The power crisis spurred by the massive winter storm currently hobbling Texas has also become a water crisis, with hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses dealing with burst pipes or ordered to boil water, as water utilities suffer from frozen wells and treatment plants run on backup power.
In Harris County, which includes Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, more than one million people have been affected by local water systems that have either issued boil-water notices or that cannot deliver water at all, said Brian Murray, a spokesman for the county emergency management agency.
Residents in the Texas capital, Austin, were also told to boil water because of a power failure at the city’s largest water-treatment facility. And the city of Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents on Wednesday to suspend their water use until further notice because of a shortage.
“Water should only be used to sustain life at this point,” officials of the city of 48,000 said in an advisory. “We are close to running out of water supply in Kyle.”
For many Texans, the disruptions were an inconvenience. But others faced more dire consequences. At St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, officials were trying Wednesday night to fix a heating system that was failing because of low water pressure. They were forced to seek portable toilets and distribute bottles of water to patients and employees so they could wash their hands.
In San Antonio, Jesse Singh, 58, a Shell gas station owner, said that his father, Ram Singh, 80, was turned away from regularly scheduled dialysis treatments Tuesday and Thursday because his clinic was having water issues.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” the younger Mr. Singh said.
His other problems Thursday were indicative of the broader troubles still facing Texas, where some areas were being affected by a band of foul weather stretching from the Rio Grande to New York. As fresh snow fell, Mr. Singh was waiting with a few dozen other cars at a propane station that had not opened yet. He said he had low water pressure at his house. And his gas station had no fuel to sell and was running out of food at its convenience store because deliveries hadn’t arrived.
Thursday’s winter storm brought freezing rain, snow and temperatures that were “much below average,” a gut punch for Texans who have resorted to stoves, barbecue grills, gasoline generators and their vehicles to keep themselves warm.
Days of glacial weather have left at least 38 people dead nationwide, made many roads impassable, disrupted vaccine distribution and blanketed nearly three-quarters of the continental United States in snow.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas warned residents to brace for continued misery.
“Most of the state will be below freezing,” Mr. Abbott said in a media briefing on Wednesday, adding that a respite from the cold snap would come only on Saturday.
There were also reasons for hope on Thursday morning. The state had just under 500,000 customers without power, down from millions in recent days. Mr. Murray, the Harris County official, said that restored power to water utilities should solve many of the water problems in the next day or so.
Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport, which had been forced to shut down on Wednesday because of water supply issues, announced early Thursday morning that it had restored water in a limited capacity, and that flights would resume.
As Texas was battered by an icy storm and widespread power losses that left millions of residents freezing and fearing for their safety, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas left the state on Wednesday and traveled to Mexico for a previously planned family vacation, according to a person with direct knowledge of the trip.
Photos of Mr. Cruz and his wife boarding a flight from Houston to Cancún, Mexico sparked a fierce outcry on social media late Wednesday. The person familiar with his trip, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Mr. Cruz’s personal travel, said the senator planned to return to Texas on Thursday.
Mr. Cruz’s office issued a statement on Thursday afternoon.
“With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” Mr. Cruz said, adding that, like millions of other Texans, his family had lost heat and power.
Mr. Cruz insisted that he and his staff had been “in constant communication” with state and local leaders during his brief Cancún trip. The Senate was in recess this week.
“This has been an infuriating week for Texans,” he said.
As Mr. Cruz left the country, his home state was gripped by crisis: millions of people without power, many without running water and a deep freeze so severe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been activated to send supplies. Gov. Greg Abbott declared that, “Every source of power that the state of Texas has has been compromised.”
While the city of Houston was gripped by the freezing weather, a member of Mr. Cruz’s staff contacted the Houston Police Department personnel at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday afternoon requesting “assistance upon arrival,” according to Jodi Silva, a department spokeswoman.
Ms. Silva said they had “monitored his movements” before he departed. Ms. Silva said she did not have any information about Mr. Cruz’s potential return to the city on Thursday.
Mr. Cruz himself had posted updates throughout Wednesday on Twitter about the intensity of the winter storm from the National Weather Service. “Stay safe and please continue to follow the warnings and updates provided by state and local officials,” he wrote on Wednesday morning.
