What started out as a fun and unusual day quickly turned into a nightmare. Last week Texas received a storm unlike any seen in the state before, the temperature dropped to levels well below normal and several cities were covered in snow.
Many people went out to play in the snow and enjoy a panorama that we do not see commonly in Texas, but while some were having fun, others began to suffer the consequences of this storm almost instantly. Lack of power, water and gas were just some of the havoc that millions of Texans had to contend with. Supermarkets were emptied as trucks could not move fast enough, and classes are still canceled in many districts as many people remain without power or a good internet connection.
We cannot forget the many deaths that occurred due to the lack of heating in the homes and the energy required to run the medical devices of many residents. A couple of days ago, power and water returned to the homes of millions of Texans, but the ravages of this storm are still palpable.
Why it happened
Millions of Texans have spent days without electricity or heat in freezing temperatures caused by snow and ice storms. Limited regulations on power-generating businesses and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis, energy and policy experts say. While Texas Republicans were quick to blame renewable energy and frozen wind turbines, the natural gas, nuclear and coal plants that provide most of the state’s power also struggled to operate during the storm. Officials with the Texas Electrical Reliability Council, the power grid operator for most of the state, said the state’s power system was simply no match for deep freeze.
“Nuclear units, gas units, wind turbines, even solar of different types, very cold weather and snow have affected all types of generators,” said Dan Woodfin, director of ERCOT.
Energy and policy experts said Texas’s decision not to require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and the option to operate mostly in isolation from other networks in the United States. It left the electrical system unprepared for the winter crisis.
Policy watchers blamed the power system failure on legislators and state agencies who they say either failed to pay adequate attention to previous storm warnings or chose not to take notice of the more extreme weather events warned by climate scientists. . Rather, Texas prioritized the free market.
“We clearly need to change our regulatory approach to protect people, not profits,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, a now-retired former director of Public Citizen, an Austin-based consumer advocacy group that advocated for changes after that in 2011 Texas faced a similar energy crisis. “Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that could not be enforced and largely ignored in the rush to profit,” he said.
Natural gas power plants can be winterized, as can natural gas production, wind turbines and other energy infrastructure, experts said. This could be done through practices such as pipe insulation. These updates help prevent major outages in other states with regular cold weather.
Something that also affected the state is the fact that the Texas network is also largely isolated from other areas of the country, a configuration designed to avoid federal regulation. It has some connectivity with Mexico and the eastern United States network, but those links have limits on what they can transmit. The east of the country is also facing the same winter storm which is creating an increase in energy demand. That means Texas hasn’t been able to get much help from other areas.
“If you’re going to say you can handle it yourself, step up and do it,” said Hirs, the UH energy fellow, of the state’s quest for an independent grid with a deregulated market. “This is an incredible failure.”
Climate scientists in Texas say this storm is evidence that Texas is not prepared to handle an increasing number of more volatile and extreme weather events. Katharine Hayhoe, a leading climate scientist at Texas Tech University, highlighted a 2018 study that showed how Arctic warming is creating more severe polar vortex events. “It’s a wake-up call to say, ‘What if these become more frequent?'” Said Hayhoe, “that gives us even more reason to be more prepared in the future.”
Where to Find Help
President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas on Saturday following the winter storm that left residents without power and thousands of people battling broken pipes and water leaks.
The declaration allows landlords and tenants in 77 counties that have been designated for individual assistance to apply for disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency better known as FEMA.
“Funds provided under the Major Disaster Declaration can provide crucial assistance to Texans as they begin to repair their homes and address property damage.”
Gobernador Greg Abbott (TX)
To request assistance online, visit disasterassistance.gov. To do so by phone, call 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585). The lines will be in operation seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management has a map of the warming centers statewide, and residents can also call 211 to find the nearest warming center. You can ask for help from many of the mutual aid organizations, as well as organizations like the NAACP de Texas. Beyoncé’s charity, Beygood, has partnered with Adidas to help anyone affected by winter storms, inside or outside of Texas, through the Bread of Life Inc. Disaster Relief Assistance fund.
If you are looking for places to get food and water, HEB has a list of store hours and temporary closings. You can also search through a list of resources compiled by the Twitter user @dox_gay. WhenWhereWhatAustin maintains an up-to-date spreadsheet of resources in the Austin area, including where people can get hot food, water, and food.
How to help
Here are some of the largest organizations in major cities in Texas:
- Austin: Done a Austin Mutual Aid through the Venmo accounts @austinmutualaid and @austinmutualaidhotels. A quick warning: someone is posing online under the username @austinmutualaidhotel (similar to the legitimate username, but without an S.) Do not donate to this account. As always, double check before donating to make sure you are doing so effectively.
- Dallas: Feed the People Dallas is a network led by African American and Latina women serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area. You can donate for Venmo to the @feedthepeopledallas account or donate through their website.
- Houston: Starting Thursday morning, Mutual Aid Houston announced on GoFundMe that the network is “overwhelmed by the huge amount of support we’ve seen in the last few days” and is no longer looking for donations. But he is asking donors to support other lesser known groups, which he has listed on his GoFundMe.
- San antonio: For My People Mutual Aid request donations through Cash App to the account $ pmgmutualaid and Venmo to the account @pmgmutualaid. But they also request that they donate to lesser known organizations that they can find listed on their instagram account.
Also consider supporting self-help networks or other community groups that serve smaller cities, as they may not have received as much support as larger efforts. Unfortunately, there is currently no comprehensive database that lists all mutual aid efforts statewide; instead, you will need to do some research on social media or see if local community groups or organizers have recommendations.