Timeline: How the historic winter storm, Texas blackout cold-stunned the San Antonio area

From initial forecasts to fallout over sky-high electric bills, San Antonians grappled with disaster

(Clockwise, starting from top left): A man crosses a bridge along the River Walk on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 (AP Photo/Eric Gay); a short food supply at an H-E-B store; volunteers hand out water at a San Antonio Food Bank drive-through food distribution site on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 (AP Photo/Eric Gay); the CPS Energy Outage Map on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (Eric Gay, AP, file)

SAN ANTONIO – Preparedness for Texas’ devastating winter storm started with a 40-second mention of the impending frigid weather from ERCOT and energy conservation and safety tips from CPS Energy.

Days later, the storm that dropped snow and ice in the Lone Star State nearly paralyzed the electric grid, causing power and water outages for millions of Texans over a period of days.

A timeline of events in the deadly, extreme weather event shows how the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the council that regulates the state’s electric grid, and CPS Energy raced to keep up with the plunging temperatures — and the demand and fury that followed.

From the deadly pile-up crash in Fort Worth to a winter wonderland of snow to rolling outages to concerns of sky-high CPS Energy bills, here’s how the frigid storm cold-stunned San Antonio and Texas.

Tuesday, Feb. 9

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the Texas council that regulates the state’s electric grid, acknowledged during a board meeting that “pretty frigid temperatures” were headed to Texas — but the conversation about the storm only lasted 40 seconds, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders. ERCOT President & CEO Bill Magness then moved on to his report.

Wednesday, Feb. 10

In a news release, CPS Energy said it was preparing for severe weather and the possibility of outages. “While it’s too early to say what kind of impact the wintry precipitation will have on CPS Energy’s equipment or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid, CPS Energy is monitoring the weather and temperature, and crews are preparing to respond to customers in need and any reports of power outages,” the release said.

Thursday, Feb. 11

The KSAT Weather Authority Team warned that temperatures were expected to stay below freezing for several days in a row, including low temperatures in the teens, the following week.

A massive crash involving more than 130 vehicles on an icy Interstate 35 in Fort Worth Texas left six people dead and at least 65 people hospitalized.

WATCH: Dozens of 18-wheelers, trucks cars involved in fatal highway crash in Fort Worth

In Austin, the winter storm caused a 26-vehicle pileup on North State Highway 45. Five people were taken to a hospital, emergency officials said.

San Antonio-area school districts began announcing campus closures for Friday, but those were later extended and additional districts joined in for the following week.

Friday, Feb. 12

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration in all 254 counties.

As freezing mist and drizzle occurred north of Highway 90 in Bexar County, traffic Interstate 10 in Kerr and Kimble Counties stood at a halt due to a frozen-over roadway. As a result, several drivers were left stranded in freezing temperatures Thursday night into Friday morning.

KSAT anchor/reporter Samuel King recommended to viewers and readers that it was time to start preparing vehicles and gathering emergency supplies ahead of the storm.

Saturday, Feb. 13

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Wolff issued a joint declaration, urging residents to take “proper precautions,” limit travel and conserve energy. The joint declaration also activated the City of San Antonio and Bexar County emergency management plans.

Sunday, Feb. 14

ERCOT urged consumers and businesses to limit their electricity use as much as possible, as the low temperatures resulted in a “record-breaking demand on the power grid.” ERCOT officials also warned that it could impose rolling outages during the next two days.

The San Antonio - Bexar County Office of Emergency Management announced all major San Antonio highways and other roads closed.

San Antonio and Bexar County officials issued an emergency alert Sunday afternoon, warning residents that many streets and highways would be closed due to the icy conditions. (KSAT)

H-E-B began adjusting hours at stores across Texas. In the following days, some stores had to completely close for the day.

Abbott announced that the White House granted a Federal Emergency Declaration for Texas, which authorized FEMA to provide emergency protective measures, sheltering and direct assistance.

Wintry precipitation from Sunday night resulted in snow for San Antonio and the surrounding area. San Antonio set a record low for Feb. 14 at 13 degrees.

Monday, Feb. 15

People in San Antonio and the surrounding area woke up to 3-6 inches of snowfall, the most snow the area had seen since 1985. The total amount that fell at the San Antonio International Airport was 3.7 inches, including 1.2 inches that fell Sunday before midnight and 2.5 inches that fell Monday after midnight.