With Mr. Cruz’s office silent as the photos spread on social media, some spotted an “CRU, R.” on a public standby list for a 4:44 p.m. flight from Houston to Cancún on Wednesday. Those same initials briefly appeared on a standby list for a return flight on Thursday afternoon. Both eventually disappeared. Mr. Cruz’s formal full name is Rafael Edward Cruz.
Mr. Cruz’s decision to leave his state in the middle of a crisis was an especially confounding one for a politician who has already run for president once, in 2016, and widely seen as wanting to run again in 2024 or beyond.
Mr. Cruz, 50, narrowly won re-election in 2018 against Beto O’Rourke, a former representative, with less than 51 percent of the vote. In that race, Mr. Cruz aggressively touted his efforts in a past emergency, Hurricane Harvey. He is not up for re-election again until 2024.
Even before he skipped town, Mr. Cruz’s critics were already recirculating tweets he sent last summer criticizing California for being “unable to perform even basic functions of civilization” after the state’s governor asked residents to conserve electricity during a spate of deadly wildfires. Mr. Cruz lampooned California’s “failed energy policy” as the product of liberal excess.
Mr. Cruz had been acutely aware of the possible crisis in advance. In a radio interview on Monday, he said the state could see 100 or more deaths this week. “So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids,” he said.
More recently, in December, Mr. Cruz had attacked a Democrat, Mayor Stephen Adler of Austin, for taking a trip to Cabo while telling constituents to “stay home” during the pandemic.
“Hypocrites,” Mr. Cruz wrote on Twitter. “Complete and utter hypocrites.”
Hundreds of thousands of Texans were still in the dark on Thursday morning as utility companies worked to restore power across the state.
Of the 12.5 million utility customers in the state, 490,456 remained without power Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, which records and aggregates live power outage data from utilities.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Thursday that it had made significant progress overnight restoring customer power, although some outages still remain. The company said that rotating outages might still be needed over the next few days to keep the grid stable.
“We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on,” said Dan Woodfin, the council’s senior director of system operations, in a statement.
Oncor, Texas’s largest electric utility, said it had access to enough power to cease rolling outages, but still had 150,000 customers without power because of winter storm damage and other issues. The company said it had crews working around the clock to restore downed power lines.
“When your power line is pulled down from trees, our personnel have to go out there in the ice and the cold, they have to remove the debris, they have to clean up the tree, and they have to potentially rebuild that pole, and then they have to rehang the line,” said Kerri Dunn, a spokeswoman for Oncor.
“It’s extensive repair work that has to be done in these areas,” she said, “and they’re doing it in hazardous conditions in these cold temperatures.”
Catherine Saenz and her family, like most of their neighbors in Houston, have had no power or water for days, as the city remains in the grip of the fiercest winter in memory. But they are fortunate: They have a fireplace.
Even fireplaces have to be fed, though, and to keep the two parents, two daughters and two grandmothers from freezing, her husband has spent hours in the afternoon scouring the neighborhood for fallen trees and rotten wood.
“I never imagined that we would be in this situation,” said Ms. Saenz, who grew up in Colombia but has lived in Houston through Hurricanes Ike and Harvey. “No one is prepared, it is dangerous and we are very vulnerable.”
During a news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said, “Every source of power that the state of Texas has has been compromised.”
He signed an executive order directing natural gas providers to halt all shipments of gas outside the state, ordering them to instead direct those sales to Texas power generators.
W. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said several state agencies have been working together to meet the demands of nursing homes, hospitals and dialysis centers, which have reported a variety of problems including water main breaks and oxygen shortages. As another storm moves in, the state increased the number of warming centers to more than 300.
In a sign of just how fundamental the needs are in Texas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent blankets, bottled water and meals, in addition to 60 generators to help the state power “critical infrastructure” like hospitals. FEMA will also provide the state with diesel fuel “to ensure the continued availability of backup power,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing on Wednesday.
Record-low temperatures in Texas and elsewhere have strained power grids and forced millions to reconsider how to stay warm. Now, days after that arctic blast chilled parts of the Central and Southern parts of the United States, a new problem is emerging: finding water.
Boil-water advisories were issued by officials in Harris County, including the city of Houston, and the Texas capital, Austin. And the city of Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents on Wednesday to suspend their water use until further notice because of a shortage.
Now, some in Texas have turned to a once-unthinkable source: snow.
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said melting snow for drinking water was “an emergency measure, if no other water is available,” it had also been cited as an emergency option by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service.
