Lessons learned? Winter storm Uri appeared a year ago | News
AUSTIN — Snow days and school cancellations were once a source of joy for Texans, as wintry weather is rare in much of the state. But the fun was quickly overtaken by anxiety when an Arctic outburst swept through the state in early February.
When the National Weather Service issued a winter weather warning, warning residents of ice, light snow and sleet that would make driving conditions hazardous, they stocked supermarkets, emptied shelves and prepared for another “and if”.
Winter Storm Landon landed about a year after a catastrophic winter storm – known as Winter Storm Uri – hit Texas, sending temperatures dropping into the single digits and causing a near collapse of the power grid in the United States. State. Millions of Texans were left in the dark and without water as power outages continued for days in a bid to preserve the state’s grid. Official reports attribute 246 deaths to the storm, although other reports give a much higher number, and damages estimated at $130 billion.
In Gainesville, Whaley United Methodist Church music director and chief trustee Kevin Beall said they had planned as much as possible for Landon’s arrival, but acknowledged there was no big deal. -thing to do to prepare for the unpredictable nature of Texas weather.
Whaley, which operates as an emergency shelter during crises, has experienced broken pipes and flooded hallways because of Uri.
Beall said when the city of Gainesville contacted them to be a warm-up center during Landon, they felt unable to commit.
“Without the assurance of electricity and water, we have not been able to provide this assistance to our community,” Beall said.
The First Baptist Church in Corsicana is also designated as a Red Cross Disaster Center, which exempts it from power outages. So when Uri’s impending arrival made headlines, Pastor Danny Reeves said he was told the church would be an emergency shelter of last resort. But he did not prepare for what was to come.
“Navarro County Judge HM Davenport called me this Monday morning and said he had sent people to us so we took action,” he said. “We have hosted travelers from as far away as Mississippi and Alabama, as well as many Navarro College students who had no water in their dorms.”
Reeves said he found enough food to serve chili dogs the first night, but without planning ahead, he relied on the generosity of the community with donations from volunteers, nonprofits and donors. meals prepared by other churches.
The church hosted about 70 people the first night, nearly 120 the second night and served them breakfast. He estimated he was there for more than 100 hours at a stretch as he and his members transformed the church into a makeshift community with sleeping, eating and sanitation stations, even setting up a crèche. for infant care.
“It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Reeves said. “If we could have used anything else it would have been more showers, but we made do with what we had.”
Almost a year later, when Landon arrived, Reeves said he had made no further preparations, knowing God would provide.
“We don’t have room to store much more than beds and blankets,” he said. “If the need arises again, we will call for help, and the Lord and the community will provide.”
While Governor Greg Abbott and other state energy leaders insisted the grid would hold this time around, residents weren’t quick to forget their experiences from a year ago. year.
Austin Bridges, owner and therapist at Austin Anxiety and Trauma Specialists, said he believes if Uri hadn’t happened, winter storm Landon wouldn’t have brought “hypervigilance” or the frantic rush to the scene. groceries that have been experienced.
“This hyper-vigilance is characteristic of people who have had a traumatic experience or people who suffer from anxiety,” Bridges said. “It’s this desire to feel in control of something that they ultimately have no control over.”
Bridges said Landon proved the impact of Uri’s trauma by showing how the brain reacts to traumatic events, reinforcing new beliefs around the idea of ”if this happened before, how can I be sure. that it won’t happen again.”
“What we were shown last year in a very traumatic way is that we are two utilities away from chaos,” Bridges said. “People felt safe, then within five days we lost public services and their safety – their personal safety and that of their families – was immediately at risk.”
Landon finished much less severe than Uri as the cold front was not as cold as the 2021 storm. The weather also lasted fewer days and mostly hit central and northern State.
During Landon, Abbott, along with leaders of the Texas Electric Reliability Council and the Texas Public Utilities Commission, promised a more resilient grid — touting new rules and mandates, and the grid generally resisted.
These changes include the PUCT creating a new designation for critical natural gas where there are now 2,900 installations with the distinction compared to less than 100 before Uri. The PUCT also imposed new winterization rules, with Abbott saying 99% of all power generation in the state has been winterized.
Officials also created the Texas Energy Reliability Council, comprised of state energy and industry leaders, which works to map natural gas infrastructure across the state. Mapping must be completed by September 1, according to state law.
It was with those changes that Thomas Overbye, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M, said he thought a repeat of Uri’s toughness would have been much better for Texans.
“The changes the state has made have been very effective,” Overbye said. “I know last year we had a lot of generator outages, and the reason we had to resort to rotating outages was because we just didn’t have enough generation or what we call capacity. . This year, that was not the problem. »
He said that while Uri has led some residents to assume Texas has a weak grid, that is not the case, adding that the state cannot prevent all outages, but greatly minimizes the likelihood of them. occur.
“Last year we had a very unusual cold spell and we failed miserably and made the necessary changes,” Overbye said. “People were understandably a bit skittish going into this cold spell and I felt that too… But I think the grid worked well and I have great confidence in the grid.”
Nevertheless, Landon’s arrival certainly caused anxiety and kept the elected officials on their toes.
In Palestine, the city made sure to be diligent in preparing for Landon after Uri not only kept residents cold and dark, but also wreaked havoc on the water supply system. of Palestine.
“Our municipal staff prepared and planned for a possible extreme winter weather event before [Landon] was on the radar,” Mayor Dana Goolsby said. “Over the years, we have learned some difficult lessons the hard way, but staff have been diligent and used those lessons to better prepare for extreme weather events. … Working with our team last year in such dire circumstances has given me the belief that we are better prepared than we have been and that no matter what, they will work hard until the job is done. be done.
In a proactive response after last year’s storm-related water outages due to power outages, Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston and the Court of Commissioners used funding from the American Cares Act to ensure all county water supplies had backup generators. Most of them have been ordered, but not all are complete.
Palestine City Manager Teresa Herrera said the city also had a standby generator and extra salt to keep roads and bridges safe. Herrera added that one thing the city failed to do last year was create a command center, which they have since fixed.
“We have now established that our command center, in any extreme weather event, will be City Hall. This is where we are going to start our day and make sure everything is taken care of,” she said.
For Greenville Electric Utility System, preparation was key to dealing with Landon, said GEUS general manager Alicia Hooks. After Uri, GAES learned best practices to help it react faster to customer needs, she said.
“GEUS adapted quickly and learned a lot from [Uri]”Staff have been working around the clock to restore services, communicate with customers and keep our local factory online,” Hooks said.
Many GEUS customers passed through Landon with minimal outages, but as many as 5,089 Oncor customers in Hunt County went without power for several hours. Several hundred Farmers Electric Co-op and Texas New Mexico Power customers also lost power.