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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4:37 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Dallas woman who currently has power says "its like waiting for a bomb to drop"

From CNN's Anna-Maja Rappard


Millions of people are without power in Texas after some of the coldest weather experienced in decades tripped many of the state's power plants offline. That prompted rolling blackouts that at its peak affected more than 4.3 million homes and businesses. Officials are warning the power may continue to remain offline for days to come. 

Tricia Lancaster, a Dallas resident who currently does have power, told CNN, "It's like waiting for a bomb to drop. Like I have power, but I'm waiting for it to go off."

She described how her mother and daughter lost power, but hers remained on. She brought all her family to her house but that has presented challenges of its own.

"Who's going to pay for all this? we're leaving water dripping," she told CNN's Camila Bernal, explaining that they left taps on in her daughter's house so that her pipes wouldn't freeze. "I can't even imagine what the bills are gonna be. You know, we're trying to stay safe and not get together because of Covid now everyone's together. Um, it's bad."

"We knew for a week that this was coming... Why weren't we ready?" she added.

Watch the full interview below:

4:03 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

North Carolina governor will declare state of emergency ahead of tonight's winter storm

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he will issue an executive order today, in advance of inclement weather, declaring a state of emergency in the state, according to a statement released today.

“This forecast for icy weather is a real threat for widespread power outages,” Cooper said in his statement. "People need to be ready to stay home and be prepared to lose power for a while, especially in the northern, western and Piedmont counties," he added.

The statement said that transportation workers have started brining major highways, bridges and overpasses in parts of the state. 

"As of 11 a.m., crews had placed nearly 30,000 gallons of brine on roads in the Triangle, Piedmont Triad, Charlotte area and mountains," the statement said.

Cooper's statement also says he has authorized the activation of 40 National Guard personnel to "support fallen tree and debris removal."

3:47 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Waco mayor says technical breakdowns and hoax causing water supply concerns

From CNN’s Andy Rose

Mayor Dillon Meek
Mayor Dillon Meek City of Waco

The mayor of Waco, Texas, is urging residents to slow down their usage of water for the next 48 hours, but also telling them not to believe texted rumors that the water system would be shut down.

“This made the situation worse because people began to hoard unusual amounts of water,” Mayor Dillon Meek said in a video statement published to the city’s social media account.

Meek says their system also has been hampered by the temporary loss of power to one of their two water treatment plants, with “major systems malfunctioning” at the other. Additionally, demand in one region of the city suddenly increased by 500% Tuesday, which Meek says is due in part to concern about the false rumor that water would be cut off.

“Our water system needs time to recharge, and our team still considers the system to be stressed,” said Meek.

The city is asking people to avoid large loads of laundry or dishwashing. Meeks says if capacity again goes down dramatically at their treatment plants, they may have to issue boil water notices, which he acknowledges would be a major burden for people who don’t have power.

3:44 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

These states have had to delay Covid-19 vaccinations because of winter weather

From CNN's Amanda Watts, Gisela Crespo and Jon Passantino

As the nation continues to deal with the impacts of extreme winter weather, many states across the United States have been forced to delay Covid-19 vaccinations.

Here is how some states are responding to the weather:

  • Texas: In Harris County, which includes Houston, all Covid-19 testing and vaccination sites were closed Wednesday due to the weather and power outages. The closure came after power was cut to the Harris County Public Health Department building and the backup generator also failed, putting over 8,400 coronavirus vaccines in jeopardy of spoiling. The county quickly began farming out the doses to local hospitals, universities and jails to administer.  Dallas County was forced to close its Fair Park vaccination site through Wednesday, according to a county press release. In San Antonio, the city postponed vaccine appointments at the Alamodome until Saturday due to the storm, according to a statement from the city.
  • New Jersey: During a Wednesday briefing, the New Jersey Health Commissioner said that shipments this week have been delayed across the US. The state is "closely monitoring the information coming from the CDC on our shipments. Most vaccination sites in our state have been using inventory on hand to ensure appointments are kept." All vaccination sites are expected to have plans in place for rescheduling appointments should they not have sufficient inventory. 
  • New York: New York City has fewer than 30,000 first doses on hand, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who adds that the weather has caused delays in shipments. The mayor said the national weather situation is “gumming up supply lines all over the country.” The also mayor noted that as a result of delays, upwards of 30,000 to 35,0000 appoints will have to be “held back” and not scheduled. The city is watching the situation hour to hour, he said.
  • Wyoming: Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson Kim Deti said, “We are aware shipments expected to go out today of Moderna vaccines have been delayed for Wyoming." Though at this point, the department is unsure on how this will impact their vaccinations.   
  • Maryland: In Baltimore, "out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our staff and residents seeking services, the Baltimore City Health Department will be postponing all of its COVID-19 testing and vaccination operations on Thursday, February 18th, 2021," a statement from the city said. Additionally, "We have also been made aware that all COVID-19 testing and vaccination operations at the Baltimore City Convention Center scheduled for February 18th will also be suspended, due to inclement weather concerns."  
  • Indiana: Indiana Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said Wednesday more than 43,000 vaccine appointments have been impacted by winter weather this week, with more than 80 clinics around the state closed. Weaver added the state has not received its Moderna vaccines for this week, and more appointments will likely need to be rescheduled over the next couple of days. You can find a comprehensive list of closures in the state here.
  • Arizona: Arizona Department of Health spokesperson Steve Elliott said all of the state's allocations of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are delayed, but that doesn’t mean that Arizonans expecting vaccination in the next few days will necessarily see their appointments canceled. All sites in Maricopa and Pima counties administering the Pfizer vaccine currently have enough supply to maintain operations. Elliot said there are enough Pfizer doses available for all sites, including state PODs in Maricopa County, to maintain operations without interruption 
  • Louisiana: The Louisiana Department of Health knows that "there will be shipment delays due to the weather and are encouraging residents with appointments this week to contact their providers," a statement from the agency said.   
3:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Some blame Texas' wind turbines for the outages — but wind accounts for just a tenth of the winter power

