Texas remained in the frigid grip of winter storms on Wednesday as a fresh arctic blast deepened an electricity supply crisis that has forced millions to endure days without power and heat.
Pipes froze and burst across the state, and warming centers that had opened lost power. Icicles hung from kitchen faucets in Houston, ambulances in San Antonio were unable to meet the surging demand and the county government in coastal Galveston called for refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies they expect to find in freezing, powerless houses.
On Wednesday, the state was facing a new onslaught of sleet and freezing rain that the National Weather Service office in Austin/San Antonio said could be “the worst of all the winter events over the past week.” Snow was falling around Dallas-Fort Worth, and some spots in Texas were expected to pick up more than a quarter inch of ice as the new storm moved through, making road travel extremely hazardous.
Across the country, at least 31 people have died since the punishing winter weather began last week. Some died in crashes on icy roads, others succumbed to the cold and others were killed when desperate attempts at warmth turned deadly. “We’re fully expecting that when things start to thaw out and people start checking on each other that we’re going to find some more people who didn’t make it through the storm,” said Jason Spencer, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
The power outages were national, with tens of thousands without electricity in Kentucky, West Virginia and Louisiana, according to PowerOutage.us, a website that tracks electricity outages. Around 160,000 people in Oregon remained without power on Wednesday morning.
But the worst outages were in Texas. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid, said on Wednesday that around 700,000 homes had electricity restored overnight but more than 3.4 million customers were still without power late Wednesday morning.
“I understand we live in a less-cared-for neighborhood, but we’re human like everyone else,” said Justin Chavez, whose had been living with his wife and eight children in a home without power in San Antonio for days. “The city should have been on top of this. What am I paying my taxes for?”
The Houston mayor’s office tweeted that the power outages there would “likely last another few days.”
Austin Energy, which serves the state’s capital, said its customers should be prepared to not have power through Wednesday and possibly longer. Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, had urged residents to use electricity as sparingly as possible in hopes of staving off further shutdowns, using flashlights and candles if able.
“If you have power, please try to live almost like you don’t,” Mr. Adler said. “If you have heat, run it low. Run it lower.”
The pleas for conservation were received with grim irony by many on social media, who pointed to the stark line separating a downtown Austin still brightly lit and a powerless East Austin, a traditionally Black and Hispanic part of the city.
The strain revealed the vulnerabilities of a distressed system and set off a political fight as lawmakers called for hearings and an inquiry into the Electric Reliability Council.
Here’s some good news for storm-battered communities across the United States: The brutal weather that has killed at least 31 people, disrupted vaccine distribution and left millions without power has moved on.
Now for more bad news: Frigid air may persist in the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley through midweek, and a new winter storm is expected to sweep across the South and East over the next two days. More than 100 million Americans are under some type of winter weather-related warning, the National Weather Service said.
Duke Energy warned its customers in the Carolinas of the potential hardships to come: possibly one million power outages, some that could last several days. Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, gave a similar warning, telling residents to keep their phones charged and to prepare themselves for the coming snow and ice.
The South is already reeling from a rare cold snap. The temperature in Houston on Monday night — 13 degrees — was lower than that in Houston, Alaska. And Oklahoma’s capital on Tuesday experienced its coldest morning since 1899.
That will continue for at least another few days. High temperatures this week will likely be 25 to 40 degrees below average across a swath of the Central and Southern United States, the Weather Service said.
There will also be more precipitation. As of Tuesday morning, nearly three-quarters of the continental United States was blanketed in snow, the greatest extent on record since the National Water Center created a database for that in 2003. And the forecast calls for even more snow this week, from the Southern Plains to the Mississippi Valley.
In Central Texas, where many roads are still impassible because of icy conditions, more sleet and snow is expected late evening before the storm system moves eastward.
Meteorologists also expect “significant freezing rain” and ice accumulations of half an inch from the Gulf Coast into Tennessee. A long list of winter weather warnings, advisories and watches were in effect on Wednesday afternoon.
