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Winter Storm Cripples Life in Texas, Millions Without Power Supply

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The entire state of Texas is under a winter storm warning. National Weather Service forecasters have extended the winter storm warning for the Houston area to 6 a.m. Thursday, as cold weather and the threat of more rain freezing or otherwise remain.

Houstonians woke up to heaps of snow outside their homes Monday morning, with brutally cold wind chill dipping temperatures into the teens and no electricity in most areas. The entire state of Texas is under a winter storm warning. National Weather Service forecasters have extended the winter storm warning for the Houston area to 6 a.m. Thursday, as cold weather and the threat of more rain freezing or otherwise remain.

President Joe Biden approved Texas' emergency disaster proclamation Sunday. The declaration orders federal assistance to supplement state and local storm response efforts, according to a statement from the White House. Governor Greg Abbott elevated the number of resources available to local officials, as the state faced potentially-deadly power outages to hundreds of thousands of homes.

"Many power companies have been unable to generate power, whether it's from coal, natural gas, or wind power," Abbott said in a release. "ERCOT and the PUC are working non-stop to restore power supply. The state has also deployed resources to assist Texans without power and to help essential workers continue to carry out their jobs. In the meantime, I encourage all Texans to continue to stay off the roads and conserve energy as state agencies work with private providers to restore power as quickly as possible. "The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that oversees the state's electric grid, has declared Texas at its highest energy emergency level. This means it has started rolling outages across the state," it said.

The declaration is due to lower power supply and high demand because of the extremely low temperatures during the winter storm sweeping the state. To help conserve energy, ERCOT asked residents to close their blinds, unplug unused appliances, wait for a few days to do laundry, and wear warmer clothes among other steps.

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Across the state, at least 2.8 million customers had lost power, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates data from utilities across the country. Texas' power grid experienced a system-wide failure as demands surged. Grid managers declared an emergency after the record-breaking energy use strained utilities beyond capacity.

Outages across Texas could last for hours, even stretching into days, due to multiple power generation plants that are offline, according to officials. An estimated 75% of Texas power generation capacity is impacted. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a press conference said, "Don't expect the power to come back on soon. It might be the rest of the day, if not longer." Turner urged those still with electricity to conserve power by lowering thermostats so the electric grid is not overwhelmed. Utility companies in the Houston area have shut off power in some areas to reduce usage.

"In order to prevent a total, statewide blackout, which could take several days if not one or two weeks to restore, the system is having to be very surgical on taking people off the system to reduce that demand on that limited supply," Turner said. "Otherwise, it could be considerably worse and this situation could be prolonged." The power situation, according to the mayor, is of greater importance to seniors and those who are critical care customers on the grid. He urged people to check on the seniors in their lives, especially relatives and neighbors. Utility providers said residents without power should not expect service to be restored before Tuesday at the earliest, leaving families to choose between bad options: hunker down with layers of blankets or traverse icy roads to the homes of friends and relatives with electricity. Brutally cold wind chill readings of -10 to 10 degrees will be likely through Tuesday morning. Officials are requesting residents to stay off the roads if they can.

Temperatures are currently below freezing across all of SE Texas. Most of the wintry precipitation has moved out, but with temperatures staying below freezing and another winter storm likely on Wednesday, travel could be impacted throughout the workweek. Hundreds of departure flights have been canceled or delayed at major airports in Texas, including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport suspended flights Monday. Due to snow and ice on the runways, George Bush Intercontinental Airport closed early Monday morning and will remain closed until at least Tuesday. Metro transport services have been closed as well.

Major businesses, schools are closed till Tuesday morning, depending on the weather. ExxonMobil, citing the cold and natural gas shortages, is shutting its Baytown refinery. The process, company officials said, could lead to flaring at the sites. The Office of Homeland security and Emergency Management are warning people that while it is bitterly cold in the area, it is not pond-hockey cold. Lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water may begin freezing. They warned people against attempting to walk on them, saying the ice will not be strong enough to support a person.

Harris County public health officials are hustling to distribute 8,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine after the facility storing them lost power Monday.

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first published:February 16, 2021, 07:23 IST