At least 21 dead as brutal cold from historic storm sweeps across US

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The death toll from the historic winter storm sweeping across large swaths of the US has increased to at least 21 – as over 3 million people in Texas remain without power, including 1.4 million in the Houston metropolitan area, according to reports.

In addition to the Lone Star state, the brutal storm claimed lives in Louisiana, Kentucky and Missouri, shuttered COVID-19 inoculation centers and hindered vaccine supplies.

No relief is expected until the weekend, officials said.

Four people were killed in a house fire in Sugar Land, Texas, where the power was out, according to police and local media.

In South Austin, hundreds of residents waited in a seemingly endless line that stretched down Congress Avenue to buy supplies at a newly reopened H-E-B, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

A boy plays in the snow amid the Texas winter storm on Feb. 16, 2021.
A boy plays in the snow amid the Texas winter storm on Feb. 16, 2021.
Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

 “We knew a week in advance this storm was coming. ERCOT should have had a backup plan,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said during an interview on KLBK, referring to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which provides 90 percent of the state’s power.

People wait in line to purchase food and snacks at a gas station in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.
People wait in line to purchase food and snacks at a gas station in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.
Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Texas officials have drawn criticism as the state’s energy grid repeatedly failed, forcing rolling blackouts. The frigid conditions crippled giant wind turbines across the West Texas landscape, making it impossible for energy companies to meet skyrocketing demand.

A family trying to keep warm in their Texas home on Feb 16, 2021.
A family trying to keep warm in their Texas home on Feb 16, 2021.
Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Lina Hidalgo, the top executive in Harris County, which includes Houston, warned residents to prepare for prolonged problems.

“Let me give it to you straight,” she said on Twitter late Tuesday. “There’s a possibility of power outages even beyond the length of this storm.”

A man shovels snow out of his driveway in the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.
A man shovels snow out of his driveway in the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.
Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Critics have long argued that the state’s deregulated energy market provides scant financial incentives for operators to prepare for the rare bout of extremely cold weather, according to Reuters.

Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Natural gas wells and pipelines in Texas do not undergo the winterization of those farther north.

Young siblings built an igloo in their front yard of their home in the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.
Young siblings built an igloo in their front yard of their home in the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.
Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

According to the Poweroutage.us tracking site, more than three million residential, commercial and industrial customers were without power in Texas as of Tuesday night.

In the state capital Austin, the temperature dropped to 10 degrees Fahrenheit — well below February’s average low of 45F. By contrast, thermometers in Anchorage, Alaska, read 20F.

Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin, said the electric grid fell victim to a cold spell that was longer, deeper and more widespread than the state had seen in decades.

“The system as we built it is not performing to the standards we would like to see,” he said. “We need to do a better job. If that involves paying more for energy to have more reliability, that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have.”

A tree surrounded by icicles in Odessa, Texas amid the record-breaking storm.
A tree surrounded by icicles in Odessa, Texas amid the record-breaking storm.
Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP

Climate change also should be factored in, he added.

Meanwhile, the Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office, which covers for three counties, has requested a refrigerated truck to expand its body storage.

People pass the time on their phones as they shelter from the cold weather at a warming shelter inside the Copper Rose Building, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Odessa, Texas.
People pass the time on their phones as they shelter from the cold weather at a warming shelter inside the Copper Rose Building, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Odessa, Texas.
Eli Hartman/Odessa American via AP

Judge Mark Henry, the top county executive, could not immediately provide details on why the extra capacity was needed or on the number of weather-related deaths in his 340,000-person county. But he’s worried.

“We were listening to the radio this morning and it was just welfare check, after welfare check, after welfare check,” Henry said. “Unfortunately, those are not all going to turn out to be positive.”

People select shirts and sweatshirts being given away at a Gallery Furniture store after the owner opened his business as a shelter for those without power at their homes Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston.
People select shirts and sweatshirts being given away at a Gallery Furniture store after the owner opened his business as a shelter for those without power at their homes Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

The Arctic air mass descended over much of the country, pushing temperatures to historic lows on Tuesday, said meteorologist Lara Pagano of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

A man makes hot coffee for his room mates during power outage caused by the winter storm on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
A man makes hot coffee for his room mates during power outage caused by the winter storm on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Go Nakamura/Getty Images

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a reading of minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit shattered a record set in 1978 of minus 18F.

In Mississippi, people woke up to discover much of the state transformed into a snow-and-ice-covered landscape. Authorities were reportedly struggling to clear roads, as they did not have plows because the state so rarely needs them.

People staying warm and on their phones at a Gallery Furniture store being used as a shelter in Houston on Feb. 16, 2021.
People staying warm and on their phones at a Gallery Furniture store being used as a shelter in Houston on Feb. 16, 2021.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden offered his administration’s assistance in a call with at least seven governors of states impacted by the severe weather.

The White House said Biden told governors that he and his wife were praying for their citizens and pledged to deploy federal emergency resources as needed.

People shop in Fiesta supermarket on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas amid the winter storm.
People shop in Fiesta supermarket on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas amid the winter storm.
Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Among those on the call were Abbott, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

A family occupies an office suite at a pop-up warming center in Richardson, Texas, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.
A family occupies an office suite at a pop-up warming center in Richardson, Texas, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Meteorologists blame the historically chilly weather on a large disruption of the polar vortex with Arctic weather that’s normally located near the North Pole, but it escaped and sent cold temperatures south.

The vortex is stronger and longer than usual, experts say, and these events are happening twice as often as they used to.  

Winter Weather Texas

A couple carrying food from their home to bring to a hotel after losing power in Hutto, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.

Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Winter Weather Texas

A man playing guitar amid the power outage in Texas on Feb. 16, 2021.

Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Winter Weather Texas

A girl uses a laptop while seeking refuge from the cold with family at the warming center located at Ruthe Jackson Center in Grand Prairie, Texas, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Winter Weather Texas

People wait in line to purchase food and snacks at a gas station in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021. People wait in line to purchase food and snacks at a gas station in Pflugerville, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.

Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Winter Storm Uri Brings Ice And Snow Across Widespread Parts Of The Nation

Freezer sections are closed off in Fiesta supermarket on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Go Nakamura/Getty Images

APTOPIX Winter Weather Texas

A man stands on his kitchen counter to warm his feet over his gas stove Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

AP Photo/Ashley Landis

APTOPIX Winter Weather Texas

A couple eats dinner with the help of candlelight in the Glenwood neighborhood in Hutto, Texas, Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021.

Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

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“One thing that Texas situation highlights is that we are likely to deal with more compound extreme weather events — multiple event weather systems that have cascading impacts on society and our infrastructure,” said Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia meteorology professor.
 
 With Post wires

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