These graphics depict the next 3 day snowfall and ice accumulation potential. Several inches of snow has already fallen in the TX panhandle, and 1-2 inches more is possible. Swaths of a half inch of ice will be possible in the red areas from TX to MS & the Mid-Atl. pic.twitter.com/uvxvFI1yFR
— National Weather Service (@NWS) February 17, 2021
After pummeling the South, the new storm will head through the Ohio Valley, the Mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast by Wednesday or Thursday, the National Weather Service said. Parts of Appalachia may receive up to six inches of snow. Conditions could be especially treacherous from the Piedmont region of North Carolina and into Virginia, still recovering from an ice storm that fouled highways and caused blackouts as ice-laden trees downed electrical wires.
“It’s going to be a mess,” said Laura Pagano, a meteorologist with the weather prediction center of the National Weather Service.
It won’t be bitterly cold everywhere, but even places where the snow lets up — in the Deep South and beyond — may face scattered rain showers and isolated thunderstorms.
Farther north along the East Coast, from Washington, D.C., up through Baltimore and Philadelphia and beyond, snow will hit, with sleet and freezing rain from Wednesday afternoon into Thursday. New York and areas to the Northeast should see more consistent snow, Ms. Pagano said, until the system makes its way off the coast, with “lingering impacts across the Northeast through Friday.”
For Texans, the cold weather should linger into the weekend, when the region is expected to move into above-freezing temperatures.
At least 31 people in eight states have died in the winter storm that has swept across the United States this week, the authorities said, with car crashes and carbon monoxide poisoning responsible for many of the deaths.
In Houston, a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in a garage to generate heat, the police said. A homeless man was also found dead at an overpass. And a man who was found dead on a median in midtown Houston on Monday was suspected to have died from the extreme cold, the Harris County sheriff said.
A grandmother and three children were killed in a house fire in Sugar Land, Texa s, early Tuesday in a neighborhood that was without power, according to local news reports. After a spate of weather-related deaths, the medical examiner’s office in Galveston, Texas, on Tuesday requested a temporary morgue trailer as the area entered its third night of cold temperatures.
In southern Louisiana, a man died after slipping on the ice and hitting his head, officials said, and a 10-year-old boy died in Tennessee after falling into an icy pond. The authorities in San Antonio said that weather conditions contributed to the death of a 78-year-old man.
Slippery roads were responsible for 10 deaths in Kentucky and Texas, including a pileup last week in Fort Worth that involved more than 100 vehicles and killed six people. A man in Mississippi was killed on Monday after his car overturned on an icy road.
In Missouri, a 59-year-old man was killed when a snowplow collided with his pick up truck on Monday afternoon. Similarly, a man in Cleveland was killed after rear-ending a snowplow on Tuesday.
In Toledo, Ohio, on Tuesday a man plowing his driveway using an A.T.V. was hit and killed when he drove into the path of an SUV.
A person who got out of a vehicle after a car crash in Houston late Monday was also struck and killed.
In Oregon, four people were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning over the weekend, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday. While no details about the deaths were given, the authorities warned people not to use generators inside their homes.
On Tuesday, a 39-year old man was killed and two others were injured when the car they were in left the roadway and hit a streetlight in Edgecliff Village in Texas, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office said. It said investigators have not ruled out weather conditions as a possible cause.
The weather-driven destruction this week did not come solely from ice and snow; in coastal North Carolina, a tornado killed three people and injured at least 10 others early Tuesday morning, though it was unclear if it was meteorologically related to the winter storm.
As Texas struggles to restore power to million of residents affected by the brutal winter weather, officials are now scrambling to provide clean water as well.
In the past 24 hours, cities and counties across the state, including Houston and San Antonio, have issued a slew of boil water notices stemming from concerns about contamination and low water pressure as frigid temperatures freeze pipes, leaving some households with little to no running water.
On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston announced his city would be under a boil water notice. Houston Public Works has been urging residents within city limits not to let their faucets drip to prevent freezing pipes because the city’s water system depends on ground water storage tanks and pumps rather than water towers used by other municipalities in Harris County. Because of the ground water system, dripping faucets put more pressure on the pumps, leading to lower water pressure overall.
Officials said they expect water pressure to improve throughout Wednesday and hope to have pressure back to being fully operational by the end of day Thursday.