Analysis from CNN's Bill Weir

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

As some conservatives blame the environmental movement and frozen wind turbines for the power outage disaster in Texas, it's a cold reminder that the path to clean American energy is blocked more by ideology than technology. 

Since wind accounts for a tenth of the Lone Star state's winter power and the Permian Basin leaks and flares enough natural gas to heat two million homes a year, it's a bit like blaming your car battery for a stalled engine when you've run out of gas. 

“Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” former Governor and Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in an interview posted on House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy's website.

While properly engineered turbines have been proven to work from Alaska to Antarctica, many in Texas did freeze up. But so did pipelines, diesel engines and even the reactor at one of the state's two nuclear power plants. 

In typical "Don't Mess with Texas" fashion, the state has its own power grid on purpose, which is a major impediment to creating a national "smart grid," in which a sunny day in Arizona could power primetime in Boston and vice versa.

And like California, there is no financial incentive for power companies to fortify their equipment. It's a Wild West free market, where the wholesale price of electricity went from $22 a megawatt-hour to more than $8,000 when demand spiked — a swing so extreme, some power companies were encouraging customers to sign up with someone else. 

Meanwhile El Paso, a city outside the western boundaries of the Texas grid, not only has a lifeline to the Western US grid, it also had the sense to winterize its power plants after a deep freeze in 2011. They experienced minimal outages this time, only lasting minutes for a few thousand, despite seeing similar temps and weather to the rest of the state.  

3:43 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Texas customers could experience outages in hour-long intervals by today or tomorrow, officials say

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations
Dan Woodfin, ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations KEYE

Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), said they hope to get to the point where they can rotate outages that don’t last longer than an hour at a time.

“The best case at this point is that today or tomorrow we're able to at least get back down to the point where all the consumers are experiencing outages that are no longer than, say, 30 minutes to an hour at a time. So we're actually rotating through people and so they're able to be turned back on for a while, and then another area is turned off and they're turned back on. And I think that's the best case,” Woodfin said.

“I don't think it's likely that we're going to have enough available based on our forecasts and the information that we're getting in from the generators that we're gonna have everybody back on today, or before at least the morning peak tomorrow," he added.

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said the answer really depends on the availability of those generators. 

“We're working with them around the clock. Some of them are facing constraints in getting their generating units back online but they are all working towards that. And if they all come on very quickly, we can restore load very quickly,” Magness said.

Officials didn’t give an estimate on when full restoration could occur. 


3:29 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

One Texas university is using swimming pool water and melted snow to flush toilets

From CNN's Dave Alsup

McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, is allowing campus residents to use water from the campus swimming pool to flush their toilets as the city continues to struggle with water problems during the winter storm.

The university posted a statement on Facebook:

“We are able to devise a temporary solution for our on-campus residents by filling toilets with water from the campus swimming pool and using melted snow as a backup. Thanks to our football team and other volunteers who helped carry this water to the residence halls.  However, the lack of water caused us to have to shut down the Gold Star boiler, which gives Gold Star heat.  We have provided transportation to a warming facility, Beltway South, for those Gold Star residents who wanted to take advantage of this options.”

The City of Abilene, which has been battling to restore power to their water plants for days, tweeted some good news in the last hour.  

“Power restored to all of Abilene's water plants,  goal of water service to entire city by end of the day,” according to the post. 

3:26 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

All flights at Houston's Hobby Airport canceled or diverted due to impacted water supply

From CNN’s Keith Allen

All of Wednesday’s remaining flights at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport in Texas have been canceled or diverted as the region continues to struggle with water supply issues following the winter storm.

In a pair of tweets, airport officials say they are working to restore the water supply to the entire airport, even in a limited capacity, Wednesday afternoon.

“For now, all flights have been canceled or diverted for the remainder of the day,” Houston Hobby’s tweets say. “Our team is manually providing non-consumable water to airport restrooms from portable water storage tanks.”

2:52 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

About 40,000 customers still without power in Louisiana as more snow and ice is forecasted

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin

Entergy, a power company for Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, says that about 40,000 of its customers in Louisiana are still without power as a result of the winter storms that swept the area, according to a statement.

The outages are "primarily in the hardest hit areas of Greater Baton Rouge, Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes," the company said.

Entergy also encouraged their customers in northern Louisiana "to monitor another system of snow and ice that is forecast to impact our state throughout the day today and into Thursday."

On Monday, Entergy reported that 24,600 of its customers were without power in the state.