Texans’ trauma from 2021 power grid failure provoked by another winter storm
This week’s freezing weather isn’t expected to be as severe as last year’s storm. But Texans remain anxious about the electricity grid.
Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Texans are getting ready for the worst. A winter storm is blanketing large swaths of the state in frigid temperatures — and some places will get a wintry mix of freezing precipitation. With that come familiar long lines at grocery stores. But this year, people also worry the cold weather may cut the electricity — again.
While this week’s cold snap is expected to be shorter and less severe than last year’s deadly winter storm, many Texans are having sudden memories of shivering under blankets, burst pipes flooding homes and food decomposing in the fridge. With state officials voicing confidence — but offering no guarantees — about the power grid, many Texans are hunkered down feeling fear, anger and anxiety.
“It’s a little traumatic. It’s like last year. Déjà vu all over again,” said Angelica Carlin, who stood in line at an Austin H-E-B on Wednesday night with bags of dog food and water bottles in her cart.
Last year, Carlin lost power for three days. She remembers lying in bed crying and seeing steam from her breath — inside her home.
“It was traumatic just to know that we live in a society so rich financially, but we were sitting there in a third-world country, it almost felt like,” she said.
Many Texans believe state lawmakers did not require all the necessary infrastructure improvements to guard against a repeat of the widespread blackouts, when millions went without power and at least 246 people died. While officials don’t think there will be massive power outages, some localized disruptions could occur if trees take down power lines. Still, many Texans are frustrated and concerned, saying they cannot trust the state to keep the lights on and water flowing.
Christina Daniells stood in the same H-E-B checkout line, which snaked down aisles to the back of the store Wednesday night. She said when wintry weather conditions hit her former home in the northwest United States, life continued largely undisrupted.
“In the north, we never had to do any of this,” Daniells said. “We had Christmas lights up. We had everyday lives going. We didn’t have to stop just because winter was hitting.”
But during last year’s storm, Daniells struggled to find water to mix formula for her infant. She said she employed survival-type skills to get through that storm and is ready to do so again.
In Houston, Serena Perrilloux anxiously portioned out meat into freezer bags Wednesday, hoping a power outage wouldn’t steal the food she needs to live on for the next two weeks.
In preparation for the winter weather, Perrilloux used up the last of her food benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. She worries she could lose all the food she bought in the coming days.
“I don’t think that [the state] prepared at all,” she said. “I think that it’s been a lot of talk and not a lot of action.”
Michelle Ferrell still hasn’t fully recovered from last year’s winter storm. She had just moved into her Houston home when it hit. Her half-century-old home quickly burst a pipe in the garage that she has not yet had the funds to replace.
Now, when Ferrell hears a faucet drip, her anxiety spikes.
While Ferrell was completely caught off guard by last year’s winter storm, she is now prepared with water, a hand-crank radio, salt, an ice scraper and more. But she said she still feels dread.
“I have almost no faith in what the Texas state government has done right now,” Ferrell said “We have our own power grid, but we have done almost nothing to climatize it for these big emergencies.”
Disclosure: H-E-B has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Information about the authors
Quality journalism doesn't come free
Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn't cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.Yes, I'll donate today