The science of measuring how much water can be obtained by melting snow has been studied by NASA.
But melting snow — for drinking, bathing, washing dishes or flushing toilets — safely and effectively may be trickier than many assume.
If you “just take snow, put it in your pot and turn the heat on,” said Wes Siler, a columnist with Outside magazine, “it’s going to take forever and waste a bunch of fuel.” Mr. Siler, who demonstrated his technique on a small outdoor stove, said it was more effective to melt a small amount of snow first. Then, once that is boiling, add more snow.
This step will “accelerate the process of melting snow tenfold,” Marty Morissette, an outdoor enthusiast, has said. (He said it may be because water transfers heat more effectively.)
Also, since water expands when it freezes, a pot full of snow may turn into a pot with very little boiling water, so be prepared to work with a lot of snow.
This arduous process will produce usable water, but perhaps not the kind of water many are accustomed to receiving from their faucet.
If you are melting snow on an outdoor fire, the CBC cautions, “the smoke from the fire can affect the taste of the water.”
The C.D.C. urges people to bring the water to “a rolling boil” for at least a minute to “kill most germs” but also politely reminds that it will not get rid of “other chemicals sometimes found in snow.”
The winter storm that swept through Texas with freezing temperatures and rain has moved to the northeast, causing power outages and slick driving conditions from Mississippi to New York.
In Mississippi, images on social media showed trees and buildings coated in a layer of ice. Dangerous cold is expected in much of the state Thursday night and into Friday, causing black ice and slippery roads.
Nearly 200,000 Mississippi customers were without power as of Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, and tens of thousands more were without electricity in Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
The Carolinas are also bracing for power outages from wind and fallen trees. Freezing rain had begun to fall Thursday morning and should continue all day, with a risk of flash flooding in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.
The utility company Duke Energy predicted a million customers in the Carolinas could lose power for several days from the storm.
“Ice buildup causing trees and branches to fall on power lines is usually the culprit for power outages during an ice storm,” the company said in a statement. “Ice buildup of a quarter-inch or more is often the threshold amount that causes trees and branches to fall.”
Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency Wednesday and encouraged people to plan ahead.
“People need to be ready to stay home and be prepared to lose power for a while, especially in the northern, western and Piedmont counties,” he said in a statement.
The National Weather Service also warned of possible significant ice accumulation across the southern mid-Atlantic.
Farther north, the icy rain has turned to snow. Winter storm warnings and advisories are in place for parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut through Friday night, and heavy snow was already falling in New York City Thursday morning. The city is expected to seeseveral inches of snow.
Massachusetts is under a winter weather advisory, with three to seven inches of snow expected to accumulate through Friday evening.
New Yorkers on Thursday morning found a thin layer of snow covering trees, sidewalks and streets, the beginning of a bout of winter weather that could drop up to six inches of snow through Friday evening and snarl travel across the region.
Winter storm warnings and advisories are in place for parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut through Friday night, said Jay Engle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The Weather Service said the bulk of the snow would fall in the late afternoon.
Recent storms buried the city in snow, but Mr. Engle described the coming weather as “not as intense, but enough to make travel difficult.”
Winds will be moderate, reaching 25 miles per hour on Thursday night. Three to five inches of snow was expected across the five boroughs and Long Island through Thursday, with total amounts reaching up to eight inches by Friday, according to the Weather Service.
Parts of upstate New York will see only a few inches of snow: Albany may receive up to three inches and Poughkeepsie six inches, the service said.
A warning issued for the northeastern region of New Jersey, including parts of Essex, Union, Passaic and Bergen Counties, projected up to seven inches of snow. A similar advisory was put in place for southern Connecticut, including parts of Middlesex, New Haven and New London, where several inches of snow was expected through Thursday.
Travel conditions across these areas were expected to be hazardous into Friday, the Weather Service said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said on Thursday that crews were salting roadways and preparing to plow. But he said he expected the overall impact to be “not too bad.”
“We know Mother Nature throws us curveballs sometimes, so we’re going to stay vigilant,” he said.
Although the city was shutting down some outdoor dining because of the storm, other services, such as the city’s coronavirus vaccination sites, would remain open, the mayor said. But the weather problems across the country continued to delay shipments of new doses, prompting officials to push back the opening of two new distribution sites originally scheduled for Thursday
A site at the Empire Outlets in Staten Island will now open on Friday, and another site at the Martin Van Buren High School in Queens will open on Sunday at the earliest, Mr. de Blasio said, adding that the delays were complicating a rollout that has already been slowed by a limited supply of vaccines.
