Texas Weather Crisis

Texas has been experiencing a historic winter as temperatures dropped to the freezing point. For the first time since 1989, temperatures have gotten this low. Early that week, Texans were able to enjoy the snow. Schools were closed and some even tried to ski. However, as the temperature continued to drop, conditions became more critical. People were suffering physically, medically, and financially as their structures couldn’t keep up with the cold weather. As pipes burst and power went out, people were not even safe in their own homes as they had no means to fight the cold. 

As the demand for power increased for turning thermostats up, power plant productivity decreased. About half of Texas’s power comes from natural gas, but with the temperature too low for the gas to travel through pipes, power plants can’t produce enough energy. The New York Times states, “At its height, about four million Texans were without power this week as temperatures plummeted to the teens and single digits. About 165,000 remained without electricity on Friday, though millions were still without running water or under notices to boil their tap water.” Without the usual means to stay warm, people took their fate into their own hands. Some people put up tents over their beds to control and manipulate body warmth. Others tried less safe approaches. Sadly, two people in Houston died of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to stay warm by leaving their car running in the garage. This is only one of many cases state-wide. From running cars to misplaced generators, there have been over 700 people seeking medical care for carbon monoxide poisoning in Texas. Overall, the power outages are only worsening the effects of the cold.

Another problem is bursting pipes, leaving people stuck in their homes with no access to water. The temperature dropped into the twenties and teens, below the freezing point of water, causing catastrophe. Inside the pipes, the water started to freeze. When water freezes it expands, but without the extra room for the water to expand, there is too much pressure and the pipe bursts. LouAnn Campbell, a public information officer for Public Works and Utilities with the City of Tyler, explains that, “The water pressure is below levels that are required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ, and that water pressure maintains optimal safety for the water.” She continues, “We can’t meet that pressure, so that’s why we have to have a boil water notice.” This boil water notice has affected about seven million people. Austintexas.gov outlines exactly how the boil notice applies to people, “Under the Boil Water Notice issued on February 17, 2021, Austin is under mandatory water use restrictions. Residents and businesses should implement all appropriate restrictions to save water.

Customers may not:

  • Use water for irrigation or testing of irrigation equipment
  • Wash vehicles, including at commercial car wash facilities
  • Wash pavement or other surfaces
  • Add water to a pool or spa
  • Conduct foundation watering, or
  • Operate an ornamental fountain or pond, other than aeration necessary to support aquatic life”

Sadly, these harsh conditions have taken many lives. USA today comments, “Public health officials have been cautioning residents about hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning in recent days. Approximately 70 deaths have been attributed to the snow, ice and frigid temperatures nationwide, according to the Associated Press. More than a dozen were people –including an 11-year-old boy – who perished in homes that had lost their heat.” The cold temperatures have also indirectly caused destruction. The Hilton Garden Inn in Killeen, Texas caught on fire and with the state conversing water, burned. Another building, an apartment near San Antonio, burned to the ground as well due to frozen fire hydrants limiting the amount of water. Additional losses, as The Washington Post reported, “The Arctic air has also claimed the life of at least one homeless person in Houston, and a 10-year-old boy died after he fell through ice near Millington, Tenn.”

Notably, while the chaos in Texas may be bad, it is only worsened by the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic. The cold temperatures are taking attention away from Covid and vaccines. NPR explains, “Millions are without power in Texas, and that’s created problems for scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations. Icy roads mean people can’t get to appointments, and some vaccination freezers aren’t working.” The two Pfizer shots should be distributed approximately twenty-one days apart and the Moderna vaccines should be given about twenty-eight days apart. However, with no means to get them, people cannot receive their vaccines. Yet, the CDC is allowing a little leeway for people to get the second dose six weeks after the first. Moreover the broken vaccination freezers are very problematic. The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at temperatures between -112ºF to ‑76ºF and the Moderna vaccine must be kept at -13°F and 5°F. As the freezers break, shots are expiring and money is going down the drain. Furthermore, Covid social distancing and capacity policies are leaving many of the homeless freezing on the streets. A Houston shelter that held 10,000 people in Hurricane Harvey was only accepting 800 because of “Covid capacity”. Mike Nichols, CEO and president of Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties stated, “Dealing with the virus, in a storm like this, means our normal emergency shelters cannot take in new people… Normal operating capacity has been cut in half because of social distancing… Our response plan to really handle a surge of increased shelter need were virtually offline because of COVID.”

In essence, the cold temperatures have struck catastrophe in Texas. Homes have turned from a place of comfort to a place where people struggle to survive. Electricity had gone out, leaving 3 million people with no means to stay warm. Water pipes burst, leaving over 14 million people without safe water. The low temperatures have caused pain and death to many in Texas. This is not to mention how the cold in hampering efforts distribute vaccines and how Covid restrictions are forcing shelters to only let in a certain number of people. As the temperature in Texas increases, we hope to see improvements in all of these areas.

The weather is so cold inside, and without electricity to power the thermostat, the water inside is freezing as seen in this picture. 

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