Cold Fronts and Power Grids: A Recipe for Disaster

How an unusual weather system, decentralized power grid, and infrastructure built for warm weather led to many Texans struggling to stay warm.

Because it is on an independent power grid, Texas got hit hard after storms.

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Because it is on an independent power grid, Texas got hit hard after storms.

Allister McLeod, Columnist

Over the past week, every county in Texas has been put under a winter snow warning, with many of these counties experiencing snow for the first time in years. While this may seem like a time for Texans to celebrate once-in-a-lifetime weather, it has instead become a disaster and emergency, with most of the state experiencing power outages and lacking the equipment to keep themselves warm.

The strange weather in Texas started over the Valentine’s Day weekend. In only a couple of days, the entire state was experiencing 2-7 inches of snow, and the president declared Texas in a state of emergency. According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the storm system was caused by rapid heating in the stratosphere, about 15 miles above the arctic. The sudden appearance of warm air forced cold air away from the region, and pulled warm air towards it, breaking the polar vortex that normally keeps cold air around the arctic. The massive amounts of air being moved created the weather systems that covered most of the U.S, creating warmer than average temperatures in the northern parts of North America, and colder than average temperatures in the southern parts, including Texas and the states around it.

The snow and cold weather caused multiple problems that turned the storms into a life threatening situation. The first of these was mass power outages across the state, with El Paso being one of the only areas that still had access to electricity. According to The New York Times, the problems with power start with Texas’ power grid, which is separate from the two grids that provide power to the rest of the U.S.. The state separated their grid in 1996 to avoid government regulations, with only some counties like El Paso remaining in the pre-existing systems. When the cold weather hit the state, the power grid was not ready to handle it, as a result of it being built for warm weather, and possibly because it didn’t follow the same regulations.

Along with the power outages, various other problems contributed to the current emergency situation. Water lines froze over and burst underground, leaving some people without clean water, or without water entirely. Buildings in Texas also provided little protection from the cold since they weren’t built for it, and very few Texans had gear or clothing that could help them to stay warm.

As the storms covering Texas pass, it is hoped that the snow and cold weather will quickly fade, and that utilities can be quickly repaired. At the moment, people can help by donating to the Austin Disaster Relief Network or the Houston Food Bank, which are working towards providing people with food and supplies.