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Blackouts and shutdowns as historic winter storm paralyzes Texas, much of southern US

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A brutal storm is messing with Texas with temperatures so low they froze the turbines of windmills that provide electricity to much of the state, leaving millions in the dark and without heat for as much as 36 hours in some parts of the large state.

People in central Texas were scrambling this Tuesday, February 16th, to find friends or hotels with energy in order to escape the cold and lack of electricity and water that is wreaking havoc in uninsulated homes unprepared for the cold, exploding indoor fluorescent bulbs, and potentially freezing water lines.

Blackouts and shutdowns as historic storms hits Texas, much of US
Blackouts and shutdowns as historic storms hits Texas, much of US. (Photo internet reproduction)

But it is the people of the southern state with mild winters who are also not prepared for the extreme cold, many without appropriate warm clothes and even more without experience driving on icy and snowy roads that cannot be maintained because the local authorities are also unprepared for severe winter road maintenance.

There were two million homes without electricity in Texas Monday night. Some 200,000 people in the San Antonio area went into the night in the dark and without heat after an entire day without electricity or water. Amid temperatures that dropped to -16C in parts of Texas, people spent the night outside in their cars, trying to stay warm.

By Tuesday morning, things were dark and foreboding as the number of affected had grown to nearly 4 million homes and businesses without power across the state, including more than half a million in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, where temperatures dipped well below zero.

Across the US, more than 170 million people were under a wintry weather warning, but Texas has been hit especially hard because of its size and because wind turbines used to generate electricity for the state froze under extremely low temperatures; freezing rain knocked out more than half of the state’s electricity production, jsut when demand increased due to the need to keep warm.

Downed powerlines due to ice added to the power issues already stressing the state, which was forced to institute rolling blackouts in order to prevent people from freezing to death while the electric utilities worked to thaw out the wind turbines.

Residents in San Antonio woke up Monday to homes without electricity and warnings to stay home due to icy conditions on the roads. Grocery stores were closed, as were most services including gas stations. Uber and delivery services announced they would not be operating due to dangerous conditions, restaurants closed and hotels filled up.

The corporation that manages the public grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, first announced Monday that rolling blackouts would last 20 to 45 minutes. But that soon became 4–6 hours in some parts. In other parts, homes have been without power or water for more than 24 hours.

Some in San Antonio have seen flickers of light, while others were without power all day Monday and going into the night. The counties in the area reported that some 383,000 area residents had their electricity disrupted going into Monday night. More than 300,000 were reported without power Tuesday morning. There is a hard-freeze warning for the area. Two out of three customers in the state were affected by blackouts.

“Several of my children have had no power all day and night and now night again,” said Texan Demetra JeffersonWysinger Monday night. “It is a pretty serious situation,” posted a Houston resident. “There is a danger of people freezing,” warned a radio station in the San Antonio area.

“It is time to take refuge,” were words for the weary from Houston’s Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo late Monday night. “The window to prepare for this historic storm has closed and the time has come to take refuge.”

The entire state of Texas is under a state winter warning for the first time in its history. All of Texas is facing an extreme winter storm Tuesday and temperatures for which its residents and government are not prepared.

Because of its relatively mild winters, many Texans do not have heavy sweaters or winter coats. Now, warming centers are being set up, most events are canceled and stores are closed due to difficult driving conditions in an area where people are not used to driving on icy roads, and the authorities do not have the resources to salt or sand the roads. The region is generally unprepared for extreme cold weather and ice. Tuesday, the National Guard was being sent in to help and the governor has issued a state of alert in all Texas counties.

The state’s electric grid operator was reported at its highest levels of emergency operations. Electricity demand is still exceeding the electricity system’s supply capacity, said early Tuesday reports.

A woman walks through falling snow in San Antonio, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. (Photo internet reproduction)
A woman walks through falling snow in San Antonio, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. (Photo internet reproduction)

Emergency declarations were also issued in Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi. In Texas, however, much of this state, including Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Corpus Christi, and Brownsville, is under a severe winter storm warning, with very dangerous travel conditions, impassable roads, and impossible conditions, say authorities.

Snow has fallen in a large part of the state, including more than 20 cm (8 inches) in San Angelo, the most snowfall ever recorded there. Ten centimeters fell in Dallas and the state’s southernmost city of Brownsville, on the Gulf of Mexico, recorded snow for only the third time in its history.

Houston Airports Hobby and Bush InterContinental were closed due to snow and ice. And in a state that has been pushing for the reopening of schools despite pandemic fears, schools and universities throughout the state canceled classes until Wednesday.

It was colder in Texas than it was in Anchorage, Alaska on Tuesday morning, with another wintry mix expected later on Tuesday. Sub-zero temperatures have reached as far down as the Gulf Coast. State authorities have warned that residents should expect prolonged outages all day Tuesday.

“We ask that you wear multiple layers, stick towel and blankets around doors and windows, keep doors closed, and stay warm,” said a robocall to Texans.

Forecasters do not expect warmer temperatures until the weekend.

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