AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday, Feb. 15, that knocked out power to more than 2 million people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads.
The slow thaw and more frigid lows ahead was also taking a toll on Texas' distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
The worsening conditions halted the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine shipments and left some Texas providers scrambling to find takers for doses expiring within hours.
State health officials said Texas, which was due to receive more than 400,000 additional vaccine doses this week, now does not expect deliveries to occur until at least Wednesday.
But with doses already in-hand expiring, Rice University on Monday abruptly began offering vaccines on its closed Houston campus.
Harris Health System told the school it had about 1,000 vaccines that "were going to go to waste" and asked if the school could find takers, said Doug Miller, a university spokesman.
"The window was just a couple hours. They have to take care of it quickly," Miller said.
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.
"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.
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency in Texas in a statement Sunday night. The declaration is intended to add federal aid to state and local response efforts.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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