Mother Nature Turns Her Winter Fury on Deep South
We're used to reading about winter storms in the Plains, the Midwest and New England. They're so frequent, sometimes we tire of hearing about them.
But when a winter storm slams the Deep South, everyone takes notice. That's what occurred last week in Texas and many other states.
Historic Winter Storm Uri packed a big punch. At least 70 people in the U.S. and Mexico died and many were hospitalized. More than 9.7 million homes and businesses lost electrical power in the two countries.
All due to record-breaking frigid temperatures. And a killer storm featuring snow and ice. On February 15, it was colder in Houston, Texas than it was in Houston, Alaska. And Oklahoma City experienced its coldest morning since 1899.
Carbon Monoxide Poisonings
Dan Woodfin is senior director of system operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Here's what he said.
"This event was well beyond the design parameters for a typical, or even an extreme, Texas winter that you would normally plan for."
Among those dying during Uri were two adults and a child who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in two different homes. One family had kept a car running in the garage for heat. Another had been running a generator inside their home.
More than 300 calls were received by Texas fire marshals, hospitals and other agencies regarding carbon monoxide poisoning. Many came from people using charcoal grills inside their homes.
A 'Disaster Within a Disaster'
Dr. Samuel Prater is an emergency room physician at Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center. He said, "This is a public health disaster and a public health emergency."
Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo called the carbon monoxide poisonings a "disaster within a disaster."
One fire department tweeted this. "Please remember to never run a generator or grill inside your home. These produce carbon monoxide. Which is a deadly, colorless and odorless gas."
Texas officials were frantically spreading the word about the problem. "We have to get the message out," said Harris County Fire Marshal Linda Christensen. "People are dying. We are losing our family members to carbon monoxide poisoning."
Water Pipes Freeze and Burst
As some Texans entered their third day without power, water pipes were freezing and bursting.
In Houston, icicles were hanging from kitchen faucets. Ambulances in San Antonio were unable to meet the demand. In Galveston, officials called for refrigerated trucks to hold bodies they expected to find in homes without power.
As of February 17, snow and sleet were still falling. And another storm was expected to strike the area.
More than 170 million Americans were under some type of winter weather-related alert. According to the National Weather Service.
Even Warming Centers Close
On February 14, Texas established a winter peak demand record for electricity. Temperatures fell into the single digits or lower in some areas.
In Houston, warming centers were forced to close because they lost power. Walmart closed more than 350 stores in Texas and other states. The Texas grid simply was unable to provide needed power.
Temperature drops increased the demand for electricity. But cold and ice kept the supply of energy – especially natural gas – from being delivered.
U.S. Representative Marc Veasey of Texas said an industry executive told him this. The power grid was minutes from failing on February 15. Only rolling outages saved it.
Uri Hits at Least 15 States
As the storm moved east, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama were hit hard as well. More than 109,000 lost power in Louisiana. Over 60,000 in Mississippi suffered blackouts.
Other states were struck hard as well. People in Kansas were urged to conserve energy as a state of disaster emergency was declared.
Officials in Oklahoma said unprecedented demand for electricity was straining the state's electrical grid and natural gas infrastructure. The storm even caused damage and injuries in Georgia and Florida.
Overall, power outages were reported in 15 states. Including North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia. Plus Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio.
Road Travel Was Hazardous
Countless drivers were also affected. Accidents and icy roads led to Interstate 10 being shut down. Between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana.
Across seven Louisiana parishes, nearly every major road was closed in both directions. Due to icy roadways.
Prior to the closures, there were numerous accidents. Including a 14-vehicle pileup involving three jackknifed semi-tractor trailers.
In Mississippi, ice was reported on roads and bridges in 66 counties. Traffic was at a standstill in many places. Due to accidents and vehicles sliding off roads.
In northern Alabama, a 20-vehicle pileup blocked both directions on U.S. Highway 231. Houston police were trying to deal with 134 traffic crashes.
'No One Owes You... Anything'
Residents of Colorado City, Texas got an additional rude awakening last week. Perhaps they assumed the government would always take care of them if necessary.
A day after Arctic air swept in, power was lost and running water was lacking. Some residents voiced their concerns in a Facebook group.
Here's how Mayor Tim Boyd responded in a Facebook message. "No one owes you (or) your family anything. I'm sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout."
That response was an exception, of course. But the fact is, tax dollars don't guarantee help when it's needed.
If Texas and other parts of the Deep South can get crushed by cold temperatures and winter storms, no one is immune. The common denominator is always power outages.
It's crucial to have a backup power source. My recommendation is the Patriot Power Generator 1800. It's fume-free and perfectly safe to use indoors.