Covering the Once in 120-year US Freeze Event

Originally published on March 2nd, 2021.

I watched in awe as a winter storm hit the South on February 13th. I’m from a town just north of Seattle, where we rarely get even a dusting of snow that sticks around, and I’ve always thought of hot-weather states like Texas as immune to harsh winter weather.

So what happened? Where did all the craziness come from?

Parts of Texas hit 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and many are breaking records for the coldest temperatures in the last hundred years. All 254 counties in Texas are under a winter storm advisory, which has never happened in a US state.

In November, Super Typhoon Nuri off the coast of Alaska created hurricane-force winds, which joined with the jet stream moving across the Bering Sea. This caused the jet stream to bend into almost a “w” shape, dipping through Canada and into the northern US and sending cold air into the South.

With freezing temperatures, people turned up their heaters, and natural gas wells, wind turbines, and coal piles froze, reducing how much power the state could produce. Contrary to some coverage, frozen wind turbines and other renewable energies failing were not the primary cause of the blackout. Generators became overwhelmed.

But Texas was impacted differently than any other state because of their unique situation. The country has two power grids, the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection. Texas disconnected itself from the two grids, so when its own grid began to fail, it had nowhere to pull electricity from. It was also able to deregulate the grid, making it even weaker.

It is a La Niña year, which means colder temperatures in some areas, but with climate change becoming more and more dangerous, harsh winter weather in areas that usually don’t experience them will become more and more common. Across America, we need a more resilient power grid in order to avoid the suffering seen in the South over the last few weeks. •

Featured image courtesy of Shane Cranor.

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