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February 13–17, 2021 North American winter storm

February 13–17, 2021 North American winter storm
Winter Storm Uri on 2-16-2021.jpg
Satellite imagery of the winter storm over the eastern third of the United States on February 16.
TypeExtratropical cyclone
Winter storm
Blizzard
Ice storm
Tornado outbreak
FormedFebruary 11, 2021
DissipatedCurrently active
Lowest pressure970 mb (28.64 inHg)
Tornadoes confirmed5
Max. rating1EF3+ tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak27 hours, 55 minutes
Maximum snowfall or ice accretionSnow – 26 in (66 cm) in Detroit, Oregon
Ice – 1.50 in (3.8 cm) in Canby, Oregon
DamageUnknown
Power outages> 9,724,000[1]
CasualtiesAt least 49 killed[2][3]
Areas affectedPacific Northwest, Western United States, Southern United States, Eastern United States, Northern Mexico, Eastern Canada

1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
2Time from first tornado to last tornado

The February 13–17, 2021 North American winter storm, also unofficially referred to as Winter Storm Uri,[4][5] was a major winter and ice storm that had widespread impacts across the United States, Northern Mexico, and parts of Canada from February 13–17. The storm started out at the Pacific Northwest and quickly moved into the Southern United States, before moving on to the Midwestern and Northeastern United States a couple of days later. The winter storm resulted in over 170 million Americans being placed under various winter weather alerts across the United States and caused blackouts for over 9.7 million customers,[6][1] including over 5 million customers in the U.S. and 4.7 million customers in Mexico.[1] The blackouts were the largest ones in the U.S. since another large blackout in 2003.[7] The storm also brought destructive severe weather to Southeastern United States, including several tornadoes. On February 16, there were at least 20 direct fatalities and 13 indirect fatalities attributed to the storm;[8][9][10][11][4] by February 18, the death toll had risen to at least 49.[2][3]

Meteorological history

On February 13, a frontal storm developed off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and moved ashore, before moving southeastward, with the storm becoming disorganized in the process.[12][13] During this time, the storm reached a minimum pressure of 992 millibars (29.3 inHg) over the Rocky Mountains.[13] On the same day, The Weather Channel gave the storm the unofficial name Winter Storm Uri, due to the expected impacts from the storm,[4] the Federal Communications Commission later adopted the name after February 17 in their reports.[5] Over the next couple of days the storm began to develop as it entered the Southern United States and moved into Texas.[14] On February 15, the system developed a new surface low off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, as the storm turned northeastward and expanded in size.[15]

On February 16, the storm developed another low-pressure center to the north as the system grew more organized, while moving towards the northeast.[16] Later that day, the storm broke in half, with the newer storm moving northward into Quebec, while the original system moved off the East Coast of the U.S.[17] By the time the winter storm exited the U.S. late on February 16, the combined snowfall from the multiple winter storms within the past month had left nearly 75% of the Contiguous United States covered by snow.[18] On February 17, the storm's secondary low dissipated as the system approached landfall on Newfoundland, intensifying in the process.[19] At 12:00 UTC that day, the storm's central pressure reached 985 millibars (29.1 inHg), as the center of the storm moved over Newfoundland.[20] On the same day, the storm was given the name Belrem by the Free University of Berlin.[21] The storm continued to strengthen as it moved across the North Atlantic, with the storm's central pressure dropping to 970 millibars (29 inHg) by February 18.[22]

Preparations and impact

United States

On February 14, the expected impacts from the storm resulted in over 170 million Americans being placed under various winter weather alerts across the United States.[6] Over 120 million of those people were placed under winter storm warnings or ice storm warnings by the National Weather Service.[23] The winter storm caused power grids to fail across the U.S., causing blackouts for over 5 million homes and businesses, which became one of the largest blackout events in modern U.S. history,[1][24] the largest one since the Northeast blackout of 2003.[7]

Northwest

Severe blowing snow in Snoqualmie, Washington on February 13

The winter storm was the second of the two snowstorms that swept through the region within a one-week period. 11.1 inches (28 cm) of snow in Seattle, Washington compounded the previous storm.[25]

The Portland metro area was hit very hard by the storm, which brought a mix of snow and ice to the region.[25] 300,000 customers were left without power in the region, and the Governor declared a state of emergency.[26][1]

