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.

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