The boil water notices have compounded the frustrations of some residents who expressed on social media that they do not even have the power or electricity to boil water or they are without water completely.
“Some of the equipment has been damaged in this severe weather,” said Alanna Reed, a spokeswoman for Houston Public Works, about the city’s storage tanks and pumps. “I know a lot of other cities say to drip the faucets, but Houston is very different in we don’t have those water towers.”
Other cities across the state are asking residents to depend on boiled or bottled water for consumption. On Wednesday afternoon, a citywide boil water notice was put in place for the city of San Antonio, the second most populous city in Texas.
In Spring, a suburb of Houston in Harris County, Allison Bergeron said her home has not had water or electricity since early Monday morning and that a pipe burst above her kitchen room dining table when her power temporarily came on Tuesday afternoon.
The burst pipe left a gapping hole of exposed insulation and water trickling from the ceiling onto furniture.
“The house being a mess is driving me nuts,” she said in a text message. “I don’t think we will have water until sometime next week so we have been collecting water in buckets outside for the toilets.”
In Houston, Ms. Reed said on Wednesday the city is working to see if it can collaborate with some distributors to provide bottled water to the public. (Many grocery stores throughout the state have moved to limited hours because of power outages.)
Numerous areas within Harris County, which has a population of nearly 5 million people, have also issued boil water notices to residents. Officials have pleaded with the public to try their best to conserve water, so it can be saved for firefighting operations and other “life-safety” items.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent generators and other relief supplies to Texas as the state continued to grapple with power outages and dangerous travel conditions stemming from the winter storm, officials said.
The agency provided 60 generators to help the state power “critical infrastructure” in addition to blankets, bottled water and meals, a FEMA spokeswoman said.
FEMA will also provide the state with diesel fuel “to ensure the continued availability of backup power,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary said at a briefing on Wednesday. The agency provided blankets and water at Texas’ request, she said.
“Our team and FEMA continue to monitor the situation in Texas, as well as other states in the storm’s path that might be impacted,” Ms. Psaki said. “We remain in close contact with states across the affected area to ensure any federal support requirements are met.”
Both the state and the federal government issued disaster declarations for all 254 counties in Texas because of the winter storm. President Biden approved the federal declaration on Sunday, authorizing FEMA to coordinate aid to the state, the agency said.
Under the emergency declaration, FEMA was given authority to “identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency,” which it said would be provided at 75 percent federal funding.
The agency provided generators to hospitals, water sites and other facilities, the agency said on Wednesday. A spokesman declined to comment on specifics.
When asked at a White House press briefing whether Texas should have been more prepared for the disaster, Ms. Psaki said the focus should be on relief.
She said there would be time to look back and evaluate if better preparation could and should have been done. “But at this point in time we’re just focused on getting relief to the people in the state and the surrounding states,” she said.
Ms. Psaki said the White House was “preparing to quickly process requests from other states for emergency assistance.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma said that he had requested a federal disaster declaration for all 77 Oklahoma counties after declaring a state of emergency in the state.
Large parts of the Central and Southern United States have been plunged into an energy crisis this week with electric grids damaged by frigid blasts of Arctic weather. Millions of Americans are without power amid dangerously cold temperatures.
The grid failures were most severe in Texas, where nearly three million customers woke up Wednesday morning facing power failures. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an emergency reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, saying the operator of the state’s power grid “has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.”
Analysts have begun to identify a few key factors behind the grid failures in Texas. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed demand for electricity beyond the worst-case scenarios that grid operators had planned for.
Widespread Power Outages Continue in Texas
Percentage of customers without power
Percentage of customers without power
Percentage of customers without power
Percentage of customers without power
Source: PowerOutage.us | Data is as of 11:30 a.m. Eastern time on Feb. 17.
At the same time, many of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, and some plants appeared to suffer fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked nationwide. Many of Texas’ wind turbines also froze and stopped working, although this was a smaller part of the problem.
The resulting electricity shortfalls forced grid operators in Texas to impose rotating blackouts on homes and businesses, starting Monday, to avert a broader collapse of the system. Separate regional grids in the Southwest and Midwest are also coming under serious strain this week.
