Millions are still without power as winter storms continue

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Judson Jones and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:20 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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2:58 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Current winter weather likely to cost billions in damages 

From CNN's Brandon Miller

City of Richardson workers prepare to work on a water main pipe that burst due to extreme cold on February 17 in Richardson, Texas.
City of Richardson workers prepare to work on a water main pipe that burst due to extreme cold on February 17 in Richardson, Texas. LM Otero/AP

The current Arctic blast and series of winter storms are likely to cost multiple billion dollars in damages and will require a “prolonged period of damage assessment to property and agriculture across several states,” according to Steve Bowen, head of Catastrophe Insight at Aon.  

“The impact the winter weather is having on the infrastructure grid and business interruption in the state of Texas is comparable to what has been seen historically to hurricane landfalls in the state,” according to Bowen.

He warns that there are still significant impacts yet to come, “as temperatures start to warm in Texas, it is expected that we will see more instances of pipes bursting…we aren’t quite at the point yet to be talking about damage in the past tense.”

The last US winter storm to cause multiple billion dollars in damages came from a series of nor’easters impacting the East Coast in March 2018, with $2.3 billion in economic loss.

This week’s winter weather could top the $3.3 billion economic loss from the February 2015 cold wave and winter storm that left Boston under feet of snow and clogged Northeast transportation corridors. 

2:51 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

White House pushes back on claims that renewable energy sources are behind Texas blackouts

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Customers use the light from a cell phone to look in the meat section of a grocery store on February 16 in Dallas, Texas.
Customers use the light from a cell phone to look in the meat section of a grocery store on February 16 in Dallas, Texas. LM Otero/AP

Later during Wednesday’s briefing, when asked about Texas’ weather, White House press secretary Jen Psaki underscored how resilient infrastructure will be necessary to deal with climate change and create new jobs. She also pushed back on suggestions that renewable energy resources were to blame for the blackouts.

“Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying union jobs, creating a clean energy economy and meeting the President's goal of reaching a net zero emissions future by 2050,” Psaki said.

Psaki also pushed back on “some inaccurate accusations out there” about “renewables” – namely, frozen wind turbines – being the main reason for Texas power outages.

“Actually, numerous reports of actually showing the contrary, that it was failures in coal and natural gas that contributed to the state's power shortages. And officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's power grid, have gone so far as to say that failures in wind and solar were the least significant factors in the blackouts,” she said.

2:23 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

The "potential is increasing for significant icing" in the mid-Atlantic, National Weather Service warns

The National Weather Service warned that "potential is increasing for significant icing" in parts of the Mid-Atlantic as a winter storm that hammered the Southeast moves north.

There's a probability for more than 0.10 inches of ice now through Friday in some parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and other states in the region.

The National Weather Service tweeted a map of the probable icing in response to a tweet from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management urging residents to prepare for the ice storm.

1:52 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

This family in Euless, Texas, has been without power for 72 hours. Here's how they are staying warm.

From CNN's Paul Murphy

Timothy Wilsey, his wife Nicole and his 7-year-old son have been without power for 72 hours, and they have been forced to use their cars for warmth and to charge battery packs and phones, “their only lines of communication.”

The Euless, Texas, family said their apartment is currently only heated by candles.

“We are keeping busy by going old school and reading books and playing board games,” he told CNN by text message from Euless, a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.

Timothy says they’re only using their phones to quickly look at the news, so they can stay updated on the power outage situation, and to look for restaurants that may be open and serving food.  

“We are mostly laying under covers in bed,” Timothy said. “The only time we leave the bed is to go to the car to warm up or charge the phones and battery packs.”

They put the food they could save from their freezer on their patio so it would stay warmer, but have no other way to cook food. The food they do have is largely limited to beef sticks, beef jerky, chips and some cookies; as for things to drink, they have bottled water and some bottled tea, but that is it.

“Other they [sic] that we are hoping the restaurants are open and serving hot food,” he said. “Sorry, hard to type while your hands are cold.”

CNN wants to hear your story about what you're experiencing during this extreme winter weather. Share your story with us here.

1:51 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

More Texas neighborhoods have power today because temperatures are less cold, officials say

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations, said more neighborhoods have power today because temperatures are warmer than they were yesterday.

He said the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been able to restore 1000 megawatts, so they are now shedding 13,000 megawatts of load on the ERCOT system.

Woodfin said the numbers bounce around because they are trying to restore the maximum amount of power to the consumer.

“I say all that to illustrate that as generation becomes available, we're utilizing it to the maximum amount possible to restore consumers as soon as we can. And if we ultimately have to increase then the outages back up, then it’s not okay, but it still allows them to be served for some interim period," he said.

