Catastrophic winter storm moves east

By Judson Jones, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021
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1:38 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Texas power grid was "seconds or minutes" away from catastrophic failure, officials say

From CNN’s Chris Boyette

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

Electric Reliability Council of Texas officials said the state's power grid was “seconds or minutes” away from catastrophic failure and a complete blackout if not for controlled outages implemented early Monday morning.

“I think if we hadn't taken action, it wouldn't have been that we would have waited a few days and saw what happened, it was seconds and minutes, given the amount of generation that was coming off the system at the same time that the demand was still going up significantly,” Bill Magness, president and CEO of ERCOT, said Thursday.

Amid frigid temperatures, the demand for energy had stretched the system to its limit and the decision was made to reduce demand on the power grid.

“We are going to walk away from this very soon we hope, and have an electric system that works just like it did last week, because we were able to control the situation by using these outages, as difficult as they were," Magness said.

12:28 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

US will need to work double time to make up for vaccine delays due to winter storms, Fauci says

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

The US will need to work double time to make up for Covid-19 vaccine delays due to winter storms, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Thursday. 

States across the nation have reported delays in vaccine delivery and distribution due to winter storms. In an MSNBC interview, Fauci said he does not know exactly how much of the nation’s vaccine rollout has been impacted, but it’s significant. 

“It’s been slowed down in some places going to a grinding halt,” he said.

Fauci, who is medical adviser to the White House and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the US will have to try to make up for the delays as soon as the weather allows. 

“We're just going to have to make up for it as soon as the weather lifts a bit, the ice melts and we can get the trucks out, and the people out and getting the vaccine into people's arms,” he said. “We're going to just have to make up for it, namely do double time when this thing clears up.”

12:23 p.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Shipping companies scramble to make sure vaccines are delivered during winter storms

From CNN's Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace

FedEx planes are parked at Nashville International Airport on February 16.
FedEx planes are parked at Nashville International Airport on February 16. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

United Parcel Service says it has “extensive contingency plans” to complete coronavirus vaccine deliveries, in spite of the massive winter storm. 

It says it is still making pickups and deliveries “where conditions allow” for safe operation. 

“We are in regular and frequent contact and tight partnership with federal agencies, vaccine manufacturers, and others in the supply chain,” UPS spokesperson Glenn Zaccara told CNN, adding that the company is in “often hourly” talks and “weather conditions only amplify our coordination.”

UPS says its Worldport air operations hub in Louisville, Kentucky, is running again after operations were suspended Monday because of the severe weather – a first in the facility’s history.

FedEx tells CNN that coronavirus vaccine deliveries are getting priority – and it is working with those waiting on shipments – but "prolonged severe weather is continuing to impact much of the FedEx network."

On Wednesday, FEMA said the weather was having “limited impacts” on vaccine shipments in some states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana.

UPS says if a delivery is delayed, it makes alternative arrangements with customers on how to complete the delivery. Each individual vaccine shipment is monitored via GPS from the company’s health care network command center.

“In most cases, these packages can still be delivered as soon as roads are safely passable and businesses are open to receive them,” Zaccara said.

11:55 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Temperatures will swing from historic lows to above average next week

Pedram Javaheri and Allison Chinchar

After a historic blast of arctic air, unusual southern snow and a series of crippling ice stormsacross much of the nation, weather models are hinting at a dramatic shift to warmer temperatures for millions of people over the next seven to 10 days.

As the weekend nears, the massive dip in the jet stream, which allowed the arctic air to plunge southward, will gradually lift north. As this reversal is set in motion, temperatures across the northern Plains will surge as much as 35 to 45 degrees above the historic lows this past week.

In the south, cities like Houston, which reported snow on its nearby beaches, will also feel signs of warmth as highs climb into the 50s come Saturday, the 60s by Sunday and possibly the 70s by the middle of next week.

The Climate Prediction Center supports the significant shift towards warmer conditions for large areas of the northern, central and southern Plains that were all impacted by the wintry conditions over the past week. In parts of Oklahoma, where temperatures fell to their lowest in over a century, forecast models suggest highs in places such as Oklahoma City will rebound back to the low 60s beginning next Tuesday.

