Severe winter storms bring chaos to southern states

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The Trinity River is mostly frozen after a snow storm Monday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. has left more than 2 million people in Texas without power. (Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram via AP)

A deadly winter storm swept the nation with snow and ice this week, leaving millions of people across the United States without electricity or heat, most notably southern states like Texas, which have historically lacked the infrastructure to protect power and water systems against natural disasters.  

Out of more than a million people in the U.S. who did not have electricity at the height of the outages, citizens of Texas accounted for almost half with 511,421, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us. Texas exceeded one million power outages for the first time Thursday. There have been at least 37 weather-related fatalities since Thursday, the majority in Texas. 

At a press conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress will investigate the large scale power issues and water shortages in Texas. The Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to look into why millions of Texas residents lost water and power, according to the Washington Post. 

Pelosi also pledged additional money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill the House is expected to vote on as early as next week. 

Pelosi said some of the Texas weather-related crises were “predictable in a long range of weatherizing the infrastructure of the energy in the state.” 

The White House said Wednesday FEMA has supplied generators to Texas. The organization is preparing to move diesel into the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power to key critical infrastructure, including hospitals. WH Press Secretary Jen Psaki said FEMA is also supplying Texas with water and blankets, according to the Washington Post.  

Vehicles drive on snow and sleet covered roads Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Spring, Texas. A winter storm dropping snow and ice sent temperatures plunging across the southern Plains, prompting a power emergency in Texas a day after conditions canceled flights and impacted traffic across large swaths of the U.S. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas manages most of the state power grid. The council said Thursday morning it had directed Oncor and other energy providers to begin restoring power that had been previously dropped from the grid as part of a series of intentional outages aimed at keeping it from crashing.  

Texas has also seen an increase in carbon monoxide poisonings this week, as plunging temperatures and persistent power outages sent residents searching for warmth increasingly from dangerous sources. This surge in carbon monoxide poisonings is a crisis within a crisis, according to a Weather Channel article.

State and local officials attribute most of these cases to the use of dangerous heating sources, like barbecue pits, campfire stoves and practices like running car engines indoors. All of these improper heating techniques release carbon monoxide, the odorless and colorless gas which can cause permanent brain damage or death.  

In Texas, the extreme weather disrupted water service for more than 12 million residents, forcing many of the more than 680 water systems in the state to issue “boil water” notices. 

More severe weather is ahead, with 100 million people in the path of the latest storm forecast to bring freezing rain and snow from the plains to the East Coast through the weekend. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are expected to see six inches of snow, while Washington, D.C. is expected to get two to four inches, according to the Weather Channel

The Biden Administration recently approved emergency declarations for Oklahoma and Texas. The administration is also reviewing a request from Louisiana, where over 100,000 people remain without electricity, according to poweroutage.us.

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