If you’re living in the United States, you most likely saw some snowfall in the last two weeks. In fact, at some point last week, more than 70% of the continental US was covered in snow. Philadelphia not only saw several thick inches of snow, but also freezing rain, which left the sidewalks and roads slippery. Areas in the northeast are used to such conditions; Philadelphia’s 10-year average for snowfall in February is 10.8 inches.
On the other hand, Texas is typically graced with a warm climate and little–to–no snow. However, in the past few weeks, parts of Texas were faced with over a foot of snow and record shattering below–freezing temperatures. While Texas wasn’t alone—as over seven Southern states issued emergency declarations—Texas faced particular devastation during this crisis. Millions of Texans struggled to stay warm and find food and water sustainably, as their homes lost electricity and roads froze over.
So what do you need to know now? Here are a few things that happened to Texas last week, and what you can do to help.
February 11th marked a day of devastation for many drivers, perhaps foregrounding how hard the following week would be. At least nine people died on the icy roads of the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a result of car crashes. Among the worst of the crashes was a 133-car pileup on Interstate 35 West, which left six dead. Over 65 people sought medical treatment following this incident. These crashes were a result of freezing rain and accumulating ice, as drivers drove in road conditions they have never experienced before.
The weather ramped up the following Sunday, as a polar vortex swept across the United States. The unprecedented winter conditions in Texas caused a high demand for electricity, as more than 30 gigawatts of generation capacity were taken off-line. This led the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator that controls 90% of the state’s electricity, to initiate “Energy Emergency Alert 3” in order to rotate power outages in the state. This left millions in Texas to freeze in their homes, many of which were not built to withstand the frigid temperatures outdoors. Residents donned blankets and winter jackets and were forced to burn firewood to keep warm. Many homes experienced burst pipes as the cold caused the water to freeze and expand in the pipes. One Texan came home to her house flooded, as the ceiling of her bedroom caved in from burst water pipes. To add to this crisis, grocery stores were unable to get shipments due to the weather, causing millions to wonder where they would get food to sustain themselves and their families.
While the winter conditions were a product of nature, the crisis revealed crucial weak points in Texas’ government. Texas’s ERCOT grid is unique to the country; it essentially stands as an isolated system within state boundaries. Other states benefit from an interconnected system with their nearby peers, making them able to draw upon power lines from other states in case of an emergency. This sets Texas up for failure in case of an emergency. Furthermore, the power infrastructure in Texas was not ready for harsh winter conditions. Perhaps more importantly, this crisis revealed inequities in Texas, as power outages were mainly shouldered by the socioeconomically disadvantaged and POC neighborhoods. People expressed disappointment in their government, as ERCOT and state governments were unable to provide clear guidance on when power outages would occur. As an additional insult to Texans, Republican Senator Ted Cruz was spotted hopping on a plane to Cancun as his constituents froze. He faced severe backlash from the nation, especially as Democratic lawmakers raised $5 million to support Texans.
So, what’s next for Texas? Last Saturday, President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas, giving the state access to federal assistance in its recovery. While Biden already approved an emergency declaration in Texas the prior weekend, this new declaration will allow FEMA to provide more resources. Texas ERCOT members have resigned as a result of mass power failure. The family of an 11-year-old boy who died as a result of Texas’ winter crisis and power outages are suing ERCOT for “putting profits over the welfare of people.” Texas’s weather has improved significantly since last week’s below-freezing temperatures and snowstorms, yet many Texans are still left facing the devastating aftermath of this crisis. As of President Biden’s declaration, there are still more than 15.1 million people facing water issues, and 85,000 still without power.
Here are a few places that you can check out to help:
Austin Mutual Aid: Hotel rooms for residents who have no shelter, electricity, or water
Dallas Stops Evictions: Financial support for tenants who cannot afford rent
Salvation Army: Shelter and food
American Red Cross: Warming centers with cots and blankets