“Unfortunately, Mother Nature now is causing us the most immediate problems with the supply delays,” he said.
As his state was racked with a huge electricity blackout crisis that left millions of people without heat in frigid temperatures, the governor of Texas took to the television airwaves to start placing blame.
His main target was renewable energy, suggesting that when wind and solar power failed, it led to a systemwide collapse.
“It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure we will be able to heat our homes in the winter times and cool our homes in the summer times,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, speaking on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. Other conservative talk-show hosts had already picked up the theme.
However, wind power was not chiefly to blame for the Texas blackouts. The main problem was frigid temperatures that stalled natural gas production, which is responsible for the majority of Texas’ power supply. Wind makes up just a small fraction — 7 percent or so, by some estimates — of the state’s overall mix of power generation
As frigid weather grips the center of the nation, causing widespread power outages, freezing temperatures, slippery roads and weather-related deaths, Mr. Abbott’s voice was among the most prominent in a chorus of political figures this week to quickly assert that green energy sources such as wind and solar were contributing to the blackouts. The talking points, coming largely from conservatives, reinvigorated a long-running campaign to claim that emissions-spewing fossil fuels are too valuable a resource to give up.
The efforts came despite the fact that the burning of fossil fuels — which causes climate change by releasing vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere — is helping to drive the phenomenon of increasingly dangerous hurricanes and other storms, as well as unusual weather patterns.
In today’s edition of the Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt writes:
To make sense of this week’s cold spell and storms, I spoke with John Schwartz, a Times reporter who focuses on the climate. Our conversation follows.
Question: Let’s start with a simple question on some people’s minds — How do you think about record-low temperatures hammering parts of the U.S. at the same time that we’re experiencing global warming?
John Schwartz: It does sound counterintuitive! Those who deny climate science love to declare that there’s no such thing as climate change whenever the weather turns cold. But weather remains variable, and cold weather in winter still happens, even if the overall warming trend means that winters are getting milder.
Q: And is there any relationship between this week’s storms and climate change? I noticed that the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe uses the phrase “global weirding.”
John: There’s interesting science that suggests the effects of a warming world have something to do with these sudden bursts of Arctic cold, as well. The cold air at the top of the world, the polar vortex, is usually held in place by the circulating jet stream. The Northern Hemisphere’s warming appears to be weakening the jet stream, and when sudden blasts of heat in the stratosphere punch into the vortex, that Arctic air can spill down into the middle latitudes.
Q: Are there any other changing patterns of winter weather that may be connected to climate change?
John: A warming atmosphere can hold more moisture, so when you do get storms you can expect to see heavier rain and snow. There’s also fascinating research that links a warming Arctic to increased frequency of the broad range of extreme winter weather in parts of the United States. It’s known as “warm-Arctic/cold-continents pattern,” a phenomenon that’s still being studied.
Q: What are the recent weather trends — during winter or not — where the evidence most strongly suggests climate change is playing a role?
John: In the United States, we’re seeing longer wildfire seasons because of hotter, drier conditions, and our hurricanes are becoming more destructive in several ways, including flooding and storm surge. It’s even worsening the misery of pollen season. We’ve always had floods, fires and storms, but climate change adds oomph to many weather events.
I realize I’m repeating myself here, but scientists are still hashing out all of this. While the science underlying the links between human emissions and climate change is rock solid, some of the particulars, such as whether climate change will cause us to see more frequent blasts from the polar vortex, are still being debated. And that’s as it should be.
For more: Bill Gates tells The Times that “‘Weather for Dummies’ is probably the best book written for a general audience” about the relationship between climate change and the weather.
James F. McIngvale, a Houston furniture store owner known as “Mattress Mack,” saw his fellow Texans cold and hungry, with little shelter from the winter storm that has ravaged the state and knocked out power to millions.
So just as he did during Hurricane Harvey and other storms, Mr. McIngvale, 70, opened his doors, and the people came.
Since Tuesday, thousands have made the trip to Mr. McIngvale’s Gallery Furniture, spending a few hours on armchairs and couches to warm up, or sleeping on their choice of beds intended, in better times, for the prospective customers who visit the more than 100,000 square feet of showroom. As many as 500 people have chosen to spend the night for the past two nights, he said.
