The Deadly Freeze

Snow covered Texas license plate The polar vortex froze the great state of Texas in February of 2021. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Instead of red roses for Valentine’s Day in 2021, Texans received a heavy blanket of white snow and thick ice from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande River. An avalanche of actions ensued to provide food, water and power to people across the entire state. 

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Texas experienced the threatening impacts of the polar vortex in February of 2021 when temperatures dropped below freezing and rolling blackouts swept across the southern state. A 246-person death toll resulted from the 2021 polar vortex, primarily from hypothermia.

President of the Panhandle Producers and Royalty Owners Association, Judy Stark, is a Borger, Texas, native and has been around the oil and gas industry she said for her whole life. 

“One of the biggest issues that we can look back at is Winter Storm Uri. Everything blacked out in the ERCOT grid,” Stark said. 

 The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) provides electricity to over 26 million people in Texas. ERCOT reported that over 50% of outages were weather related.

“The issue with the ERCOT grid although the media will make it something different was the fact that the grid was about 18-20% reliant on alternative fuel which was wind and solar, and it failed, too,” Stark said. 

The polar vortex as defined by the institute is a low-pressure jet stream of below freezing temperatures flowing at both of earth’s poles. The river of wind flows in a rounding motion following the turn of earth on its axis, which holds the freezing temperatures at the poles. Changes in temperatures near the poles causes a varying pattern in the flow of the jet stream and can lead to a disruption of the wind flow. 

It has to be a constructive mix, and not a government push because that would fail the American way.

Judy Stark

The polar vortex rarely impacts places beyond the poles, but when disrupted the jet stream will stem through the southern states and cause below freezing temperatures. While the low-temperature jet stream is present year-round, the polar vortex is only present in the winter when the pressure decreases and temperatures significantly drop. Stark explained the polar vortex of 2021 was influential in the push for development of alternative energy sources because of the need for a sustainable power grid. 

“We’ve talked many times about wind and solar, and I am a proponent,” Stark said. “But I do think it has to be a constructive mix, and not a government push because that could fail the American way.”