Studying the storm
Texans are painfully aware of the bitter loss caused by Winter Storm Uri; many are still coping with the effects of the storm that set in on February 13. But now, new figures reveal how ravaging the freeze was to the Lone Star State and its beleaguered residents.
At its peak, Uri left close to 4.5 million homes and businesses without power, killed more than 100 people, and caused an estimated $295 billion in damage. The storm became the single biggest insurance claim event in state history.
More than two out of three Texans — some 69 percent — lost electricity at some point during the storm, for an average of 42 hours. Meanwhile, almost half — 49 percent — lost access to running water for an average of more than two days.
Additionally, nearly one-third of residents reported water damage in their home.
These numbers come from a just-released report by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. The Hobby School conducted the online survey of Texas residents 18 and older who live in the 213 counties served by the Texas Electrical Grid, which is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
The full report is available here.
Highlighting the frustrations millions have expressed since the storm has passed, nearly three out of four Texans — 74 percent — say they disapprove of ERCOT’s performance during the winter storm, with 65 percent strongly disapproving. Some 78 percent of respondents claim they do not believe that the power outages in their area were carried out in an equitable manner.
Just how many Texans were okay with the council? Only 6 percent say they approve of ERCOT’s widely criticized handling of the storm, per the survey. In the aftermath of the storm, seven ERCOT board members resigned following the near total failure of the state’s power grid.
More than three-quarters of residents surveyed support policy reforms, which include requiring electricity generators to weatherize and boost their reserve capacity and natural gas companies to weatherize in order to be able to participate in the Texas market.
However, a majority of respondents oppose proposals that would require consumers to pay an additional fee in order to fund electricity generator weatherization efforts and to increase the amount of reserve electricity generation capacity, per the study.
The Hobby data produced other notable findings, including:
- Some 61 percent of Texans prepared for the storm by buying additional food, 58 percent bought bottled water, and 55 percent filled their vehicle with gas. The next most common preparations were insulating pipes, covering or moving plants, and storing tap water.
- A large number — 75 percent — reported difficulty obtaining food or groceries, 71 percent lost internet service, and 63 percent had difficulty obtaining bottled water.
- When they lost electrical power and heat, 18 percent left their home, with 44 percent going to a local relative’s home.
- Of those who remained in their home without power, 26 percent used their gas oven or cooktop as a source of heat, 8 percent used a grill or smoker indoors, and 5 percent used an outdoor propane heater indoors.
- Nearly half of Texans disapprove of Gov. Greg Abbott’s performance during the winter storm, compared to 28 percent who approve.
- More than half relied either a great deal, somewhat, or a little on three information sources before, during and after the storm hit: 68 percent on local TV news; 63 percent on neighbors and friends; and 55 percent on The Weather Channel.
The survey was fielded by YouGov from March 9 through March 19, with 1,500 YouGov respondents, resulting in a confidence interval of +/-2.5. Respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, ethnicity/race, and education, and are “representative of the adult population in these 213 Texas counties,” per UH.
“Winter Storm Uri was a catastrophic weather event that impacted millions of lives across our state,” said Kirk P. Watson, founding dean of the Hobby School, in a statement. “By digging deeper into its impact on Texans, we are learning critical information that will help inform future plans so a tragedy of this magnitude never happens again.”