Storms are a typical part of winter, but the February winter storm involving most of North America is certainly a departure from the norm. The massive weather event stretched from the Arctic ice cap all the way to the Mexican border and from North Carolina to Seattle, causing freezing temperatures, heavy snow and rainfall, and even tornadoes. So far, it has killed 16 people.
Perhaps the most impactful part of the winter storm has been that over 4 million people in the United States have been without power through the coldest weather, most of those in Texas, where the temperatures have dived sharply below what that state usually sees in winter.
Texas, in fact, is in a state of emergency during this -5 F weather, due to over 3 million people being without power in dangerous conditions. A Houston family, trying to heat their house with their rarely-used wood fireplace, died together when their house burned down. Others have been killed by carbon monoxide leaks, also while trying for some heat. Pictures of fish tanks frozen into solid blocks of ice have gone viral.
According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, rolling blackouts have been “significantly extended due to current emergency grid conditions and severe cold weather.”
Texas is the only state which isn’t connected to the national power grid, and so it cannot fall back on generation from other states. The state’s mostly gas power plants are falling woefully short due to the massive demand. Oklahoma is in a similar state. And while Oklahoma’s governor tried to blame solar panels for failing in the cold, experts were quick to snap back that not only do solar panels work better in the cold if they can be kept clear, but renewables account for only 2-3 percent of Oklahoma’s power generation. Again, it’s gas that can’t keep up.
Northern states, while more accustomed to winter storms and snow, are still being heavily impacted by the sheer volume of the back-to-back blizzards. In Chicago, for instance, four buildings have collapsed due to snow build-up on flat roofs, and Washington State is preparing for massive flooding as a foot of new snow melts into already-peaking rivers.