top of page

"Extremely Dangerous": Blackouts and Chaos in Texas Freezing

Texans woke up Tuesday morning to the second day of blackouts, many of whom had lost power more than 24 hours earlier.

Dangerously cold temperatures gripping self-reliant Texas present a terrible dilemma for millions of residents: stay in heat-free homes, or ignore any official advice and venture out onto state treacherous highways.

Texans woke up Tuesday morning to the second day of blackouts, many of whom had lost power more than 24 hours earlier. The Weekend Warnings of Roll Outs have turned into an open-ended crisis, triggering frantic calls to elderly relatives, last-minute hotel bookings, shopping trips for propane canisters, and fielding work emails from the car.

The scale of the crisis that is gripping the state is threatening to take on a darker dimension. The National Guard was deployed to get old people to warm shelters. Air travel to and from Houston was halted, and vaccination efforts by Covid-19 faced potential disruption, with city officials racing to use more than 8,000 doses of vaccine after a storage facility lost back-up power.

The risks of driving under current conditions were highlighted last week by a pile-up of more than 130 cars on the icy Texas Interstate that left six dead. In Houston, clearing the skies began to melt snow on the streets and highways on Monday, but officials warned that it would freeze as soon as the sunset. Sure enough, the ice-covered more than 200 roads in the city on Tuesday morning, with the transport authority declaring black ice a major hazard.

"It was only supposed to be for one to two hours, which seemed manageable," said Isha Elhence, a 26-year-old Dallas resident who lost power around 2 a.m. on Monday, summing up the general mood of haplessness. "Now it's kind of indefinite with no updates, so we're unsure of what we're supposed to be doing."

Still, Elhence was torn between braving a drive to her aunt's house, which still has power, or bundling in a cold apartment. At College Station, home to Texas A&M University, Luke Leifker, 19, waited for updates while his parents, back in Austin, ventured down the highway and across the overpass to get their grandparents out of power overnight. Leifer's 80-year-old grandfather uses an oxygen machine and needs to be charged every few hours.

"The only way they've been able to charge it is via the car. That's just not sustainable, plus they have to be out in the cold," Leifker said on the phone. "I really wish they had just given a more advanced warning as to what we could expect so we could have made proper safety precautions."

Ercot, the state grid operator, said during a chaotic emergency press conference on Monday that the shutdowns would continue until early Tuesday.

There is the little immediate prospect of relief. The temperature in Dallas was 3 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday morning, at only 23 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 14 degrees in Houston. It was similarly cool in San Antonio, and the temperatures of Austin dropped to 9 degrees.

"This is extremely dangerous," said Eric Berger, Houston's Space City Weather forecaster.

Wind chills in Houston and elsewhere make the temperatures feel even colder and the human impact worse. Major cities had opened warm shelters ahead of the storm, but in Houston, some of those facilities had lost power by early Monday afternoon, said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. There's a scramble for those with the means and the ability to find a hotel room.

"All morning today we've had back to back-to-back -- about 10 calls an hour -- with inquiries for rooms and availability," said Erica Gonzalez, a general manager at a Best Western near downtown Houston, which still had power Monday.

Dave Berry, a 72-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, had already experienced three blackouts in the middle of Monday morning, relying on a gas-burning fireplace that kept the temperature in his living room around 60 degrees while keeping his wife wrapped in blankets by the fireplace.

"Unfortunately, we didn't get the coffee made before the power went out," Berry said from his home in the Dallas suburb. "We could actually go for a few right now

4 views0 comments


bottom of page