Hazardous Winter Weather Sweeps Southern & Central U.S.

Mandatory+Credit%3A+Photo+by+Eric+Gay%2FAP%2FShutterstock+%2811759906b%29%0ATwo+people+play+in+the+snow+in+San+Antonio%2C+.+Snow+and+ice+blanketed+large+swaths+of+the+U.S.+on+Sunday%2C+prompting+canceled+flights%2C+making+driving+perilous+and+reaching+into+areas+as+far+south+as+Texas%27+Gulf+Coast%2C+where+snow+and+sleet+were+expected+overnight%0AWinter+Weather+Texas%2C+San+Antonio%2C+United+States+-+14+Feb+2021

Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock (11759906b) Two people play in the snow in San Antonio, . Snow and ice blanketed large swaths of the U.S. on Sunday, prompting canceled flights, making driving perilous and reaching into areas as far south as Texas’ Gulf Coast, where snow and sleet were expected overnight Winter Weather Texas, San Antonio, United States – 14 Feb 2021

Chloe Wong, Staff Writer

Millions of Americans were left without power after a winter storm swept through parts of the South and Central U.S this past week. The storm attacked unprepared power grids in the Southern Plains, New England, and the Deep South. Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oregon, Kentucky, and Missouri were all affected by the historic snowfall. 

The worst of the power outages took place in Texas, where over 3 million homes and businesses were forced to prevail through a deep freeze without electricity. The winter blast began over President’s Day Weekend, and so far, at least 21 have died as a result of the storm. Many also lack running water due to frozen or burst pipes, as most homes in the U.S. South, particularly Texas, are not built to withstand extreme cold.

Three people perished in North Carolina after a tornado struck their seaside town, four died in a Houston-area house fire, and 13 children in Fort Worth have been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after families lit gas stoves in an effort to stay warm. Authorities also found two men frozen alongside a Houston road; children, the elderly, and homeless people are considered the most vulnerable to the weather. 

On Feb. 12, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in all 254 Texas counties. 

“Texans should heed the guidance of their local leaders and stay alert to changing weather conditions in their area,” said Governor Abbott. “The State of Texas remains in close contact with officials on the ground and will provide any additional resources and support that are needed.” 

In the chaos caused by the unforeseen deep freeze, cities worked to implement emergency warming shelters for the unhoused. Transportation authorities moved homeless people towards storm shelters when able, although many of these shelters were shut down due to further loss of power. Several cities were faced with record subzero lows: in Minnesota, temperatures fell as low as -38° F. Americans took to huddling in their homes, piling on the blankets, and sitting in front of fireplaces in order to stay warm. 

The conditions also delayed air travel, general transportation, and shipment and delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine, although officials stated that no vaccine doses were lost. The state of Texas encouraged citizens to conserve energy, as meteorologists predict that the harsh weather will continue for at least another few days. Rolling blackouts persist through most parts of the state, and officials have faced criticism and pleas for help after the state’s independent energy grid continuously failed. 

“Basically, everyone who lives here had no warning and is stuck on a blacked-out island with no major stores open and no lights on the road,” Galveston resident Jessica Knofla said. “It’s absolutely infuriating.”  

As people struggled to find places to stay warm, outrage only increased when Houston, an area where most citizens lost power, kept its city center office buildings fully lit despite the weather. 

“We noticed [the lit building] from the emergency operations center last night,” Harris county judge Lina Hidalgo said. “We called around asking those leaders to take the power down. Some of them did around 11 [to] midnight. Some of them didn’t. It just tells you everybody has to do their part. And as I’ve been stressing to my community today, that’s not just the individuals. That’s the businesses.”

“History is going to remember who did their part and who didn’t do their part,” she added.

Photo courtesy of PEOPLE.COM