Nearly half a million people remained without power on Thursday morning in Texas after an unprecedented winter storm hit the state earlier in the week. People across the state struggled to stay warm and find enough food and clean water in the ongoing dangerous, freezing conditions. Millions of people across the state have been issued a boil water notice after the storm caused widespread blackouts at water treatment facilities.
Meanwhile, the state’s political leaders have been inadequate in their response, if not completely absent. Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came under fire Thursday after he was photographed boarding a flight to Cancún, Mexico for a family vacation as millions of people in his state struggled to stay warm — not to mention the fact that we are still very much in the depths of the global coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blamed the Green New Deal for the statewide power failures, despite the fact that the proposed resolution hasn’t passed in Congress.
In reality, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has a monopoly on power across the state, managing electricity for 90% of Texans. However, Texas officials, power companies, and ERCOT knew well in advance that the winter storm was coming and did seemingly little to prepare. Ahead, we've broken down how the state's ongoing disaster started and what you can do to help.
When did the snowstorm in Texas start?
Snowfall started across Texas on Sunday after a polar vortex fueled a historic storm across the entirety of the United States. On Monday, at least 150 million people nationwide were under ice or winter weather advisories as the snowstorm continued to intensify throughout the week as much of the country experienced record-setting weather.
“This impressive onslaught of wicked wintry weather across much of the Lower 48 is due to the combination of strong Arctic high pressure supplying sub-freezing temperatures and an active storm track escorting waves of precipitation from coast-to-coast,” said the National Weather Service. As Michael J. Ventrice, a meteorological scientist with IBM told The New York Times, the storm is a result of a clash between the Arctic high, and warmer, wetter air in the South.
What happened to the power grid in Texas?
While several states have seen power outages as a result of the winter storm, Texas was hit the hardest due to the fact that it operates its own power grid mostly in isolation from other states. States in other parts of the country, like in the Midwest, were able to generate power thanks to interconnections with power grids in neighboring states.
Hardline conservatives have praised Texas for its independent power system, which is managed by ERCOT. But Democrats have warned for years that the power grid could end up failing. When a winter storm took out power across much of the state in 2011, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, then a state representative, warned the utility company was given too much leeway, according to the Times.
How did all of this lead to power outages in Texas?
On Thursday, Texas entered its third day of widespread power outages. The outages are a result of both an unprecedented demand for energy and colder-than-usual winter temperatures, stunting the state’s power infrastructure. Now, rather than restoring power across Texas, the state’s power authority suggested that grid operators shift from a complete energy blackout to rolling blackouts.
ERCOT tweeted on Tuesday that outages overnight led to “load shed” — the power company’s deliberate decision to reduce energy consumption by shutting down part of the power system in order to avoid a broader system failure.
What is the best way to help support people in Texas?
As with most climate and other social crises these days, mutual aid groups and grassroots organizations have filled in the gap in aid to the most vulnerable people and communities. Statewide warming centers, including pet-friendly options, run by both cities and churches opened up for stranded motorists and people still without power. Donation drives popped up in cities across the state to help unhoused people acquire bedding, linens, and other household items. A comprehensive list of statewide aid can be found here.
If you’re living in Texas and have the ability to get out in the cold and help, you can assist with mutual aid efforts where you live by helping your neighbors stay warm and get access to clean water, food, and other supplies. You can tap into an existing network, or connect with neighbors where you live and start a network specific to your community.
Anyone can also help by providing financial assistance to mutual aid networks across the state:
North Texas Rural Resilience: @ntrr4yall on Venmo
FeedThePeopleDallas: @feedthepeopledallas on Venmo
Dallas Harm Reduction Aid: @dallashra on Venmo
Texas Jail Project: Donations will go to commissary for people incarcerated across the state so that they can buy food and supplies.