The crisis highlighted a deeper warning for power systems throughout the country. Electric grids can be engineered to handle a wide range of severe conditions — as long as grid operators can reliably predict the dangers ahead. But as climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face novel and extreme weather events that go beyond the historical conditions those grids were designed for, putting the systems at risk of catastrophic failure.
The dangerous winter weather has delayed shipments of vaccine doses to New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday, preventing officials from scheduling between 30,000 and 35,000 new vaccination appointments and complicating a rollout already constrained by a limited supply of doses.
The problems in New York City, which could extend to suburbs and neighboring states, came as vaccination efforts have been disrupted nationwide. Clinics have closed and shipments have been stalled as snow and ice grounded flights and made highways dangerously slick. Many of the closures and cancellations have been in the South, where the storm hit hardest, with Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky canceling or rescheduling appointments this week.
Jeffrey D. Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said on Wednesday that the Biden administration is pushing governors to extend the hours of vaccination sites once they reopen.
“People are working as hard as they can, given the importance of getting the vaccines to the states and to providers, but there’s an impact on deliveries,” he said.
Mr. de Blasio said he did not know when the shipments would arrive next or which specific weather conditions were snarling the shipments.
“It’s obviously a national problem what’s happening with the weather, and it is gumming up supply lines all over the country,” Mr. de Blasio said.
In New York City, like other places across the country, the demand for vaccinations far outstrips the supply allocated each week. Mr. de Blasio said on Wednesday that the city had about 30,000 doses on hand, and that those could run out by Thursday.
“We’re going to run out of what we have now,” he said. “We could be doing hundreds of thousands more each week.”
The weather has caused problems for the city’s vaccination efforts before. A heavy snowstorm earlier this month had forced city and state officials to delay appointments for days until driving conditions improved.
On Wednesday, Mr. de Blasio said the city was bracing for another bout of snow on Thursday, with forecasts predicting about six or seven inches of accumulation.
The power in Jenna Kandyce Linch’s apartment in McKinney, Texas, has been on and off since early Monday morning. After her phone lost power and she couldn’t reach Salvation Army volunteers who were supposed to bring her to a warming center, she realized she needed to find warmth and began to search online for a hotel, finding a room at a local Best Western.
But when she arrived to check-in on Monday night she found out a water pipe had burst and the hotel was closed. She returned to her cold apartment to wait out the storm, alone in the dark.
“It was terrible,” she said.
As Texas continues to grapple with power outages and frigid temperatures, the many people in search of warmth and shelter have swelled demand for hotel rooms to levels not seen since before the pandemic.
But securing a room for the night has not assured an escape from the problems accompanying the storm: hotels have lost power, food has been hard to come by and staffing shortages caused by the pandemic brought another layer of complications.
Calvin Healy, a sales consultant who lives in uptown Dallas, said that he tried to get a hotel on Monday afternoon “to no avail.”
“Every hotel that had power on Monday had negative rooms,” he said, noting that many people he knew fled the Dallas area.
Alexandra Spurlock, a registered nurse who works at an Austin area hospital, was put up at a nearby hotel overnight with other hospital workers to ensure they would be able to make it to their shifts the next day.
Ms. Spurlock said the power went out in the hotel intermittently on Tuesday. When she woke up around 4 a.m. on Wednesday it was completely out, “but it stayed warm.” She got ready for her shift in the dark.
Reports of skyrocketing hotel prices, including screenshots of a Ramada by Wyndham in Austin that advertised rooms for $999 per night, have flooded social media, prompting an outcry over price gouging.
But no guests were charged the exorbitant rates, a spokesman for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts said in a statement.
“Price gouging is always an issue we confront when there is a disaster,” said Justin Bragiel, general counsel of the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, a lodging industry advocate. He said that in disasters, hotels disable regular pricing systems that automatically raise rates as rooms fill up.
Many hotels don’t have electricity, water or both, Mr. Bragiel said, and have struggled to source food. Some have taken in guests only to have to turn them away because the freezing rooms are no longer habitable, he said.
As bone-chilling arctic weather blasts the southern and central parts of the United States, power grids are strained and millions of people unaccustomed to the sight of snow are trying to figure out how to stay warm.
