Health & Science

Last February’s winter storm death toll has increased to 246, a new report says

The report says Harris County accounted for 43 out of the 246 deaths in Texas that were related to the February 2021 winter storm.


AP Photo/David J. Phillip
A man peers out from under a blanket while trying to stay warm in below freezing temperatures Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston.

A total of 246 Texans lost their lives due to last February’s deadly winter storm, according to a new report the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Harris County accounted for 43 out of the 246 deaths in Texas that were related to the February 2021 winter storm, followed by Travis County with 28 deaths.

The DSHS report added 36 more deaths to the department’s total death toll for the freeze, which was previously reported as 210 deaths in July 2021. A Buzzfeed News analysis published in May 2021 estimated that the freeze and resulting power outages could have caused as many as 700 deaths.

The report found that most of the recorded deaths related to the storm were among white, non-Hispanic men aged 60 and up. Men accounted for 65.4% of the deaths, and people aged 60 and up made up 59.8%. Non-Hispanic white people made up 53.7% of the total deaths, and Hispanic people made up 21.5%.

Of the deaths recorded in the updated DSHS report, 148 were a direct result of extreme cold exposure, with 146 hypothermia deaths and two frostbite deaths, according to the report.

Harris County is currently looking to create warming centers to help prevent cold exposure deaths during a freeze, said Brian Murray, a spokesperson with the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Murray added that the safest thing for people to do is stay inside.

“It’s kind of like flooding,” Murray said. “You really want people to stay at home as much as possible.”

The other 98 deaths were listed as indirectly or possibly caused by the winter storm, including 18 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths. In a press release about heating and carbon monoxide safety, Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said following proper heating safety is essential.

“We want everyone to stay warm and be safe,” Christensen said.

The release listed these safety tips for heating to prevent fires and carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Place space heaters on solid, flat surfaces. Also, make sure your space heater has an automatic shut-off in case it tips over.
  • Check space heaters for cracked or damaged cords and plugs.
  • Plug space heaters directly into wall outlets, don't use an extension cord or power strip.
  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
  • Create a "kid-free zone" three feet from open fires and space heaters.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Test your smoke alarms monthly.

Regarding emergency preparedness for another potential freeze, Murray said being prepared for severe weather should be something Harris County residents do throughout the year.

“It almost becomes a preparedness lifestyle here,” he said. “You just have to know that things can happen that can impact you and there’s just a few things that really improve your outcome and your ability to survive and thrive in those circumstances.”