By PAUL J. WEBER and JAKE BLEIBERG
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – A frosty winter weather blast across the US put Texas into an unusually icy emergency on Monday, cutting power to more than 2 million people, closing grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads.
The worsening conditions stopped the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine shipments, and some Texan providers began scrambling to find recipients for expired doses within hours.
As far south as San Antonio, temperatures rose to single digits, and for hours without electricity homes had no certainty about when the lights and heat would turn back on, as the state’s overwhelmed power grid caused swirling outages. typically only seen in the summers of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
The storm was part of a huge system that brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain to the southern Plains and spread across the Ohio Valley and into the Northeast. Southwest Power Pool, a utility group in 14 states, called for blackouts to begin as the backup energy supply was running out. Some vehicles said they started outages, while others urged customers to reduce power usage.
“We are experiencing a truly historic event right now,” said Jason Furtado, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, pointing to all of Texas under a winter storm warning and the extent of freezing temperatures.
In Houston, where county leaders warned that the freezing could create problems on the scale of major hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast, an electricity supplier said electricity might not be returned to some homes until Tuesday.
“This weather event is truly unprecedented.“ We all know this, ”said Dan Woodfin, senior manager of systems operations at the Texas Electrical Reliability Council. He defended the preparations made by grid operators and described the demand on the system as record-breaking.
“This event was far beyond the design parameters for a typical or even extreme Texas winter you would normally plan on. And this is the result we see,” said Woodfin.
The largest grocery chain in Texas, HEB is closed areas around Austin and San Antonio, which are not used to land and have little resources to clear roads. The slow thaw and further colder dips were also hurting Texas’ distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
State health officials said Texas, which will receive more than 400,000 additional doses of vaccine this week, does not currently expect births to occur until at least Wednesday.
But just as his doses were about to expire, Rice University suddenly began offering the vaccine on Monday on its closed Houston campus. University spokesman Doug Miller said the Harris Health System had about 1,000 vaccines to the school “to be wasted” and asked if the school could find buyers.
“The window was only a few hours. They need to get it done quickly,” Miller said.
Caught without enough groceries, 24-year-old lab technician Lauren Schneider went to a Dallas grocery store near her home Monday morning in a coat, hat, and face mask. Schneider said he did not feel comfortable driving on roads covered with snow and ice. He said he hadn’t seen any serious snowfall in Dallas since his childhood.
“I really didn’t think it would be so serious,” Schneider said.
Traveling through the snow carrying grocery bags, Teresa and Luke Fassetta said the store lost power while shopping. The couple said that they lost electricity overnight, then took it back around 9 am and hoped it would still be on when they got home. If not, Teresa said, “We have lots of blankets, candles and two cats to keep us warm.”
Some cities in the US have seen record lows as Arctic weather remains in the central part of the country. In Minnesota, Hibbing / Chisholm weather station recorded minus 38 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 39 degrees Celsius), while Sioux Falls in South Dakota fell to minus 26 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 26 degrees Celsius).
In Kansas, where wind chills dropped to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 34 Celsius) in some areas, Governor Laura Kelly declared a disaster situation.
Most government offices and schools were closed for Presidents’ Day, and the authorities asked residents to stay at home. Louisiana State Police reported that it investigated about 75 weather-related accidents caused by snow, sleet and freezing rain in the past 24 hours.
“There are already some accidents on our roads,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at a morning press conference. “Slippery and dangerous.”
Air travel has also been affected. By the middle of the morning, 3,000 flights were canceled across the country, 1,600 of them at Dallas / Fort Worth International and Bush Intercontinental airports in Texas. At DFW, the temperature was 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius) – 3 degrees (-16 degrees) cooler than Moscow.
The storm came during a three-day weekend break, which saw the most US air travel since the New Year period. More than 1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints on Thursday and Friday. But that was less than half the traffic a year ago before the epidemic hit in full force.
The Southern Plains were preparing for the winter weather for the better part of the weekend. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a disaster statement for all 254 counties of the state. Abbott, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson mobilized National Guard units to assist state agencies in tasks such as rescuing stranded drivers.
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency in Texas in a statement Sunday night. The charter aims to add federal aid to state and local response efforts.
Associated Press journalists David Koenig of Dallas, Rebecca Reynolds Yonker of Louisville, Ky., Kate Brumback of Atlanta, Margaret Stafford of Liberty, Mo., and Amy Forliti of Minneapolis contributed to this report.