Central and Southern Plains

With the threat of icing, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) pre-treated roadways, using a brine-salt mix, across six Southeast Texas counties.[27] For the first time on record, the National Weather Service (through its 13 regional offices serving Texas and adjoining portions of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana) issued Winter Storm Warnings for all 254 counties in the state.[4]

Drone footage of Houston

On February 14–15, the storm dropped prolific amounts of snow across Texas and Oklahoma. As a result of the winter storm and a concurrent cold wave, power grids—unable to sustain the higher-than-normal energy and heating demand from residential and business customers—failed across Texas; at the peak of the outages, at least 4.3 million Texas residents were left without electricity.[1] Two of the electricity reliability commissions servicing the Southern U.S., the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), ordered rolling blackouts for 14 states amid the frigid temperatures, in an attempt to manage the strain on the power grid and prevent widespread, long-duration blackouts. The controlled outages were initiated after the Southwest Power Pool declared Level 3 Emergency Energy Alerts on both February 15 and 16; the SPP and ERCOT faced criticism by government officials and residents in the region for the limited advanced notice of the outages, and for not outlining the specific areas serviced by SPP partner utilities that would be affected.[28][29][30]

At one point during the rolling outages, over 4.2 million people across the south-central states were left without power, with over 3.5 million of them in Texas alone.[31] The rolling blackouts led to calls by Governor Greg Abbott for the Texas Legislature to conduct investigations into preparations and decisions undertaken by ERCOT in advance of the storm.[32] Some of the blackouts were initiated as several cities throughout the Central and Southern Plains experienced record overnight low temperatures: on February 16 alone, daily record lows were broken in Oklahoma City (−14 °F [−26 °C], the city's coldest temperature since 1899 and its second-coldest on record), Dallas (−2 °F [−19 °C], the city's coldest temperature since 1930 and its second-coldest on record), Houston (13 °F [−11 °C], the city's coldest temperature since 1989), San Antonio (12 °F [−11 °C], the city's coldest temperature since 1989) and Little Rock (−1 °F [−18 °C], the city's coldest temperature since 1989), with all-time low temperatures being set in Fayetteville, Arkansas (−20 °F [−29 °C]) and Hastings, Nebraska (−30 °F [−34 °C]).[33]

Rolling blackouts, longer-duration power outages and ice accretion caused by the precipitation and unusually cold temperatures (for the region's climate) caused widespread disruptions to water distribution systems across the Southern Plains. Water line breaks occurred in many areas, and power disruptions impacted water treatment plants in parts of the region that forced several cities—including Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Abilene, Killeen and Arlington, Texas; and Shreveport, Louisiana—to enact residential boil orders (i.e., to boil drinking water for one minute in order to remove bacteria and other pathogens);[34][35][36][37][38][39] By February 18, more than 13 million people in Texas lived in areas covered by boil-water advisories.[40] In cases where residents had no energy sources to heat water, purchasing bottled water was advised;[41] in Houston, this led to shortages of bottled water in grocery stores.[42] In addition, pipe bursts caused significant damage to numerous residences in the Dallas area and other areas of North Texas.

Satellite image of Houston, Texas on February 7 (left) before the storm and on Feb 16 (right) after the storm.[43] The dark patches in the latter image depict areas left without electricity.

After consulting Dallas mayor Eric Johnson, two NHL games between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars that were scheduled for the evenings of February 15 and 16 at American Airlines Center were postponed,[44][45] and two games between the Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning scheduled for February 18 and 20 were also postponed.[46][47] In contrast, the Oklahoma City Thunder opted to hold their February 16 home game against the Portland Trail Blazers as scheduled, even as most other buildings in Downtown Oklahoma City decided to turn off lighting and electrical equipment overnight to reduce strain on the city's power grid; the NBA team stated that Chesapeake Energy Arena would take steps to conserve power while the game was being played, including turning off concourse lighting, video panels, exterior signage and most outdoor lighting.[48][49]

Due to the deregulated electricity market and the spike in demand, since February 10, wholesale electricity prices have gone up in some places by 10,000%.[50] As a result, some Texans are receiving exceptionally expensive electric bills as high as $450.00 for one day of use.[51] On February 18, San Antonio firefighters fighting a large apartment fire caused by a water heater explosion were forced to use water trucks as fire hydrants had become inoperable due to water shortages.[52] On February 17, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) stirred controversy when he was filmed boarding an airplane to Cancún, Mexico with his family. He returned to Houston the following day, and admitted he had scheduled the vacation to avoid freezing conditions inside their home.[53]