The temperature at the airport got down to 9 degrees on Monday morning — the lowest temperature San Antonio officially reached during the week.

WATCH: Residents, visitors in awe of The Alamo covered in snow

At 1 a.m., ERCOT officials decided to shed power by initiating rolling outages, claiming it avoided an indefinite “catastrophic blackout.” That decision left millions of Texans without power for days. “The fundamental decision that was made in the middle of the night, at 1 a.m. Monday, to have the outages imposed was a wise decision by the operators we have here,” ERCOT President & CEO Bill Magness said during a virtual briefing two days later.

CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams said roughly two-thirds of CPS Energy grids were subject to rotating outages for the next 24 to 48 hours. The goal was to try and rotate outages in 15-minute increments, but the high demand, reduced ability and technical problems didn’t make that quite possible.

H-E-B began putting a purchase limit on water. The list of product purchasing limits later expanded to include eggs, milk, bread and more items.

Tuesday, Feb. 16

When John Moreno, a representative for the energy company, joined GMSA @ 9 for a virtual Q&A on Tuesday morning, more than 300,000 people were without power in Bexar County. Gold-Williams later said that the “intensity” of freezing temperatures hindered power restoration efforts.

San Antonio set a record low for Feb. 16 at 12 degrees.

ERCOT said Tuesday morning that while the number of outages remained high, it was optimistic “that we will be able to reduce the number throughout the day.”

The city of San Antonio announced that the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center would serve as a warming center for residents.

WATCH: Families relieved to find warmth, safety arrive at city’s warming center

SAWS had to correct a false rumor that the company was turning off residents’ water. SAWS’ system was experiencing low pressure and outages due to power shortages, but officials said it did not shut off water to the city.

KSAT crews and viewers captured images and videos of long lines at grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores, as people tried to grab dwindling supplies.

Abbott declared the reform of the ERCOT an emergency item this legislative session, saying “the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.”

San Antonio Metro Health declared a blood emergency in the city, as the winter weather left San Antonio and South Texas in a blood shortage.

Wednesday, Feb. 17

On Wednesday morning, 2.8 million Texans went without electricity as restoration efforts were hampered by another round of freezing rain and snow in parts of the state.

With more than 280,000 CPS Energy customers without power, the entity had to address “false messaging” in a post that talked about the grid failing and inability to “support critical infrastructure.”

SAWS issued a boil water notice as did many other water providers in the San Antonio area over the next few days as a result of low water pressure.

Under an executive order issued by Abbott, producers that were shipping natural gas outside Texas were ordered to sell that gas to power generators in the state.

Thursday, Feb. 18

ERCOT ended statewide rolling outages, which resulted in the number of CPS Energy customers affected by power outages dropping significantly. Gold-Williams said about 10,000 customers were still without power as of Thursday morning — down from more than the average of 200,000 customers affected during the week. ERCOT still warned that limited outages were possible Thursday evening or Friday morning due to the frigid weather.

The San Antonio area saw the final round of wintry weather that dropped up to 5 inches of snow. Areas out west, closer to Del Rio, saw up to 8 inches of snow.

This winter is now the third snowiest winter on record with 6.4 inches of snow reported at the San Antonio International Airport. The snowiest winter ever is the winter of 1984-85, when the city received 15.9 inches of snow.

A Park Policeman patrols along the River Walk as snow falls, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in San Antonio. Snow, ice and sub-freezing weather continue to wreak havoc on the state's power grid and utilities. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Abbott requested a Major Disaster Declaration for “individual assistance, public assistance, and hazard mitigation for individuals” for all of the state’s 254 counties affected by the devastating winter storm.

SAWS announced that it would have a bill relief program, which will “help all customers.” Effective immediately, SAWS will have a process that will charge all customers the lower of two amounts on their next bill -- the total current charges for the month or last month’s current charges, whichever is lower.

Texas Rep. Steve Allison said he plans to file two bills in the Texas Legislature in regards to the power crisis.

Friday, Feb. 19

After a deep freeze, warmer temperatures and sun thawed out Central and South Texas on Friday. Still, San Antonio set a record low for Feb. 19 at 19 degrees. The high temperature for Friday was 46 degrees.

