When Erica and Andrew Fox decided to move to Texas for its lower cost of living in the summer of 2015, they didn’t expect to do any more snow shoveling, but brought the shovel they had in Franklin Square just in case of an emergency.
That decision proved to be fortuitous over Presidents Day weekend, when a winter storm struck the Lone Star State and, coupled with record low temperatures, made many roads impassable and caused widespread power outages and burst pipes.
“The storm wouldn’t have crippled the city or state of New York like it did here,” Erica said of her new hometown, Round Rock, Texas, just north of Austin, adding that the area only saw about six inches of snow. “It may have caused some power outages, but I highly doubt that the outages would have lasted as long as they did here.”
The difference, Fox said, is that neither Texas’s environment nor its infrastructure is equipped to handle snow. The trees don’t lose their leaves in the fall and winter, and those leaves are now coated in ice, she said, noting that some birds that tried to huddle near her house for warmth last week did not survive.
Residents also struggled to stay warm in the freezing temperatures, and a number of people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning, which can occur when appliances like boilers, water heaters and portable generators are used inside without proper ventilation.
Spikes in energy demand while the state’s power grid was already crippled by the storm resulted in a loss of power for more than 4 million households last week, according to representatives of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the power grid. Officials were unable to import power from another grid to make up for the shortage.
Instead, power grid operators were reportedly conducting rolling blackouts, wherein one town would have electricity while the next town would not. By last Friday morning, however, only about 200,000 people still lacked electricity, and ERCOT ceased its emergency operations.
Many residents were shocked by sudden increases in the cost of electricity. Prices spiked more than 10,000 percent when the storm hit, CNN reported, with real-time wholesale market prices on the power grid surpassing $9,000 per megawatt hour on Feb. 15, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour, according to Reuters.
To make matters worse, many pipes cracked, and more than 800 public water systems serving 162 of the state’s 254 counties had to deal with damages to their main water lines last week, affecting 13.1 million people, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality told The New York Times.
President Biden declared a state of emergency on Sunday, making residents eligible for federal assistance.
“I have never seen the Dallas area like this before,” said Nancy Rabinowitz, who moved to Texas from Elmont with her daughter, Rachel Assa, 24 years ago. “The whole city closed down, stores closed [and] schools closed,” Rabinowitz added, which gave Assa’s three children a chance to enjoy the snow, while no plows passed by.
Stores, meanwhile, ran out of heaters, generators, kerosene, firewood and even clay pots with candles underneath to heat homes, Rabinowitz said, and “people emptied the grocery shelves like there was no tomorrow.”
Rabinowitz said she lost electricity at her home in the Dallas suburbs for 29 hours after the storm, and when she finally got her power back, the pipes in her house broke in her house, and she didn’t have water for two days before she managed to hire a plumber to fix them. During that time, Assa said, Rabinowitz had to add water to her toilet’s tank to flush it, and use her other daughter’s house to take showers.
But the situation “has been improving little by little,” according to Addison Green, a meteorologist from Elmont who is now working for KHOU 11 News in Houston, and, Assa said, “Texas will come out of this just fine.”