A visible satellite loop of a snow-covered South Central U.S. in the aftermath of the winter storm on February 16

In Oklahoma, winter storm warnings were issued for all 77 counties in the state ahead of the storm by National Weather Service offices in Norman, Tulsa, Amarillo and Shreveport. Governor Kevin Stitt also issued a statewide winter weather State of Emergency on February 12, as the state was already dealing with effects from minor winter weather events and prolonged sub-freezing temperatures from the days prior.[54] Widespread areas of 3–8 inches (7.6–20.3 cm) were recorded throughout the state with locally higher amounts in some areas. Roosevelt saw 12 inches (30 cm) of snow, the highest total measured in the state during the event.[55]

The heavy, blowing snow caused massive travel issues across the state on February 14. By 5:20 p.m. CST that day, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol had responded to 56 non-injury collisions, 24 injury collisions, and 116 motorist assists.[56] A fiery crash involving multiple vehicles, including two semi-trucks, shut down the Turner Turnpike near Hiwassee Road in northeastern Oklahoma County, with westbound traffic being diverted to the Kickapoo Turnpike and eastbound traffic being diverted to I-35.[57] Another vehicle collision on I-35 near Braman caused one fatality.[10] The record cold temperatures during the event also caused a dam at Lake Overholser to completely freeze over.[58] On February 18, following recommendations by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality issued earlier that evening, a voluntary boil advisory was issued in Oklahoma City for residents who experienced outages of water service from the bitter temperatures and snowpack.[59][60]

On February 16, the storm had killed at least 17 people across the South.[61][8] By February 18, the death toll rose to at least 49.[2][3] At least 10 people in Texas died in weather-related incidents since February 14, including a mother and a child due to carbon monoxide poisoning.[62] Eight other people in the South, outside of Texas, have died as a result of the system or through indirect storm-related incidents.[63]

Great Lakes

Map of snow emergencies in Ohio from February 15–16, 2021, at their most severe levels

Chicago, Illinois along with other cities in northern Illinois received up to 14–17 inches (36–43 cm) of snow along with winds that got up to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). Toledo, Ohio received 14.5 inches (37 cm) of snow, the third-highest two-day snowfall record, and the highest since 1912. Other Northern Ohio cities received up to 10–12 inches (25–30 cm) of snow while cities in the central part received up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) of snow like in Columbus, Ohio.[64]

Southeast

A severe weather outbreak struck the Southeastern United States on February 15, with large hail, damaging winds, and at least five tornadoes affecting five states.[65] A tornado of at least EF2 intensity caused significant damage to a mobile home and a family home in Damascus, Georgia, injuring five people. A more destructive tornado of at least high-end EF3 intensity struck the Ocean Ridge Plantation neighborhood in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, causing major damage to many well-built homes, some of which were obliterated. This tornado killed three and injured 10.[66][67]

In Memphis, Tennessee, the city declared a state of emergency on February 17 [68] after seeing record daily snowfall of 5.7 inches.[69] Three-day snow totals since February 15 in the Memphis area reached 10-12 inches, shy of the record of 14.3 inches set in December 1963.[70] The snowfall disrupted FedEx operations at its Memphis hub, which disrupted COVID-19 vaccine distribution nationally.[71]

