Winter storm puts millions at risk; St. Edward’s cancels on-campus and virtual operations


Juan Diaz

Almost 3 million households in Texas do not have power. Across the United States, at least 23 people have died from storm-related incidents, according to the New York Times.

Due to the historic winter storm in the south, Texans have been enduring rare freezing temperatures. One major effect of this weather has been power outages which have caused 2.7 million households in Texas to be without power as of Feb. 16.

This weather has caused accidents on highways, such as the pileups in Fort Worth and El Paso, as well as heightened reports of carbon monoxide poisonings as Texans struggle to stay warm. All across the United States, there have been at least 23 storm-related deaths.


Texas’ electric grid

As for electricity, some Texans may be unaware that the state has its own electrical grid, separate from other parts of the United States.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) controls the electric grid in Texas (also named ERCOT) and has been a topic of interest lately due to the recent power outages. In a 2011 Texplainer article for the Texas Tribune, journalist Kate Galbraith explains that Texas having its own electrical grid is due to “a distrust of federal interference.”

Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act in 1935, charging the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. Since the Texas grid didn’t extend beyond the state, it was able to operate without abiding by federal rules. Texas also had an easier time operating their own electrical grid due to our abundance in natural gas and coal resources. ERCOT was then created in 1970.

So why did Texas’ power grid fail? According to the Houston Chronicle, electrical companies in Texas are usually equipped to handle a demand in energy during summer months, but the winter storm has been a different story.

“Unlike blistering summers, the severe winter weather delivered a crippling blow to power production, cutting supplies as the falling temperatures increased demand,” journalists Marcy de Luna and Amanda Drane wrote.


First hand experience & politicians’ takes

Athena Berger is a writing and rhetoric major at St. Edward’s living in Houston, where she endured a 30-hour power outage from Sunday, Feb. 14 through Tuesday, Feb. 16. Her power has been on and off since then.

“We spent all day Monday in our living room together around our fireplace…and we still don’t have water. [The power] has been on for a few hours at a time but not more than 12 consecutively,” she said.

Texas politicians have been under scrutiny for their comments while the weather has unfolded. Former Colorado City mayor Tim Boyd resigned after a Facebook post targeted at residents who are without power, water and other resources.

“Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout,” the post said.

Of these comments, Berger says, “That is the most callous and cruel thing to say to people right now. I think people saying those comments should be in a position like we were Monday night — trapped in our home, huddled together for warmth, afraid and frustrated and angry. We’ve been let down on a HUGE level and it’s going to cost lives and all for what? “Texas pride?” This is nothing to be proud of. This is shameful.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has also been criticized for comments he made in a Fox News interview.

“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said. “It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure that we will be able to heat our homes in the winter time and cool our homes in the summer time.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) responded to Abbott’s comments on Twitter, saying Abbott “needs to get off TV pointing fingers & start helping people.”


Updates & resources

Campus is to resume normal operations and reopen on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 8 a.m. Meals are still available through Jo’s, Hunt Hall Cafe and the Grab & Goat.

Ragsdale Center is to serve as a warming center from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Those looking to use the facility will need to bring a valid SEU ID to enter the building.

According to a Feb. 17 email from Dean of Students Steven Pinkenburg, students can apply for emergency assistance during this time and use a student of concern form for emergency on-campus housing.

In an email to residential students, it was reported that students may have to endure forced power outages as a result of Austin Energy’s efforts to conserve electricity. Students are being advised to ensure their devices are fully charged, layer their clothing, keep refrigerators shut, bundle up with blankets and watch for leaks from broken pipes or air conditioning.

Students can continue to check for updates through email and the SEU Alerts page.

Those who still have power are being advised to set their thermostats to 68 degrees or lower, unplug all non-essential electronics, only use lights when necessary and refrain from using large appliances like washing machines and ovens.

For those without power, there are still ways to generate heat safely. According to Austin Mutual Aid, these are the 10 best ways to conserve body heat if you are left without power:

  1. Layer your clothes
  2. Use hand warmers
  3. Close unused rooms
  4. Huddle in one small room
  5. Use duct tape and plastic to cover windows (creates insulation)
  6. Close all blinds and curtains at night
  7. Use towels to block drafts
  8. Burn candles safely to help generate heat
  9. Pile on the blankets
  10. Use heated water bottles


This story was updated on Feb. 17 at 6:51 p.m. to include that those looking to use the warming center in Ragsdale will need an SEU ID to enter the building.

This story was updated on Feb. 20 at 10:05 p.m. to update the date of campus re-opening per the most recent SEU Alert.