Winter Storm Uri wreaks havoc

By Kate McCormick

This past week, Texas, along with other states, has experienced the effects of Winter Storm Uri. While the storm itself lasted from approximately Feb. 13 through Feb. 17, the damage caused is still wreaking havoc, from power outages and water shortages to consequences as severe as death.

Throughout the storm, at least 4 million Texans lost power, but according to CNBC, at least 78,000 Texans were still powerless as of Feb. 20. Texas’ power emergency was caused largely due in part to the absence of infrastructure for power plants and other energy sources to function adequately under extreme climates — surprisingly, this lack of preparation was legal.

Due to deregulation efforts, energy plant owners in Texas are not required to fork over extra cash to weatherize their equipment, so in situations as severe as this winter storm, consumers were left struggling in the aftermath.

Texas energy providers operate in a competitive free market that not only allows the absences of many preventative mandates, but operates outside of the national grid, which makes it extremely difficult to import extra power in these emergency cases.

The non-profit organization that manages the majority of Texas’ energy consumption is called the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). While ERCOT attempted to predict the effect the cold snap would have on energy services in Texas, it was ultimately unprepared for the storm’s severity, leaving Texans in jeopardy.

There is little appeal for these power companies to spend the money to prepare for rare weather extremes, but the absence of certain mandates, like for a “reserve margin” of extra power for example, in these circumstances are ultimately what leave consumers helpless in these situations.

While deregulation of energy has been supported on both sides of the aisle, Texas’ dynamic is the most extreme and serves as a reminder that oftentimes, competitive money grabs have drastic consequences.

The water shortage caused by Winter storm Uri has been detrimental to Texans. Due to record low temperatures, many pipes froze up or burst, causing issues for water sanitation and leaving over 14 million people under orders to boil their water to ensure safety.

In grocery stores, amenities like water bottles or gallon bottles were virtually nonexistent because of the high demand.

The water shortages have not only affected households. At Memphis International airport, water pressure issues disrupted flights and resulted in cancellations.

Fire departments also struggled with busted pipes and poor water pressure, making it more difficult to get fires under control, many of which were started with space heaters or fireplaces due to such low temperatures.

Hospitals were also affected and in some cases, patients had to be turned away as employees struggled to even be able to wash their hands, let alone maintain patient care. The breadth of water supply issues is so vast; virtually everything that could have gone wrong did.

Due to low temperatures paired with the aforementioned utility issues in power and water supply, as of this past weekend, at least 58 people have died in areas affected by Winter Storm Uri, spanning as far as Ohio. Some people died due to exposure to extreme temperatures, the lack of power interfering with in-home medical devices and even carbon monoxide poisoning after turning on their cars in an attempt to stay warm.

Due to the severity of this storm and its aftermath, President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Texas on Feb. 20. In short, this declaration opens up opportunities for federal funding to be put toward relief efforts.

According to CNBC, this declaration provides aid opportunities to people living in 77 of Texas’ 254 counties.

Another facet of Texas’ storm experience has been the lack of leadership by certain politicians as well as the stark reminder that, even in emergencies, there is a vast difference between the working class and politicians who can flee from harm and responsibility.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) received backlash last week for ditching Texas amidst a crisis and heading to Cancun with his family.

After being called out online he shifted the blame onto his daughters, saying that they had wanted to take a trip with friends.

The now-resigned mayor of Colorado City, Texas, Tim Boyd received well-deserved criticism after a Facebook post in which he essentially stated that Texas residents were on their own and undeserving of assistance.

The post included phrases like “only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish]” and “no one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this.”

The issue with both of these actions is that the government does owe people support during crises.

Politicians work for the people, and the entire point of their job is to serve their constituents.

The cold snap that has struck Texas and surrounding states serves as a reminder that climate change is real and occurring, and these bouts of unpredictable weather are something that states and the country in its entirety are going to have to better prepare for in the. future.

Ultimately, Texas has struggled immensely at the hands of Winter Storm Uri, and the state is still recovering. Politicians in the area need to step up and take responsibility for their state in crisis, and additionally, infrastructure changes need to be made to better prepare for extreme weather as climate change continues to worsen.

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