Climate Change: Texas Snowstorms and the Polar Vortex

By Lydia Jensen

Staff Writer

Montinique Monroe-Getty Images

Though the Texas snowstorms are over, there are lasting effects from the event. The timeline for the storm varies from area to area, but massive power outages were experienced all throughout the state during the event, and for some time after.

Specifically, about 4.3 million power outages were experienced throughout the state, with 14.9 million residents in counties that reported weather-related operational disruptions, as reported by ABC 13.

Regular Texan citizens were not prepared for heavy snowfall, but neither was the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, who operate 90% of Texas’s deregulated power grid, as their internal meeting only discussed the storm for 40 seconds prior to the event. Many later resigned (KSAT 12 San Antonio).

Keeping up with Texas’s climate isn’t exactly something I would do on a regular basis, but as a Marylander, this dramatic change in weather looked oddly familiar. During the storm, there were many speculations on what it could have been caused by and how it got so bad. 


One topic that was repeated multiple times was the “Polar Vortex”. This phrase should sound familiar to Marylanders who were here for the 2010 snowstorm that left many places like Baltimore in an icy chill for a week. 

The polar vortex is what keeps the north pole freezing, while the rest of the world sees a livable winter. The air circulates all of its coldest temperatures within the poles, with some escaping when it morphs to give a particularly bad winter. But when it shifts, that ‘livability’ changes. 

A shifted polar vortex, according to the University of Maryland, “swept down several times this winter [2010], bringing cold temperatures and snow to large segments of the U.S. east of the Rocky mountains”. The polar vortex has been reacting to changes in the ozone layer as of recent, and has shifted from fluctuating every other year to almost every year, hence the weird weather patterns. 

Thanks to online gaming and the internet in general, like many others, I’ve met a few different people from all across the globe. 

Two of these people were from Houston, Texas – one of the more well known cities in that state. We discussed the snowstorms quite a lot, sometimes sharing things we found interesting, and sometimes made an effort to comfort those who were in the midst of the chaos. 

“Everyone treated it like every other snowstorm, that it probably wouldn’t happen.” One resident, who requested to be referred to as K, said, “The reason is, it’s very humid here, the rare times it does snow, it never sticks. It ends up melting pretty quickly.”

Another resident, who asked to be referred to as Donni, said, “..my family was at first playing in the snow at 1am since we were all up and we had power”

Donni’s family wasn’t the only one. Many Texans played in the snow when the storm first started, some posting to social media throwing snowballs, going on swings and sledding with what looked like street signs. 

Things took a serious turn when many realized they had lost power. 

“…as soon as the power went out everyone went inside and trying to get warm” Donnie said. 

“It affected the smaller towns for sure. My [hometown] is Shepherd, you couldn’t see the roads at all over there. As for my area, only half of the yard was covered,” K noted.

For Donni, there wasn’t much of a change, “only thing that really changed was that I didn’t shower for the whole time and I was sleeping all day till there was food”

For others, like K, things were very different.  

“Everything became a hassle, everything changed. When the water was shut off, so the water wouldn’t freeze and burst a pipe, everything involving water was done. Anything essentially around water, you were no longer allowed to do. Shower, dishes, etc. Then the power cut out. So you couldn’t eat hot food, unless you had a gas stove (I don’t). You would freeze unless you have a fireplace (I don’t have that either).”

The average Texan houses’ walls weren’t built for cold. “…we have little insulation, since we have really hot summers.”

The pipes were also not able to withstand the storm. 

Donni noted that, “after the snow went away we had our water contaminated and still no power or water for a few days.” She says that the effects are gone for her, but the results for many others are only beginning to unfold. 

K specifically said that, “It was still icy on the roads for a few days. It wasn’t what anyone expected, since we don’t ever deal with this. It killed the grass, so yeah, we’re still seeing some effects. Nothing too bad, for me at least.”

This can be seen in the aftermath, with one poster finding chunks of his ceiling completely demolished with water flooding his home from the snow (Warning: light cursing and loud beeping alarms). 

One viral twitter thread explained how to keep safe during a power outage in a snowstorm and was posted to many different social media platforms. 

The thread detailed many different routine changes. The most notable advice was to seclude yourself in one room with all of your medicine and housemates/family, use the snow outside as a make-shift fridge, and use bubble wrap as insulation for the windows. 

This wasn’t the first irregular winter for Texas, and it won’t be the last. With temperatures rising all over the world, sea levels rising, and the polar vortex warping near annually, we won’t just be seeing a few irregular snowstorms in the near future. 

When these systems that are meant to protect the citizens against these changes and manage key infrastructure like the Energy Grid are wrong, who suffers?

With universal connections through social media, and being able to see the effects of Climate Change so readily anywhere from Texas to the North Pole, why has there been so little change?

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