By PAUL J. WEBER and JAKE BLEIBERG
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power for more than 2 million people, shut down grocery stores and air travel and sent cars skidding on dangerously snowy and slick roads.
The worsening conditions halted the delivery of new COVID-19 vaccine shipments. Massive power outages across Houston included a facility storing 8,000 doses of Moderna vaccine, and health officials scrambled to find takers at the same time authorities were pleading for people to stay home.
Temperatures nosedived into the single-digits as far south as San Antonio, and homes that had already been without electricity for hours had no certainty about when the lights and heat would come back on, as the state’s overwhelmed power grid throttled into rotating blackouts that are typically only seen in 100-degree Fahrenheit (38-degree Celsius) summers.
The storm was part of a massive system that brought snow, sleet and freezing rain to the southern Plains and was spreading across the Ohio Valley and to the Northeast. The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities across 14 states, called for rolling outages because the supply of reserve energy had been exhausted. Some utilities said they were starting blackouts, while others urged customers to reduce power usage.
“We’re living through a really historic event going on right now,” said Jason Furtado, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, pointing to all of Texas under a winter storm warning and the extent of the freezing temperatures.
In Houston, where county leaders had warned that the freeze could create problems on the scale of massive hurricanes that slam the Gulf Coast, one electric provider said power may not be restored to some homes until Tuesday. More than 500 people were hunkering down at one shelter, but Mayor Sylvester Turner said other warming centers had to be shut down because those locations, too, lost power.
State officials said soaring demand and cold weather knocking some power stations offline had pushed Texas’ system beyond the limits.
“This weather event, it’s really unprecedented. We all living here know that,” said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. He defended preparations made by grid operators and described the demand on the system as record-setting.
“This event was well beyond the design parameters for a typical, or even an extreme, Texas winter that you would normally plan for. And so that is really the result that we’re seeing,” Woodfin said.
The largest grocery store chain in Texas, H-E-B, closed locations around Austin and San Antonio, cities that are unaccustomed to snow and have little resources to clear roads. The slow thaw and more frigid lows ahead was also taking a toll on Texas’ distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
State health officials said Texas,…