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Residents of Dallas, Texas, exchange empty canisters for full propane tanks outside a grocery store on February 16. | LM Otero/AP

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.

Texas is a case in point. Cities like Dallas have average February temperatures between a low of 41 degrees Fahrenheit and a high of 61 degrees. This week, Dallas saw a record low of minus 2 degrees.

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.

 Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A sudden spike in energy demand and a loss of natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind energy during Texas’s winter storm triggered blackouts across the state.

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:

 Montinique Monroe/Getty Images
Winter Storm Uri has left millions of Americans without power as temperatures hit below freezing.
 Montinique Monroe/Getty Images
Multiple 18-wheelers wait in traffic on I-35 Southbound in Austin.
 Cooper Neill/Bloomberg via Getty Images
More than 4.2 million customers in Texas had lost power as of Tuesday morning, when temperatures dipped as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
 The Washington Post via Getty Images
Propane tanks are placed in a line as people wait for the power to turn on to fill their tanks in Houston.
 LM Otero/AP
Dallas resident Sara Castillo loads firewood into her car.
 Go Nakamura/Getty Images
Karla Perez and Esperanza Gonzalez warm up by a barbecue grill during power outage caused by the winter storm in Houston.
 David J. Phillip/AP
Houston residents collect warm clothes at a Gallery Furniture store after the owner opened his business as a shelter for those without power.
 David J. Phillip/AP
Jenesis Heath, right, rests in a recliner next to young family members at a Gallery Furniture store in Houston.
 Thomas Shea/AFP via Getty Images
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, left, takes a tour of the George R. Brown Center which is being used as a warming shelter.
 Eric Gay/AP
People seeking shelter from sub-freezing temperatures gather at a makeshift warming shelter in San Antonio.
 Tony Gutierrez/AP
The Harris family occupy an office suite at a pop-up warming center in Richardson, Texas.
 Go Nakamura/Getty Images
Bryan and Elias Mejia try to connect power cable to a car battery to change their smartphones in Houston.
 The Washington Post via Getty Images
Linda McCoy throws wood on a fire for heat in her home in Houston.
 Go Nakamura/Getty Images
Shoppers wait in line at Fiesta supermarket in Houston. Throughout the state, the National Guard has been deployed and 135 public warming centers have opened up.
 Cooper Neill/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A shopper walks by empty shelves in the meat aisle at a grocery store in McKinney.
 Montinique Monroe/Getty Images
Texas’s grid crisis is a stark reminder that extreme weather events like Uri remain a threat to energy infrastructure across the country.
 David J. Phillip/AP
Customers waited over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their propane tanks.
 Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People wait in line outside a grocery store in Austin.
 LM Otero/AP
Workers tend to a water main pipe that burst in Richardson.
 Tony Gutierrez/AP
Water from a broken water line reached into the sanctuary at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Richardson.
 Montinique Monroe/Getty Images
A homeless camp under a bridge on I-35 in Austin. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Texas following a request from Gov. Greg Abbott.
 Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A hearse parked at a gas station in Austin.

Author: Umair Irfan

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