By Kacey Wilkins, HARC
HARC releases an interactive data analysis to visualize and articulate Winter Storm Uri’s effect.
Winter Storm Uri moved across North America from Feb. 13–17, 2021, with impacts throughout the U.S., northern Mexico, and parts of Canada. The storm caused blackouts for over 9.7 million people in the U.S. and Mexico, most notably in Texas, where power supply and grid failures led to prolonged outages, culminating in an energy and water crises. Electricity outages occurred across significant portions of the state; as some outages rolled and some persisted, 4.8 million Texans were without electricity in frigid temperatures.
This application explores Winter Storm Uri’s impact on Texas’ energy and water systems and highlights strategies to improve climate resilience at the household, community, and statewide levels. Information included in the application describes how the Texas power grid operates; Uri’s impacts on electricity generation, natural gas and water supplies, and air quality; and climate resilience lessons for the future.
“Multiple datasets informed HARC’s research on this project,” states Dr. Margaret Cook, HARC Research Associate. “It’s a complex and cautionary tale; our infrastructure is just not prepared for this kind of extreme event.”
The application shines a light on how Texas’ energy and water infrastructure is connected and dependent on the successful operation of the other systems. Figures help explain what went wrong with the Texas grid causing the cascading power failures, while maps show electricity outages, boil water notices, and elevated industrial emission events across the state. Because vulnerabilities become much more apparent in an extreme event like Winter Storm Uri, the application also includes insights into preparing and planning for intense and destructive weather patterns from HARC’s ongoing work on resilience.
More than 14.9 million people in Texas—about half of the state’s population—experienced disruptions to their primary source of clean, potable water due to boil-water orders, low line pressure damage-related water shut-offs. On top of power and water issues, millions of pounds of pollutants and greenhouse gases were released as oil refineries and petrochemical facilities were forced to shut down across the state.
“Our research digs thoughtfully and comprehensively into the impacts,” states Dr. Meredith Jennings, HARC Research Associate. ” Winter Storm Uri really highlighted the need to think about preparing our homes, our communities, and our state for a wider range of climate-related disasters.”
To date, over three dozen deaths have been attributed to hyperthermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other storm-related events, with a larger death toll expected. Winter Storm Uri not only adds to the growing list of billion-dollar weather-related disasters in Texas, but the Insurance Council of Texas also warned that this storm could result in the largest insurance claim event in state history. HARC’s work on resilience, including this Winter Storm Uri application, help communities and policymakers plan for extreme events and prepare for these future impacts.
To view the interactive narrative, please visit www.harcresearch.org/uri.
The Houston Advanced Research Center is a nonprofit research hub providing independent analysis on energy, air, and water issues to people seeking scientific answers. Its research activities support the implementation of policies and technologies that promote sustainability based on scientific principles. For further information, visit www.HARCresearch.org. You can also connect with us via Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Like or follow @HARCresearch.