For now, at this impromptu shelter, those in need can eat donated meals or food paid for by Mr. McIngvale. Children frolic on playground furniture in the children’s section. Masks and hand sanitizer stations are set up in front as a precaution against the coronavirus, another danger that Texans are struggling with as they face freezing temperatures, power outages and a lack of clean drinking water.
“We are free enterprise for profit,” Mr. McIngvale said in an interview on Thursday. “But at the end of the day, I would be judged by how much difference I make, not how much profit I make.”
Mr. McIngvale and his wife started the furniture store on Houston’s North Freeway about 30 years ago with a $5,000 investment. He said he is inspired by his Catholic faith.
“When my people are dying and freezing, I am going to take care of them,” he said. “That comes before profit every time.”
Mr. McIngvale said the store has been using a large generator for electricity, although he said power was slowly starting to come back on Thursday. Restroom use can be a challenge without running water, he said, but buckets of water were brought in from an outside source to flush the toilets.
Rosie May Williams, 48, who said she is homeless, tried to take shelter at a convention center earlier this week but was told it was over capacity. She was transported by bus to the furniture store, and has slept for the past two nights on a recliner, eating smothered chicken for dinner on one of those nights.
“They have been very good to me,” she said.
Many of those who chose to stay have organized themselves as volunteers, emptying trash and taking care of other people, who range in age from very young children to older adults in their 90s, Mr. McIngvale said.
“We will stay open for as long as people need us,” he said.
The former mayor of Colorado City in Texas said that residents who are dealing with electricity and water problems because of the winter storm need to “sink or swim” and to come up with their own plans on how to survive, local media stations reported.
“If you don’t have electricity, you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe,” the former mayor, Tim Boyd, wrote in a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
“The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!” he wrote.
The post was later deleted but KTXS and local media stations and newspapers republished it.
Mr. Boyd also suggested that residents should “think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family.” He later said, according to the news articles that used screenshots identified as his posts, that he was writing as a citizen and was no longer the mayor, after resigning unannounced without plans to run for re-election.
As of Thursday, Mr. Boyd was still listed as the mayor on the city’s website.
“I would never want to hurt the elderly or anyone that is in true need of help to be left to fend for themselves,” said Mr. Boyd. “I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used!”
The posts struck a nerve in a state where hundreds of thousands of people have been without power and water in freezing temperatures for days because of the winter storm.
Criticisms and reactions to the posts were made on the Mitchell County Issues Facebook page, where residents were sharing information on how to help each other by driving in with bottled water using private vehicles, raising funds, sharing tips on how to keep warm, and offering to help with vital appointments.
Temperatures were in the teens on Wednesday in the Colorado City, which lies about 200 miles west of Dallas and has a population of about 4,000 people.
Mr. Boyd could not be reached by telephone early Thursday. A call to City Hall on Wednesday was answered, but the person said he no longer worked there. County commission offices were closed. Mitchell County Sheriff Patrick Toombs was not immediately available to comment on Wednesday because he was out helping to distribute water, his office said.
Last weekend was one of Seattle’s snowiest on record.
But Frances H. Goldman had struggled for weeks to book a coronavirus vaccination, so when she got a Sunday appointment, she didn’t intend to miss it — even if it meant braving the elements alone.
It was too snowy to drive, so Ms. Goldman, 90, ended up walking a total of six miles through the snow to get the vaccine.
It was a quiet walk, Ms. Goldman said. People were scarce. She caught glimpses of Lake Washington through falling snow. It would have been more difficult, she said, had she not gotten a bad hip replaced last year.
At the hospital, about three miles and an hour from home, she got the jab. Then she bundled up again and walked back the way she had come.
It was an extraordinary effort — but that was not the extent of it. Ms. Goldman, who became eligible for a vaccine last month, had already tried everything she could think of to secure an appointment. She had made repeated phone calls and fruitless visits to the websites of local pharmacies, hospitals and government health departments. She enlisted a daughter in New York and a friend in Arizona to help her find an appointment.
Finally, on Friday, a visit to the Seattle Children’s Hospital website yielded results.
Ms. Goldman is scheduled to receive her second dose of the vaccine next month. She plans to drive.