Timeline: Inside the 2021 winter storm, power crisis

In February 2021, as Texas faced record-low temperatures, ERCOT, the state’s electric grid operator, lost control of the power supply, leaving millions of Texans in the dark for days.

In February 2021, as Texas faced record-low temperatures, ERCOT, the state’s electric grid operator, lost control of the power supply, leaving millions of Texans in the dark for days.

The devastation wrought by the modern-day catastrophe upended lives and ended others. In total, 246 people died as a result of the harsh conditions, with causes including hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, car accidents, and fires. The victims ranged in age from less than 1 year old to 102 years old.

Below is a timeline of the events.

Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021

Frank Billingsley has an update on the forecast on Feb. 10, 2021.

Weather: A cold front brings a surge of cold air into the Greater Houston area.

MORE: Frank Billingsley recounts 2021 winter freeze

Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021

Weather: The first Winter Weather Advisory for the region is issued Thursday morning for Burleson, Brazos, and Madison counties as icy precipitation makes area roadways hazardous, according to the National Weather Service - Houston/Galveston. After sunset, the advisory expands to include Grimes and Washington counties and continues through Friday morning due to lingering precipitation.

Power: In a release, ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness says “This statewide weather system is expected to bring Texas the coldest weather we’ve experienced in decades. With temperatures rapidly declining, we are already seeing high electric use and anticipating record-breaking demand in the ERCOT region.” The release states Texas “could set a new all-time winter peak demand record Monday morning, Feb. 15.”

MORE: Power failure: What warnings did ERCOT send and when?

Friday, Feb. 12, 2021

Get a weather update from KPRC 2.

Weather: A stronger Arctic cold front progresses through the country and is expected to reach Southeast Texas late Sunday, according to the National Weather Service - Houston/Galveston. A Winter Storm Watch is issued for the entire region for Sunday in anticipation of possible snow, sleet, and freezing rain. In other parts of the state, temperatures fall near zero. Gov. Greg Abbott issues a disaster declaration.

Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021

Weather: The massive winter storm hits regions of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. With several areas already suffering freezing temperatures, Texas is greatly impacted. In the Houston area, a Winter Storm Warning is issued for Colorado, Austin, Waller, Montgomery, San Jacinto and Polk counties as sleet and freezing rain form ahead of the approaching cold front. Later, the counties that remained in the Winter Storm Watch, Jackson, Wharton, Fort Bend, Harris, and Liberty counties, are placed under a warning.

Power: Large generators begin to go unexpectedly offline, according to a report by The University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute.

Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021

Weather: The National Weather Service said the events of Sunday “served as the turning point from a significant winter storm that preceded the front to the historic winter event that would eventually unfold.”

The strong arctic cold front passes through Southeast Texas on Valentine’s Day. For the first time in the state’s history, all 254 Texas counties are placed under a Winter Storm Warning and a Hard Freeze Warning. Sunday afternoon, snow, sleet and freezing rain fall in the Greater Houston area and increase in intensity and coverage overnight. Thundersnow is reported near the town of Snook in Burleson County and thunder sleet is observed near Brazoria and Galveston counties, according to the National Weather Service. Due to the ice and snow, some roads in the region become impassable.

Temperatures plummet Sunday night. Some areas in the region experience single-digit temperatures. Wind chill pushes these even lower. A Hard Freeze Warning and a Wind Chill Warning -- the first Wind Chill Warning issued by the National Weather Service Office-Houston/Galveston -- are issued.

Power: ERCOT issues multiple watches regarding power supply shortages and urges consumers to conserve energy by turning down their thermostats and turning off lights and appliances.

MORE: See photos, videos of freezing rain, snow flurries sprinkling across Houston area

Monday, Feb. 15, 2021

Meteorologist Khambrel Marshall provides a weather update.

Weather: Houston hits a record low for a Feb. 15 of 17 degrees, breaking the previous record of 18 degrees, set in 1905, according to the National Weather Service - Houston/Galveston.

Power: At 12:15 a.m. ERCOT declares and Energy Emergency Alert Level 1 (EEA 1). At 1:07 a.m., it moves to EEA 2 and at 1:20 a.m., ERCOT declares an EEA 3 event and blackouts begin. At 1:55 a.m., the ERCOT system frequency reaches a low of 59.302 Hz.

By Monday evening, at least 2 million Texas households are without power, including 1.4 million CenterPoint customers in the Greater Houston area. Temperatures remain below freezing in some parts of the state.

Later, ERCOT announces the power grid was minutes from a statewide outage.

