Top Austin Headlines of 2021: Winter Storm Uri Wracks Austin

Feb. 14: For the first time ever, the National Weather Service issues winter storm warnings for the entire state of Texas


The morning after the storm, on North Lamar (Photo by John Anderson)

Feb. 14: For the first time ever, the National Weather Service issues winter storm warnings for the entire state of Texas.

For nearly a whole week after Valentine's Day, Austin was caught in a freefall of compounding crises set into motion by Winter Storm Uri. More than 40% of Austin Energy's customers were in the dark, likely without heat. With water treatment plants knocked offline, Austinites were directed to boil their drinking water, and thousands lacked running water entirely. Nights of freezing temps and ice storms continued to down trees, burst pipes, and fill shelters to capacity.

The power crisis was blamed by Gov. Greg Abbott (on Fox News) on clean energy and the nonexistent Green New Deal, and not the more culpable natural gas and coal plants that weren't weatherized and lacked fuel reserves. The storm led to 28 deaths in Travis County; calls for medical aid due to exposure, traffic collisions, falls, and carbon monoxide poisoning overwhelmed emergency services. Yet Downtown offices twinkled brightly as city officials gave gauche and unclear press conferences; at least none of them were in Cancún.

Some people with burst pipes lacked water until March, getting by with much-needed support from pop-up organizations like Austin Needs Water. On Nov. 8, an audit deemed the city's response "disorganized" at best. Preliminary outreach was too limited, and Spanish-language alerts weren't issued until Feb. 15, by which time mutual aid and volunteer efforts had emerged to deliver supplies and provide shelter where the city mostly did not.

As for this winter, it's been warm so far, but despite assurances from Abbott and the Texas Public Utility Commission, if we experience a sudden cold snap, high demand and inadequate supply could bring the grid down again. (Not two months after Uri, Austinites were asked to conserve power in the face of a small heat wave.) But even in that worst-case scenario, we now know we can rely on each other to pull ourselves through.

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