You can read more about this dramatic temperature shift here. And check to see when your city's temperature will rebound.

11:45 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Federal regulator will launch investigation into power crisis in Texas

From CNN's Greg Wallace

A federal regulator on Thursday said it would launch an investigation into the power crisis in Texas, as Democratic and Republican members sparred over whether further regulations of the failed power system would be warranted.  

The members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said they would partner with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a non-profit organization, to investigate the failings.  

The regulator's chair, Richard Glick, who is a Democrat, said FERC and NERC “will be focused in a joint inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened and assess how these outages can be prevented the next time extreme weather occurs.”  

He also said he may propose “the imposition of new mandatory standards” that would apply to the Texas system, which is currently not regulated by FERC.   

“I also believe both Congress and the state government need to rethink Texas’ go it alone approach for much of the state’s electric grid,” Glick said. “Does it really make sense to isolate yourself and limit your ability to get power from neighboring regions, just to keep FERC at bay?”  

A senior Republican member of the panel, former Chair Neil Chatterjee, said he supports the investigation but differed on the need for federal regulation of the Texas system.   

“I think until we have that understanding, it is too soon to try to advocate for solutions including imposing mandatory standards for exerting FERC jurisdiction over ERCOT,” Chatterjee said, naming the Texas system. 

11:55 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

West Virginia governor issues state of emergency for 6 counties because of winter weather

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

A worker cuts tree branches away from a power line in Huntington, West Virginia, on Wednesday, February 17.
A worker cuts tree branches away from a power line in Huntington, West Virginia, on Wednesday, February 17. Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch/AP

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice added two more counties to the list of those under a state of emergency due to severe winter weather, bringing the total to six.

Jackson and Mason counties were added to the original list announced Tuesday, which included Cabell, Lincoln, Putnam and Wayne counties. 

The weather has caused numerous power outages and road blockages, a release from the governor said.

11:43 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

More snow is falling in Texas

A strong band of snow has set-up once again across Texas. 

This narrow corridor of heavy snow stretches from near Del Rio, Texas, eastward to San Antonio.

Forecasters have raised their forecast for San Antonio to one to two inches and as much as three inches of additional snow Thursday. 

Snow could fall at rates of an inch and a half an hour.

11:00 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Heavy snow is starting to move into New York. Here's the latest forecast. 

From CNN's Dave Hennen

A cyclist rides through Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, February 18.
A cyclist rides through Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, February 18. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Heavy snow is beginning to impact New York City. Central Park is currently reporting heavy snow, with visibility of a quarter-mile and a temperature of 26 degrees. 

It appears the heavy snow will continue into the early afternoon, with snowfall rates of up to 2 inches per hour. This band has already produced up to 8 inches of snow in parts of Pennsylvania. 

The city is under a winter weather advisory into Friday, with an expected storm snow total of 4 to 8 inches. 

The long-duration snow event is expected to last off and on into Friday afternoon. If Central Park picks up 6.7 inches, it will make it the 3rd snowiest February on record, behind 2010 and 2014.

10:52 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Texas is still experiencing "cascading impacts" from the the power crisis, Harris County official says

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Texas’ power grid failure in the face of extreme winter conditions had led to cascading effects, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Thursday.

“Things are beginning to look up on the power side,” she told CNN. “But we are now facing a water crisis, food issues, all sorts of secondary and tertiary impacts of this huge failure that has really led to tragic stories from millions and millions of folks.”

ERCOT — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, an independent organization that operates Texas' power grid — has reported that more power plants were coming online and generating power but impacts of the power outage over multiple days persist, Hidalgo said.

Even as the crisis subsides, the number of deaths due this is expected to rise.

"We've got impacts to industry. You know, so many cascading impacts. So I believe it is possible that we're going to find out more numbers of deaths. We've got carbon monoxide impacts from folks desperate to stay warm. I hope that is not the case. But it is certainly a possibility.”

She urged people to support the Houston food bank since she expects food to become “a big issue.”