Path to Zero
Path to Zero
3.02 - Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Findell on the Texas Winter Storm and Grid Failure – One Year Later

In this episode, Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Findell reflects on the one-year anniversary of the devastating winter storm known as Uri. It brought record cold and ice to the southwest and caused the Texas electric grid to fail.

Many have said that Uri was another extreme example of how climate change will reshape our winters in the future. However, scientists are still researching whether climate change is fueling extreme cold events like it has with tropical storms, droughts and wildfires.

Elizabeth Findell’s Texas Reporting

Before joining the Journal in 2019, Findell reported for the Dallas Morning News, Austin American Statesman and The Monitor in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Her reporting during the record winter storm shined a light on the human suffering and fight for survival Texans experienced.

“Seeing how quickly things broke down was really sobering,” says Findell.

Winter Storm Uri turned catastrophic when power blackouts spanned most of the state. More than two out of three, or 69 percent, of Texans lost power at some point during the storm. Almost half, or about 49 percent, had disruptions in water service. Winter Storm Uri contributed to at least 200 deaths and financial losses could top $100 Billion.

“It was stunning to see the impact of a storm like that on Texas,” says Findell. “It was amazing because it was a failure of infrastructure that caused that rather than necessarily a natural disaster.”

While most Texans were stranded at home due to ice and snow-covered roads, Findell was able to get out and see the impact and talk to people struggling to stay warm in the power outage. “I actually got lucky by sheer coincidence,” says Findell. The water heater at her home went out the week before the storm. Since she had family visiting from Colorado, she booked a hotel to have hot water and used her mother’s car with good snow tires to get around in the icy conditions.

Findell talked to storm victims like a city of Austin crossing guard named Charlene Brewster. She’s a mother of three children, ages 3, 1 and 4 months. They had no power for several days and resorted to huddling around gas burners on their stove to keep warm. “I know about carbon monoxide poisoning, but what else can we do?” Charlene told Findell. “Is anyone going to help us? I have a baby in here.”

Findell says she went back to the family’s home the next morning and fortunately they were OK and made arrangements to stay with another family that had heat.

People wait in line to fill water containers outside a brewery in Austin (from a Wall Street Journal video)

Lessons Learned

Findell says many questions remain about whether actions taken to winterize the Texas electric grid will prevent a similar disaster from happening again. Governor Greg Abbott has been saying everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid.

“The process continues to be heavily partisan,” says Findell. “Abbott’s claims have been challenged by democrats, including his likely opponent, who is building his campaign around the freeze and electric grid issues.”