Texas February 2021 Winter Storm: Lessons Learned One Year Later
Posted by: Communications Team | January 27, 2022
It has been almost one year since the February 2021 winter storm, one of the deadliest and costliest weather events in Texas history, and the Lonestar State has been busy preparing for the next natural disaster.
“Last February’s winter storm marked a severe weather event unlike any Texans had seen in decades, leaving millions without power and in freezing conditions,” wrote the Texas Tribune earlier this month. “Days into the storm and its aftermath, a full-blown water crisis also emerged as well as supply chain shortages and major food disruptions.”
Texas February 2021 Storm Unleashes 10 Days of Misery
The Texas February 2021 winter storm covered multiple weather events and stretched for 10 days from February 10-20, bringing artic temperatures, ice, and snow across the state.
The storm’s “severity and its reach across the whole state of Texas and the length of it did catch lots of us all by surprise, myself included,” Monty C. Dozier, director of the disaster assessment and recovery program at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, told the Texas Tribune.
The storm caused a record low temperature in Dallas-Fort Worth of minus 2, coldest temperature in North Texas in 72 years. San Antonio spent 107+ hours under freezing temperatures with 6.4 inches of snow falling.
No part of the state was spared. When the storm finally abated, the toll nearly surpassed the catastrophic 2017 Hurricane Harvey damage with:
- Texas Health and Human Services officially reported 246 deaths from the storm across 77 counties with ages ranging from less than one to 102 years old.
- More than 4.5 million customers (roughly 10 million people) were left without power, some for days in below-freezing temperatures.
- More than 500,000 insurance claims were filed with $5.808 billion in losses paid on $9.705 billion in losses.
The Insurance Journal estimated that the final economic tally from the storm could be as much as $90 billion when direct and indirect losses – such as business and supply chain disruptions – are computed.
Texas was Seconds from a Worst-Case Scenario
As bad as the Texas February 2021 Winter Storm was, it could have been worse as the state may have been seconds away from a worst-case scenario: uncontrolled blackouts across the state that may have lasted for months, not days.
In the early morning hours of February 15, 2021, as power demand spiked with temperatures reaching their lowest points, the amount of power available was plummeting as providers went offline from storm damage.
“While generators rapidly dropped off the grid as the weather worsened, operators monitored the difference between the supply of power on the grid and the demand for that power. As supply dwindled and demand grew, the margin narrowed to more and more dangerous levels, forcing grid operators to enact emergency protocols to either increase supply or decrease demand,” reported the Texas Tribune.
A decision was made by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the power grid that covers most of the state, to start rolling blackouts, which ultimately turned into widespread blackouts.
“It needed to be addressed immediately," Bill Magness, president of ERCOT, told the Texas Tribune. “It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.”
Magness said that if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis.
Bernadette Johnson, senior vice president of power and renewables at Enverus, an oil and gas software and information company, told the Texas Tribune that “if the grid had gone totally offline, the physical damage to power infrastructure from overwhelming the grid could have taken months to repair.”
Supply of natural gas, which fuels most power generation in Texas, was a major issue with the Texas Tribune reporting that “more than half of the state’s natural gas supply was shut down due to power outages, frozen equipment and weather conditions, ERCOT said, adding that at least 20 percent of the total outages during the week of the storm was due to power plants not getting enough gas.”
Texas February 2021 Winter Storm Timeline
The timeline for the February 2021 Winter Storm:
February 9: Officials with ERCOT mention “pretty frigid temperatures” heading to Texas at a board meeting but spend only 40 seconds talking about the potential storm.
February 10: CPS Energy, one of the bigger providers in the state puts out a news release: “While it’s too early to say what kind of impact the wintry precipitation will have on CPS Energy’s equipment or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid, CPS Energy is monitoring the weather and temperature, and crews are preparing to respond to customers in need and any reports of power outages.”
February 11: Icy weather arrives causing a massive pile-up on I-35 in Fort Worth. The 130-vehicle crash left six dead and 65 hospitalized. In Austin, a 26-car crash on Highway 45 left five hospitalized.
February 12: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issues disaster declaration for all 254 counties.
February 13: Temperatures in most areas of the state drop below freezing and will not return above 32 degrees for days.
February 14: ERCOT warns of rolling blackout due to “record-breaking demand on the power grid”. White House grants a Federal Emergency Declaration for Texas.
February 15: ERCOT makes the decision to start rolling blackouts, cutting power to millions, while areas such as College Station report minus 8 wind chills.
February 16: ERCOT reports that the number of blackouts across the state remains high.
February 17: Another round of freezing rain and snow hits part of the state as 3 million are still without power.
February 18: ERCOT ends statewide rolling blackouts.
February 19: Temperatures starting to rise but San Antonio still sets a record low for the date at 19 degrees.
February 20: Many roadways closed during the storm are finally reopened.
Texas Vows “The Lights Will Stay On” the Next Time
Texas government leaders, legislators, ERCOT and power providers have spent the past 12 months making changes and vow to prevent massive blackouts the next time a major winter storm hits.
“The lights are going to stay on this winter,” said Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, in December 2021.
Gov. Abbott also told local television stations that he “can guarantee the lights will stay on.”
The optimism stems from reforms made since the February 2021 winter storm.
Renae Eze, Abbott’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “The House and Senate passed substantial reforms this year, and Governor Abbott is working to ensure those reforms are properly implemented so that the grid provides stable and reliable power for the state.”
Some of the changes made include:
- Lawmakers passed legislation that establishes weatherization mandates for the state’s power providers.
- The Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, followed with a rule enacting the weatherization requirements.
- Companies had until Dec. 1 to submit to regulators a report describing their winterization efforts with ERCOT conducting inspections to enforce the new rules.
- Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said gas companies already weatherize to varying degrees and “are working with a sense of urgency.”
Steps to Take to Prepare for the Next Winter Storm
There are some steps that all home and business owners should take to prepare for the next major winter storm, including making sure their general insurance coverage is up to date.
Of the 500,000+ claims filed after last year’s storm, 85 percent were for residential properties with 10 percent commercial and 3.5 percent for auto.
The Texas Department of Insurance reports that the average incurred loss for residential property policies was $15,800 and for commercial property policies the average incurred loss was $126,900.
In addition to having insurance in place, Texans can do the following:
- Have a winter kit on hand. Much like a hurricane kit, your winter kit should have enough nonperishable food and water for family and pets to last during prolonged blackouts. Blankets, warm clothes, lights, extra batteries, first-aid kit, medicine, and other necessities should also be stockpiled.
- Prep Your Home and Business: Prevent damage to frozen pipes bursting by winterizing them in advance with insulation, shutting off water supply when needed, and making sure heat is circulating to pipes in freezing temps.
- Invest in a carbon monoxide detector: Some of the deaths last year were attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning with fumes from burning fuel not properly ventilated.
- Sign up for Emergency Alerts: Local cities and counties have alerts you can sign up for to receive timely information in emergency situations.
Contact Dean & Draper today to make sure you have the right winter storm insurance protection.
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