San Antonio spent 107.5 hours under freezing temperatures; the record is around 109 hours. According to records dating back to 1947, the longest time San Antonio spent below freezing was 70 years ago. From midnight Jan. 29, 1951, through noon Feb. 2, 1951, temperatures were below freezing for four days and 12 hours, totaling to 108 hours.

ERCOT said it would end emergency conditions, and the San Antonio International Airport reopened for inbound and outbound flights.

Sky 12 is providing a bird’s-eye view of the winter storm aftermath in San Antonio. Freeway flyover crash. (KSAT)

During a media briefing, Gold-Williams said affordability issues are looming because of the high fuel costs during the cold weather. She said the utility is still trying to calculate the cost of the event, but “it’s going to be huge.” She said they are trying to minimize the impact on customers’ bills by spreading the cost out over 10-15 years.

The number of customers still without power — about 400 as of 10 a.m. Friday — sharply decreased since the night before as crews prioritized fixing equipment failures for customers who were out of electricity the longest. The customers who remained without power in San Antonio dealt with equipment failure or damage.

For residents needing water, SAWS opened seven water distribution locations at its pump stations.

Wolff wrote a letter to Abbott, asking him to radically change how the state’s power grid operates.

Read the full letter below:

Saturday, Feb. 20

All interchanges and roadways that were closed due to the winter weather reopened. San Antonio again set a record low, this time for 26 degrees on Feb. 20.

Abbott announced that Biden partially approved the state’s request for a major disaster declaration. The Biden administration approved part of the request for individual assistance in 77 counties and for public assistance in all 254 counties. Bexar County homeowners and residents in the other designated counties may apply for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas announced it is launching an investigation into ERCOT’s grid failure following the winter storm.

Gold-Williams said the “Manage My Account” portal on the company’s website would be down for a period of time, as the company looked to correct the system and remove the impacts on bills. Customers will not be disconnected due to not paying the bill, she said.

Sunday, Feb. 21

Abbott visited San Antonio with crates of water to provide to Texans. A C-130 aircraft from South Carolina arrived alongside Abbott at Port San Antonio carrying tons of 10-year shelf life emergency water, which will be dispersed across the state.

Monday, Feb. 22

Philanthropist Gordon Hartman and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced Let’s Help SA, an emergency fund set up to help locals recover from the winter storm. Money donated to Let’s Help SA will be distributed to the San Antonio Food Bank, SAMMinistries and Haven for Hope.

Tuesday, Feb. 23

Amid backlash over the possibility of a sky-high CPS Energy bill, Gold-Williams said the entity will “pursue federal dollars” and “work with legislators” in order to keep the cost of the power crisis down for customers. During a video-conference at the Bexar County Commissioners Court meeting, Gold-Williams stopped short of promising that customers would not eventually have to pay up for the outages. The price of natural gas shot up 16,000% during the storm.

All boil water notices were lifted for SAWS customers.

The White House announced that Biden will visit Houston, one of the major Texas cities left devastated during the winter storm, on Friday, Feb. 26.

Nirenberg announced the formation of the Select Committee on 2021 Winter Storm Preparedness and Response, which will look into why the city and utility companies were not better prepared for the storm. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar also announced a unit to investigate deaths during the winter storm.

Wednesday, Feb. 24

Up to six board members of the ERCOT resigned shortly before the entity’s board meeting on Wednesday morning. All of the board directors who stepped down, including Chairwoman Sally Talberg, live outside of Texas.

The city of San Antonio launched an Emergency Resource Call Center (ERCC) and website to assist residents affected by the recent severe winter weather. Residents can call 311 and select option 5 or 210-207-6000 to connect with a call taker. For assistance online, residents can visit strongertogether.sanantonio.gov. The ERCC will be open from Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

H-E-B announced that it will donate $1 million to support 18 Texas food banks.

SAWS said it will accept applications from customers who need help making repairs to broken pipes. Customers can apply for the Community Pipe Repair program online, by calling 210 233-FIXX (3499) or by sending an email to CPR-SA@saws.org. Spanish language assistance is available by phone or email.

About the Authors

Rebecca Salinas is an award-winning digital journalist who joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.

Kaiti Blake is a child weather-geek-turned-meteorologist. A member of the KSAT Weather Authority, Kaiti is a co-host of the Whatever the Weather video podcast. After graduating from Texas Tech University, Kaiti worked at WJTV 12 in Jackson, Mississippi and KTAB in Abilene.

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