“ERCOT protocols allow generators to automatically ‘trip’ offline, or automatically shut down and disconnect from the grid, if the grid frequency drops to 59.4 Hz or below for more than nine minutes,” a report by the The University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute reads. “This automatic shutdown lowers the risk of exposure to harmful vibrations and heat that can damage generation equipment if operating at low frequency for too long. The ERCOT system frequency dropped below 59.4 Hz for four minutes and 23 seconds on the morning of Feb. 15. Consequently, the grid was within minutes of a much more serious and potentially complete blackout on the morning of Feb. 15.”

Deaths: The Harris County Sheriff’s Office reports a homeless man likely died of exposure.

PHOTOS: Texans face ice storm that’s left millions of people without power

Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021

KPRC 2 chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley takes a look at the latest forecast.

Weather: Extreme lows persists through early Tuesday, producing the coldest morning of the weather event, according to the National Weather Service - Houston/Galveston. Temperatures plummet to 13°F in Houston, 20°F in Galveston and 5°F in College Station. A Winter Storm Watch is issued for a significant ice storm expected Tuesday night.

Power: At least 4.5 million customers in Texas are without power, the Texas Tribune reports. Abbott promises there will be an investigation into the power outages.

Deaths: Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen reports there have been so many carbon monoxide incidents and calls that officials could not track them all. The Houston Police Department reports two people died and two others were rushed to the hospital after the family ran their car for warmth inside a closed garage, NPR reported. In Sugar Land, a woman and her three grandchildren died in a house fire. The family was without power and was reportedly trying to keep warm using the fireplace. In Conroe, an 11-year-old boy died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, the Montgomery County Courier reported.

Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021

Weather: A Winter Weather Advisory is issued for Wednesday night for light snow showers north and west of Harris County.

Power: Statewide, three million Texas households do not have electricity, including 1.39 million CenterPoint customers. By late Wednesday, the number of CenterPoint customers without power drops to 675,000.

Deaths: After a day without the electricity needed to power his respirator, an 83-year-old Katy man with a serious lung ailment known as COPD dies soon after arriving at a hospital.

Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021

Weather: In the Greater Houston area, a Winter Weather Advisory continues through the morning due to lingering snow showers. A Wind Chill Advisory is issued for northwest counties.

Power: Thursday afternoon, CenterPoint Energy reports that only 30,000 customers are without power. Later, Abbott announces power has been restored to most Texas homes. During an emergency meeting, the Texas Public Utility Commission passes a new rule which dictates that transmission and distribution companies like CenterPoint cannot cut customers’ electricity for more than 12 hours at a time. The new rule takes effect immediately.

Friday, Feb. 19, 2021

Weather: The last Hard Freeze Warning is issued for areas north and west of Harris County, according to the National Weather Service - Houston/Galveston.

Power: As of 8:30 a.m. Friday, power has been restored to 1.39 million CenterPoint customers while 700,00 customers remain without power. ERCOT returns to normal operations at 10:36 a.m. and ceases rolling blackouts.

Deaths: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo reports at least 10 people in Harris County have died from hypothermia.

MORE: Power outages: Nearly all CenterPoint Energy Customers with power, utilities company says

Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021

Hard freeze warning through Saturday morning

Weather: The region’s last Hard Freeze Warning expired at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20 – 8 days, 23 hours, and 23 minutes after the first Winter Weather Advisory for the region was issued on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 9:37 a.m., according to the National Weather Service - Houston/Galveston.

The aftermath:

  • March 3, 2021: ERCOT CEO Bill Magness terminated in aftermath of winter storm.
  • March 24, 2021: U.S. House committee begins its hearing on Texas’ massive power outages during deadly winter storm.
  • June 8, 2021: Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law two bills meant to improve the state’s power grid and the agency that operates it. Senate Bill 3 requires electricity providers operating on the grid managed by ERCOT to weatherize equipment. The bill also creates a state-wide power outage alert system. The bill calls for creating a committee to map out the state’s energy infrastructure by September 2022, then gives the Railroad Commission 180 days to finalize its weatherization rules. Senate Bill 2 changed the governance of ERCOT. It shrank the number of seats on ERCOT’s board of directors from 16 to 11, and gave the state’s top lawmakers strong influence over the board.
  • Nov. 30, 2021: Texas regulators passed a rule aimed at preventing natural gas producers from having their power cut off during future winter storms.
  • Dec. 31, 2021: The Department of State Health Services put its final winter storm death toll estimate at 246. The 246 deaths spanned 77 counties and included victims ranging from less than 1 year old to 102 years old, according to the report. 43 of the fatalities occurred in Harris County; 10 occurred in Galveston County; Seven in Fort Bend County; Three in Montgomery County; One in Brazoria in County and one in Wharton County.

WATCH: KPRC 2 Investigates presents “Power Struggle: The Texas Energy Crisis”

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.