Some have turned to risky sources of heat, including gas-powered generators, ovens and even automobiles. At least two people died and about 100 were sickened by carbon monoxide poisoning over 16 hours spanning Monday and Tuesday in the Houston area, the authorities said.
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, weakness, dizziness and nausea, according to the Firelands Regional Medical Center in Sandusky, Ohio. People who are “sleeping or drunk” can die from the condition before they experience symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, is colorless and odorless, making it harder to detect than other dangerous substances. But carbon monoxide poisoning is “entirely preventable,” the C.D.C. says.
The agency has urged people to have working carbon monoxide detectors, and warned against heating homes with a gas oven or burning anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented.
Indoor use of charcoal, gasoline-powered engines, or even portable gas camp stoves is also dangerous, health and safety officials say. They also warn against running generators or cars inside to heat homes.
In Houston, the police said this week that a woman and a girl had been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in an attached garage “to create heat as the power is out.” A man and a boy were also hospitalized.
In Oregon, four people were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning over the weekend, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday.
Texans who are struggling with a winter storm that has inflicted widespread losses of electricity and natural gas now have something else to worry about: how to avoid a scam.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator managing the flow of electricity to more than 26 million customers, has warned residents of a scam circulating on social media that asks people to text their private account numbers. “Don’t do it! We don’t need any of your info to get your power back on — we are working as fast as we possibly can,” ERCOT said.
On Wednesday, ERCOT said that 2.7 million households in Texas did not have power.
The Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that tracks these types of fraud, says that scammers surface in nearly every instance of human suffering, concocting stories of fake solutions that they try to sell to people desperate for money, shelter, health or even love.
In 2020, the F.T.C. received nearly 500,000 reports of impostor scams, the most widespread type of fraud in which a scammer pretends to be a person, or from a government agency or a business.
People reported $1.2 billion in losses to scams last year, with a median loss of $850, it said. The top categories of scams were related to Covid-19 and stimulus payments, “proving once again, that scammers follow the headlines,” the F.T.C. said.
In Texas, those headlines have been focused on the record-low temperatures of a winter storm that damaged the electrical grid’s infrastructure as well as caused a spike in demand.
The F.T.C. suggests there are several ways to recognize when an unsolicited call or email is a scam. The caller will often insist that you act immediately and specify forms of payment, such as a gift card or through a money transfer company, or say there is a problem, or a prize. They also pretend to be from a known company or organization.
The F.T.C. advises people to block unwanted calls and text messages, and to avoid providing personal or financial information.
Several animal species have been threatened by record-low temperatures in Texas this week, including about 3,500 sea turtles that were rescued and brought to the relative safety of dry land.
In cold temperatures, turtles can fall victim to a condition called a “cold stun,” when their body temperatures fall so low that they lose their ability to swim, eat or even hold their head above water.
“You could put a cold-stunned turtle in a half an inch of water and they’d drown,” said Wendy Knight, the executive director of Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit group in South Padre Island, Texas, that is helping keep the turtles safe until they can return to the water.
Turtles that have been rescued by people on beaches or in boats are being put on plastic-covered pallets and allowed to warm for several days in the South Padre Island Convention Center.
Other animals in Texas have also been affected by the storm. A primate sanctuary in North Bexar County reported the cold-related deaths of a chimpanzee, several monkeys, lemurs and tropical birds, according to The San Antonio Express-News. And the El Paso Zoo found and rehabilitated a frigate — a type of sea bird — after it was blown off course.
Ms. Knight said the scale of the cold stun event for sea turtles was the largest in decades and could have a population-level impact. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, five sea turtle species found in Texas are listed under the Endangered Species Act as “endangered” or “threatened.”
Also at immediate risk are a few dozen turtles housed at the Sea Turtle headquarters, where most are being rehabilitated for injuries. The facility is approaching its third day without power.
A winter storm delivered snow and ice across the United States this week, bringing frigid temperatures and rolling blackouts to parts of the country that are unaccustomed to severe winter weather.
Most late-night hosts took the week of Presidents’ Day off, but Trevor Noah and Jimmy Kimmel were on Tuesday night with a rare weather report.
“If you’re watching us from home right now, the good news is you have power,” Mr. Kimmel said.