winter storm in East Texas, as far as driving is concerned. The snow and slush compacted into sheets of ice on roadways across the region. Major streets in Tyler looked like an ice skating rink. Icy conditions on Interstate 20 in Smith and Gregg counties had drivers stuck in their cars, some for more than 10 hours, forming a parking lot on one of the busiest highways in the country. Many of those people went to sleep in their cars for the night. Once wrecks were cleared, Texas DPS troopers had to walk for miles along the highway, knocking on car windows to wake people up and get traffic moving again. and knock on windows to wake people up.
Help is on the way. Here in Texas, people are accustomed to helping their neighbors. Extraordinary examples of selflessness are coming in from across the state. In Tyler, volunteers raised $25 thousand to put about 150 homeless people in hotels for the week. They fed them hot meals twice a day. With the water crisis affecting several East Texas communities, one local brewery gave away its stock of filtered water. Restaurants are feeding people for free. Area businesses and churches are also handing out water in drive-through distributions, with thousands of cases of bottled water handed out over the weekend. Churches are also stepping up to organize food drives. People are donating their extra food to be given to those who are without. Many families unexpectedly found themselves in need after having to throw out all their food when refrigerators were knocked out by the power outages.
STATE AND FEDERAL RESPONSE
The governor has suspended some regulations relating to commercial vehicles, aiming to help with the delivery of food and other resources to communities across the state. This weekend President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the State of Texas. FEMA has already shipped in generators and supplies like fuel, water, blankets and meals-read-to-eat. The declaration also opens up federal funding for individuals. Grants can be used for temporary housing and home repairs. The White House says it also include low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
The winter storm effectively put COVID-19 vaccinations on pause for an entire week. In East Texas, multiple vaccine clinics were postponed due to the storm. After a power outage – 8,000 vaccine doses were in danger of being tossed out in Houston. So Harris County started looking for places where large numbers of people gather. Officials started immunizing people at a university, jails, hospitals.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Gray Television. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2021 Lane Luckie