Weather News

Millions without power as Texas plunges to minus 18C

Anthony Sharwood, Wednesday February 17, 2021 - 11:19 EDT

America's severe cold snap is making life extremely difficult for the nation's second-most populous state of Texas - with power outages affecting a large proportion of the state's 29 million residents.

The record-breaking cold snap, which began a couple of days ago, has seen temperatures plummet as low as minus 18°C in Dallas. To put that in perspective, if Dallas was in the Southern Hemisphere, it would be located on about the same latitude as Newcastle, just north of Sydney.

Even Houston, several hundred kilometres south of Dallas and not far inland from the normally balmy Gulf of Mexico, has not been spared the frigid Arctic blast. Snowfalls have blanketed the city which suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

As all 254 Texas counties were put under a winter storm warning for the first time ever, snow also coated the seashore in Galveston, just south of Houston. Galveston is 28 degrees north, approximately the same latitude as the far north coast of New South Wales.

But while the extreme cold is an inconvenience, power outages are making the situation extremely serious for many people. As many as 4.5 million Texans are still believed to be without any power, while energy companies are instituting rolling blackouts to manage the scarce supply of power.

The cause of the power outages is of course disputed in these days when energy is very much a political hot potato. In simple terms, demand has exceeded supply, which always puts a strain on the system.

But infrastructure has also failed, with frozen instruments at power plants leading to a shortage of supply.

According to USA Today (who have compiled an excellent analysis of the Texas power siutation), some power plants were also offline because peak demand is usually in the scorching Texan summer.

While some conservative US lawmakers pointed the finger at wind farms, USA Today reported that wind turbines were expected to contribute between 1,000 and 3,000 megawatts to energy operators this week, whereas gas, coal, and nuclear, failed to supply around 30,000 megawatts.

So while some wind turbines did freeze, that has been an extremely minor contributor to the overall scale of the power shortfalls in Texas this week.

Image: The snow spangled banner. Source: Pixabay.

For now, the best hope for a return to full power in the Lone Star state appears to be a drop in demand due to rising temperatures. That won't happen for a couple of days, but by next Tuesday, Houston should be nudging 20°C.

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