Cold. Snow. Ice. Rotating power outages. Closed stores. Dangerous travel. Frozen and leaking water pipes. It was the recipe for a week — and for some, longer — of havoc.
The year 2021 may be remembered for the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, but local residents will never forget the arctic blast that barreled its way through the state over Valentine’s Day weekend, leaving millions of people without electricity.
The winter event was unprecedented, as all 254 counties in the state were impacted by the bitter cold, according to Keith White, a meteorologist at the NWS office in New Braunfels.
“It wasn’t just one winter storm as it’s talked about these days, almost a year later,” White said in a recent YouTube presentation. “It was really four separate winter events across our area, starting with an ice event across the Hill Country on Feb. 11. Temperatures over much of our area fell below freezing and stayed that way for several days. Of course, the main events arrived on the night of Feb. 14 and 15, where much of our region saw various snow amounts as high as 6-8 inches.”
It stayed bitterly cold after that, White said, but more frozen precipitation was on the way.
“We had another round of freezing rain and ice on the morning of the 17th, and then the last snowfall event that brought 11 inches to Del Rio and another couple of inches to San Antonio came after that,” White said.
According to White, the temperature at San Antonio International Airport stayed below freezing for four days and 12 hours during the event, just an hour shy of the record set in late January and early February 1951.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that manages the electric grid to 90% of the state, declared a third-level energy emergency alert early on Feb. 15 and instructed New Braunfels Utilities and transmission companies throughout the state to begin rotating power outages as there was not enough power available to keep up with consumer demand.
New Braunfels residents woke up on Feb. 16 to temperatures in the low teens and many without power, as rotating power outages continued.
A power problem soon became a water problem on Feb.17, as NBU started responding to resolve water outages and low water pressure problems in the Bretzke, Mission Hills and Copper Ridge areas.
Continued winter weather combined with ongoing electric outages prompted city officials to open the New Braunfels Civic and Convention Center as a warming center for those without power, stranded motorists and anyone in need of electricity.
The city partnered with area agencies such as the New Braunfels Food Bank and the Community Emergency Response Team to provide limited food, cots and other resources.
NBU, late on Feb. 17, issued a boil water order for its entire service area because of this week’s series of unprecedented winter weather events.
NBU officials said water system demands were at summertime levels and outstripping the utility’s pumping capacity.
The utility said it was pumping at a rate of around 28 million gallons per day, while normal pumping this time of year is about 10 to 12 million gallons a day.
NBU and the city of New Braunfels set up its first water station for area residents without water on Feb. 18 and expanded the effort to multiple locations the next day.
Residents brought all sorts of containers and contraptions to the water station for filling — jugs, buckets, bottles and picnic coolers.
“With clean water, I can feed my kids, we can bathe,” said Stacy Marchioni, who was gathering water at the Civic/Convention Center. “It makes you really appreciate life.”
Kassie Stuart was with her daughters Sophia, 10, and Delilah, 7.
“We enjoyed the snow for a while,” Stuart said. “I’m from here, and I remember it snowing in ’85 and had a lot of fun then. I’m glad they got to experience it, but I don’t remember the water going out when I was a kid.”
The state’s electric grid operator ended emergency conditions in the afternoon of Dec. 18, allowing NBU to return to normal electric operations.
NBU on Feb. 21 lifted its boil water notice after successfully achieving system-wide Texas Commission on Environmental Quality minimum pressure requirements.
Then came the aftermath.
NBU said it was confident it could maintain competitive rates following last week’s winter storm event.
The pricing of wholesale power, specifically during the ERCOT’s third-level alert, was historic, as energy pricing spiked to $9,000 per megawatt-hour up from an average of $28 and stayed there for three days.