Snowstorms Shut Down Power, Delay Vaccines Across Southern U.S.

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

After snowstorms swept across the South this week, 14 states are expecting power outages, frozen roads, and dangerous conditions. Hundreds of millions will be impacted by the storm.  Millions will be experiencing rolling blackouts in the coming days due to stress on the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which provides power to areas of Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, and Nebraska.

  • This writer’s family is holed up in their Dallas, Texas home, enduring snow the region hasn’t seen since 2010 when record-breaking snowfall reached 12.5” in just 24 hours.

Why This Matters: Although it might seem that this polar vortex is an exception to global temperature rise, research says that erratic, far-reaching polar systems like the one we’re seeing now can be directly related to warming temperatures in the Arctic. Warming temperatures can weaken and lengthen the jet stream, carrying cooler air further south. This is particularly dangerous as COVID-19 continues to ravage communities in states like Texas, and communities of color, disproportionately suffering from the pandemic, are doubly denied access to lifesaving resources. Additionally, this winter storm has already delayed vaccine rollouts in many states, shutting down vaccine clinics and delaying deliveries. It is also shutting down refineries in the region causing gas prices to spike across the U.S.

Cold and Dark

These states aren’t equipped for heavy snow and lack access to snowplows and salt trucks, leaving millions stranded in their homes, unable to access food and healthcare.  “The time to prepare for this storm was yesterday,” the National Weather Service in Texas said in a statement. On Friday, Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for the state’s 254 counties. The SPP has instituted controlled blackouts across the state, but while in normal circumstances controlled blackouts would last for 15-45 minutes, the ones happening in the coming days will last hours. Officials are encouraging residents to bundle up and check on any elderly neighbors and friends. “The electricity grid continues to lose generation. If you are without power, you may be without power throughout the day. Please do your best to stay warm safely. Check on our seniors,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted.

Out of Juice

Early Monday, the SPP experienced a system-wide failure that left 2.8 million residents without electricity. The agency declared an “energy emergency alert three” as winter energy demands in Texas reached their highest ever. Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said the SPP wasn’t meant to withstand this weather. “This event was well beyond the design parameters for a typical, or even an extreme, Texas winter that you would normally plan for. And so that is really the result that we’re seeing,” he said. Officials are telling residents to conserve power to prevent spikes in natural gas prices, which many people use to heat their homes.

As of right now, residents can only sit and wait, but without climate action, the southern U.S. could see more erratic and severe winter weather in the future and it’s clear that our fossil fuel-based power grid isn’t up to the task.

To Go Deeper: Check out the memes and other funny to angry tweets with the #TexasFreeze hashtag.

Up Next

La Niña Brings Rain, Avalanches, Floods, Tornadoes to the U.S.

La Niña Brings Rain, Avalanches, Floods, Tornadoes to the U.S.

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer This March will continue to bring more severe weather to the United States. An atmospheric river event — the “Pineapple Express” — is forecast to induce a rainy season in Washington and Oregon, as well as an increased risk of avalanches in the Pacific Northwest.  As the Pineapple Express […]

Continue Reading 471 words
One “Cool” Thing: Minnesota Is Colder Than Siberia

One “Cool” Thing: Minnesota Is Colder Than Siberia

We feel so badly for everyone in Texas suffering through days of bitter cold, many without heat.  But the people at the northern U.S. end of the polar vortex are reeling from the cold as well.  Low-temperature records are being broken in the northern plains — it’s so cold there that even Siberia was warmer.  […]

Continue Reading 153 words

Atmospheric Rivers Threaten Once-in-a-Millennium Flooding

In 2020, many Californians prayed for rain as wildfires in the region destroyed millions of acres of land. But they got more than they bargained for when what weather forecasters described as an “atmospheric river” set a course for the state, causing storms that triggered catastrophic mudslides and washed out a section of Highway 1. 

Why This Matters: Atmospheric rivers can carry as much water through the atmosphere as land rivers, and at similar speeds. Between 1978 and 2017, just 10 atmospheric rivers caused over half of all flood damage in the Western U.S.   

Continue Reading 576 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.