“And so, as the temperatures moderate, each household is using less overall electricity because it’s warmer, it doesn’t take as much to keep it warm,” Woodfin added.

Woodfin also explained that even though Texas operates its own grid, there is “a limited number of direct current ties that allows a specific amount of power to be transferred between Texas and other grids.”

The ties can import or export power from the eastern part of the United States and Mexico.

“So early in this event we were importing power on all of those ties, but then regions outside of ERCOT wound up starting to have emergencies because of the severe cold weather as well,” Woodfin said.

1:45 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

White House monitoring situation in Texas and other states affected by winter storms

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing on February 17 in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing on February 17 in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The White House and Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, are monitoring the situation in Texas after winter weather left millions without power this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. 

“Our team and FEMA continue to monitor the situation in Texas, as well as other states in the storm's path that might be impacted. We remain in close contact with states across the affected area to ensure any federal support requirements are met,” Psaki said at a White House press briefing. 

FEMA, she said, has supplied generators in Texas and is “preparing to move diesel into the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power” for critical infrastructure, including communications, hospitals, and water. The agency is also supplying Texas with water and blankets at the state’s request.  

The White House is standing by to process requests from additional states impacted by the winter storms. 

“We’re preparing to quickly process requests from other states for emergency assistance, that's how the process typically works, and we urge people in the affected states to of course listen to their emergency management officials,” she said.

1:41 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Here's how you can help Texas winter storm victims

From CNN's Lauren Lee

Unprecedented winter storms have blanketed Texas, causing bitter cold temperatures and widespread power outages throughout much of the state.

President Biden has declared a state of emergency, which makes people eligible for federal assistance. Still, the need for help is immediate as many struggle to find shelter, food, and warmth in these dangerous freezing conditions.

Here you can help:

  • The Salvation Army provides shelter, food, and other necessary items to those in need throughout Texas.
  • The American Red Cross is supporting at least 35 warming centers with cots and blankets across the state.
  • In Austin, the area Urban League has started the #LoveThyNeighborTX campaign to raise money for hotel rooms, food, water, clothing, and other basic needs of the housing insecure communities.
  • Local small business Free Lunch is making deliveries of home-cooked meals, blankets, hand warmers, and hygiene kits to the Esperanza Community residents, a state-sanctioned shelter/campsite in the city.
  • The Other Ones Foundation is also providing resiliency kits for residents of the campsite. The kits include basic needs for those experiencing homelessness.
  • Dallas-area organizations Austin Street Center, OurCallingThe StewpotUnion Gospel Mission, and Oak Lawn United Methodist Church are pooling funds to help pay for temporary shelter as well as Covid-19 rapid tests for those in need.
  • Caritas of Austin also helps those experiencing housing insecurity in the Austin area. You can support their work by making a monetary donation or ordering items from their Amazon wish list to be shipped directly to the center.
  • Austin Pets Alive! is working to keep pets across Texas warm and safe during the freezing conditions. The group needs heating pads, Styrofoam coolers, dog beds, heat lamps, and monetary donations.

You can donate to any of the organizations listed above by clicking this link.

1:18 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

More than 2,300 flights have been canceled today due to the winter storm

From CNN's Dave Hennen

A United Airlines jet is towed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on February 16 in Houston, Texas.
A United Airlines jet is towed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on February 16 in Houston, Texas. David J. Phillip/AP

More than 2,300 flights have been canceled into, or out of the US today, according to the flight tracking website flightaware.com

This includes over a thousand flights in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field, and over 700 flights in and out of Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental and Hobby airports. 

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which was closed earlier today, has reopened. Flights are expected to begin at 1 p.m. CT, according to the airport's Twitter page.

Regional airports in Abilene, Texas, and Jackson, Mississippi, remain closed due to snow and ice.

The more than 2,300 canceled flights today are on top of over 2,800 canceled yesterday. Another 500 flights have already been canceled for tomorrow, a number which will grow as snow begins to impact the major metropolitan areas in the Northeast by late tomorrow.

 

1:54 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

National Weather Service employees sleeping on cots at the office

From CNN's Jennifer Gray

Shreveport, Louisiana, has been hit with the same arctic temperatures, ice and snow, making dangerous travel conditions, even for National Weather Service Employees covering the storm.

“Most of the city has power at the moment but even that is looking doubtful with this current storm we are dealing with,” says NWS meteorologist Michael Berry in Shreveport.

He’s worked for the Shreveport office for 30 years and says this is the worst he’s seen. “Never in my career has my office been filled with cots and sleeping bags for stranded employees who don’t want to risk driving home in this mess,” says Berry.

They just learned of Shreveport’s second fatality from the cold yesterday afternoon.

“That number will likely rise significantly once people are able to get out and account for the elderly and homeless unfortunately,” says Berry.