List of confirmed tornadoes – Monday, February 15, 2021[note 1]
EF# Location County / Parish State Start Coord. Time (UTC) Path length Max width Summary
EF0 NW of Panama City Beach Bay FL 30°13′16″N 85°53′23″W / 30.2211°N 85.8898°W / 30.2211; -85.8898 (Panama City Beach Beach (Feb. 15, EF0)) 20:01–20:03 1.3 mi (2.1 km) 50 yd (46 m) Minor damage to structures, poles, benches, and fencing occurred near the beach and at Frank Brown Park.[72]
EF0 SE of Gilberts Mill Washington FL 30°35′58″N 85°27′21″W / 30.5994°N 85.4557°W / 30.5994; -85.4557 (Gilberts Mill (Feb. 15, EF0)) 20:38–20:39 0.7 mi (1.1 km) 100 yd (91 m) A brief tornado pulled an outbuilding from its anchors, lofting it 20 yd (18 m). It was anchored by wooden poles in shallow concrete. Several pine trees were snapped along a driveway. Further north, a double wide manufactured home had minor roof damage. Several other trees were uprooted along the path.[73]
EF0 NW of Lake City Columbia FL 30°12′25″N 82°44′17″W / 30.207°N 82.738°W / 30.207; -82.738 (Lake City (Feb. 15, EF0)) 21:17–21:21 0.37 mi (0.60 km) 60 yd (55 m) A tiled roof, fences, and trees were damaged by this brief tornado.[74]
EF2 S of Damascus to E of Iveys Mill Early, Baker GA 31°16′52″N 84°43′16″W / 31.281°N 84.7211°W / 31.281; -84.7211 (Damascus (Feb. 15, EF2)) 21:38–21:48 11.60 mi (18.67 km) 600 yd (550 m) This tornado first touched down just west of SR 45, where it snapped several trees and damaged the roofs of some homes. Further northeast, the tornado reached its peak intensity as it destroyed two homes, one made of concrete blocks, and other made of wood with a concrete block foundation. Only foundations remained of these structures, including a detached garage, but they were not anchored. Five injuries occurred at these homes. A truck was tossed from the garage, with other cars being heavily damaged. Trees were snapped or uprooted, with two cases of metal poles being lodged into trees. A propane tank was dislodged and moved. Power lines were downed. Further northeast, the tornado weakened as it snapped and uprooted more trees. Some minor roofing damage occurred before the tornado lifted.[75][76][77][78]
EF3 N of Sunset Beach to SW of Delco Brunswick NC 33°54′42″N 78°30′35″W / 33.9118°N 78.5096°W / 33.9118; -78.5096 (Sunset Beach (Feb. 15, EF3)) 04:34–04:56 22 mi (35 km) 275 yd (251 m) 3 deaths – The tornado touched down north of Sunset Beach, damaging numerous pine trees and limbs at EF0 intensity as it crossed NC 179, before rapidly intensifying to EF2 strength as it neared NC 904. As the tornado crossed the road, a large metal building was destroyed and a number of RVs were overturned. Still rapidly strengthening, the tornado entered the Ocean Ridge Plantation community at its peak intensity of high-end EF3. One poorly-constructed home was swept off its foundation while numerous other well-built brick homes suffered significant damage, some of which were completely leveled. One home was swept completely off its crawl space with two fatalities at this location. One other fatality and 10 injures occurred in the community as well. The tornado then abruptly weakened, but reached its maximum width as it crossed US 17 between Grissettown and Cool Run near the entrance to Ocean Ridge Plantation at EF1 strength, rolling and destroying a double-wide mobile home on the north side of the highway. As the tornado continued northeast, it reintensifed back to EF2 strength, causing major damage to several homes and snapping hundreds of trees along Green Bay Road NW and Old Shallote Road NW. It then created a continuous path of tree damage through forest and swamp land, crossing NC 130 and NC 211. The tornado finally lifted east of NC 211.[79][76][80][81]

Mexico

Snow in a chair in Monterrey, Mexico, on February 14.

The winter storm strained the power grids in northern Mexico, leading to cascading blackouts for 4.7 million homes and businesses in Mexico.[1]

Temperatures as low as −18 °C (0 °F) were recorded as shortages of natural gas lead to blackouts in Nuevo León, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Chihuahua along the Texas border.[82] Over a dozen people died in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; Río Bravo and Matamoros, Tamaulipas; and Monterrey, Nuevo León; due to the winter storm.[11] President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said on February 17 that Mexico would increase the use of oil and coal to produce electricity, as well as purchase three shiploads of natural gas to deal with power shortages. He also warned that periodic local outages would continue through February 21.[83] Local authorities mentioned that no hospitals had been left without electricity at any time.[84]

Canada

In Ontario, Snowfall warnings were issued in advance of the winter storm. Buses were cancelled across the Greater Toronto Area and schools were completely closed in Halton and Durham.[85] 20 centimetres (7.9 in) of snow fell in Windsor, 12 centimetres (4.7 in) at Pearson International Airport and 18 centimetres (7.1 in) fell in Ottawa. The highest totals in the region were the over 30 centimetres (12 in) that fell near St. Catherine's and Hamilton.[86]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ All dates are based on the local time zone where the tornado touched down; however, all times are in Coordinated Universal Time for consistency.

References

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