JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Utility crews raced Wednesday to restore power to millions of utility customers in Texas and other parts of the U.S. who were still without electricity in the aftermath of a winter storm. Meanwhile, another blast of snow and ice threatened to sow more chaos. The latest storm front was expected to bring more hardship to parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley before moving to the Northeast on Thursday.
In Austin, Whit Lewis trudged through snow Wednesday because he didn’t want to risk driving.
“Just walked about 2 miles to the store, waiting in line for about three hours,” said Lewis, who recently moved from Jacksonville.
In Houston, people were pelted with sleet Wednesday as they waited in long lines outside grocery stores for hours. Traffic lights were down throughout the city, as many places did not have power.
Meanwhile in Houston, my brother is still without power. More sleet and freezing rain today. He says grocery stores are picked over. “And in a lot of these grocery stores the food has been thrown out.” @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/2YcQoiSY9e— Zachery Lashway (@ZachLashway) February 17, 2021
“I haven’t showered since Sunday, so we are going on day three and a half,” explained Joshua Lashway, News4Jax reporter Zachery Lashway’s brother.
Joshua Lashway lives in Houston.
“Going into Sunday night, everyone was expecting a winter storm. Being from the North, I didn’t expect it to be significant,” he said. “Power is connected to the water source and the pumps systems, so with power being offline, we have no water.”
Joshua Lashway and his wife have not been able to use the bathroom inside their home.
“So you have to try to find establishments in your neighborhood that have a generator that is also with some water supply, so my wife and I have visited a grocery store in our neighborhood,” he said. “The grocery stores are quite busy, which is causing some concern with COVID. In terms of the hot bar within grocery stores, there’s absolutely no food left, and if you also walk through the produce and freezer sections in a lot of these grocery stores, the food has been thrown out.”
Utilities from Minnesota to Texas and Mississippi have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity.
“Initially, I think it was system failures, but then the distributors got the systems back online,” Joshua Lashway said. “But they are trying to artificially reduce supply, so they are now manually taking neighborhoods offline, and they are calling it a rolling blackout in order to try to create that supply and demand.”
“They are doing controlled outages to ensure they don’t do a wide-scale blackout,” explained Ricky Erixton, vice president of JEA Electric Systems.
Erixton said the situation in Texas reminds him of two hurricanes that impacted customers throughout Northeast Florida.
“For Matthew, it was around 260,000 give or take. For Irma, it was around 280,000, and we had approximately 450,000 customers at the time,” Erixton said.
That came out to millions of dollars in recovery efforts.
Part of the recovery effort is storm hardening.
“So one of the things we do is poles. We always inspect our poles once every eight years to ensure they are sturdy and reliable,” Erixton said. “If we find rot or damage, we replace them with a new pole.”
As for how Northeast Florida could be impacted by what’s going on Texas, Erixton said: “The high demand has caused fuel prices to spike for us as well. Natural gas supplies a lot of generators in Texas and across the country. All that has been increased.”
JEA also released this statement to News4Jax:
“JEA is closely monitoring the events in Texas and has plans in place to respond should this type of extreme weather occur in our service territory. Our facilities are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and crews are on alert and ready to act in case of service loss caused by extreme weather. JEA also maintains a diverse fuel mix, which helps ensure that JEA is not reliant on a single fuel source. A solid plan and fuel diversity helps to reduce the chances of this happening in our service territory.”