Energy & Environment

Houston Area Fared Worse Than The Rest Of Texas During The Winter Storm, Report Says

Sixty-six people also died in Harris County alone, accounting for nearly one-third of the almost 200 deaths attributed to the storm, according to the report.

Lia Ubidia, left, and her son, Andrew Velarde, carry groceries as they walk home through the snow Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to more than 2 million people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads.

Harris County residents lost power and running water at a rate much higher than the rest of Texas during February’s winter storm, according to a new survey from the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs.

Sixty-six people died in Harris County alone, accounting for nearly one-third of the almost 200 deaths attributed to the storm, according to the report.

County residents faced the highest percentage in loss of electricity, internet service, and the ability to obtain food or groceries. The study found 89% of those polled in Harris County said they lost electrical power, compared to 71% of Texans overall. When asked what was the most serious problem faced in Harris County during the storm, 74% considered power loss the most serious issue, with loss of running water in a close second at 71%.

Throughout the storm, Harris County residents lost an average of 49 hours of power. Houston's main energy provider, CenterPoint, was unable to provide sustainable rolling power outages. As a result, three-quarters of Harris County survey participants said there should be developments in other energy sources, such as wind and solar, to protect the country's energy supply.

"When it comes to supporting proposed policy changes aimed at protecting people and infrastructure from severe weather, an overwhelming majority of Harris County residents think it's a good idea, but the challenge comes with how to fund those improvements," wroteRenée Cross, senior director at the Hobby School.

With a majority of Harris County left without power, residents were forced to turn to alternative methods of keeping their homes warm. Among those who stayed in their homes without power, 34% used a natural gas oven or cooktop to keep warm.

Oftentimes, Harris County residents put their own health at risk: 9% of residents surveyed used a grill or smoker indoors, while 8% used an outdoor propane heater indoors, despite the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Survey respondents said storm preparedness was lacking, showing an overwhelming 79% of participants who did not agree power cuts were distributed in an equitable manner.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas received a 78% disapproval rating, the highest disapproval percentage calculated, followed by Gov. Greg Abbott, who had a 56% disapproval rating in his job performance.

President Joe Biden and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had the highest approval rating, at 49% and 48%, respectively.

In addition, many Harris County residents relied on text alerts from local and county government during the storm, despite many residents having poor or no cell reception.

"This suggests the text-alert systems of Harris County, the city of Houston and other area municipalities might serve as an example for other governments," wrote Hobby School Senior Research Associate Mark P. Jones.

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