Blizzards and Blackouts

Texas falls off grid thanks to record breaking weather

Allie Tribe, Staff Writer

Photo by Jada Boner


The winter storm hit Texas hard. For a state used to hot summers and mild winters, temperatures slipping into the negatives seemed surreal, but citizens quickly realized the severity of the situation. Water sources froze, pipes burst and the snow suddenly wasn’t a welcome sight. When the electricity clicked off for millions in Texas, temperatures indoors plunged to the 40s, leaving people scrambling to keep their families warm and safe. Kids slept in winter jackets, families piled into tents and layers became the norm as everyone desperately tried to keep the heat in. The statewide power outages, skyrocketing electric bills and damage caused from the storm proved one thing: everything is bigger in Texas.

Texas’ lack of all things winter lulled the state into a false sense of security. Power companies dislike splurging on the winterizing of their technology when Texas only experiences a few cold snaps each year. Despite the rarity of the event, February’s snow storm wasn’t the first of its kind. In Feb. 2011, Texas faced a similar predicament. The snow storm affected coal plants, wind turbines and froze natural gas wells, leading to power outages across the state. Experts urged power companies and regulators, such as ERCOT, to make the necessary investments to keep power plants from falling offline during extreme weather after the 2011 incident, but a decade later the proper fixes have yet to be made. 

ERCOT, the company responsible for representing 90% of Texas’ electrical grid, made the call for rolling blackouts in face of the growing winter storm. While temperatures dropped, power plants tripped off due to the extreme cold. This placed extra strain on the remaining power sources while demand rose, brewing a disaster. To prevent a total shut down, grid operators started issuing rolling blackouts. The intention was for Texans to be without power for short periods of time, but the rolling blackouts left many in the dark for days. ERCOT might’ve left Texans out in the cold with rolling blackouts, but it was the lesser of the two evils. The alternative, an uncontrolled blackout, requires a startup that could have lasted weeks to months. Luckily, the thaw allowed ERCOT to bring their grids back online and restore power to most of Texas.

Glancing at a map of the outages, the few outages in the El Paso area and Panhandle strike a contrast to the outages that wrecked the rest of the state. ERCOT provides power for only 90% of the state- the other 10% receives their electricity from different sources. The difference between the power received from ERCOT and other grid providers are the regulations placed on each provider. Texas, unlike the other states, has its own power grid run by ERCOT. Texas’ power grid operates mostly isolated from other states and the limited regulations along with lack of federal oversight helps explain how the power outage became reality for Texans. Without actual rules stating what temperatures machinery needs to withstand, winterizing power plants is an option rather than a requirement. 

After a week of snow, Texas finally thawed, returning the green grass and sunshine its citizens are so accustomed to. Power flickered back on in homes and businesses, but life isn’t back to normal. Pipes burst, causing water damage and roofs to cave in. Some outdoor heating units acquired permanent damage from the snow, meaning a new unit must be installed. Those affected by the snow storm stay with family members or hotels while waiting for the repairs to be made. Even with water damage and broken heaters, Texans hold their friends and family close, just happy they all weathered the storm.