Experts said that as Texas and other states fought winter storms that blew through the worst-case planning of infrastructure, governments and millions of shivering people, deadly weather will reach the U.S. more frequently, and America needs to get better at dealing with it.
The storms this week fit a trend of worsening extremes under climate change, with more still going east, and show again that local, state and federal authorities have failed to do almost enough to prepare for higher and more severe weather.
At least two dozen people have died this week while trying to find warmth inside their homes, including from fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. In Oklahoma City, an Arctic blast plunged temperatures in the state capital as low as 14 degrees below 0 (-25 Celsius).
‘This is another kind of storm,’ said Kendra Clements, one of the Oklahoma City businessmen who provided their buildings to accommodate homeless people, some of whom have frostbite, hypothermia, and frozen hair. It was also a harbinger of what social care agencies and policymakers predict would be a flood of intensified needs as environment and natural disasters worsen for society’s most vulnerable.
There are also other Americans at risk. In the severe weather, power sources of all kinds collapsed, including natural gas-fired power plants that were forced offline in frozen conditions and wind turbines that froze and stopped functioning to a smaller degree. In the continents, more than 100 million people live in areas under winter weather warnings, watches or advisories, and blackouts are expected to continue in some parts of the country for days.
For power systems across the world, the crisis sounded an alarm: as climate change worsens, extreme conditions that go beyond historical norms are becoming increasingly normal. For instance, Texas expects power demand to peak in the heat of summer, not in the depths of winter, as it did this week.
The dire storms come as President Joe Biden plans to spend up to $2 trillion over four years on infrastructure and investment in renewable energy. Biden has vowed to upgrade the U.S. power grid to be carbon-pollution-free by 2035 and to weather buildings, fix roads and construct charging stations for electric vehicles.
Wind turbines are typically not designed to withstand sustained low temperatures in Texas, where wind power is a rising source of energy, as in Iowa and other cold-weather states. One measure needed to combat climate change is to alter the turbines slightly to withstand freezing temperatures, said Roy McCann, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Arkansas.
Although some Republican politicians, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have tried to blame the outages on wind and solar power, conventional thermal power plants, which rely more on natural gas, provide the majority of the state’s power and have been the bigger problem.