What it looks like when a place that rarely dips below freezing gets a blast of Arctic air
A severe chill continues to grip millions of Americans this week after the massive Winter Storm Uri swept states from the South to the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard. The biting cold has burst water pipes and blocked gas pipelines, leaving millions in the dark, without heat and potable water while the winter air encroaches.
The cold coupled with power outages has forced some to retreat to warming shelters and others to deploy desperate tactics to stay warm like firing up grills in living rooms and chopping up furniture for firewood. But such measures brought their own problems like carbon monoxide poisoning.
The cold, ice, and snow has already proven deadly, with at least 20 deaths linked to the storm. The most devastating effects of the cold snap were in places that are used to having much warmer winters.
This deep and unusual chill has been especially damaging to the Texas power grid, which was not prepared. Demand for electricity surged to record winter highs as Texans struggled to stay warm. But there was a massive drop in the power supply as natural gas pipelines and compressors froze, coal plants shut down, nuclear power plants tripped offline, and wind turbines iced up. And since Texas operates an independent power grid, it has few options for buying electricity from other states.
Millions of Texans have now suffered power outages, some lasting for days, just when they need energy the most. The loss of electricity has in turn led to a loss of water in some areas as pipes burst and sanitation systems shut down, forcing cities to issue orders to boil tap water.
All the while, the Covid-19 pandemic is raging. Health officials have scrambled to distribute vaccines as freezers shut off while Texans are having to balance huddling together for warmth with social distancing.
And it’s not just Texas; bitter cold and the ensuing outages spread over states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Power companies in states like Virginia are also warning of outages this week as the winter storm moves north. The full extent of the human toll of this extreme cold might not be known for weeks, but here’s a glimpse in photos of how the storm has been playing out on the ground so far: