Texas, where the shock and anger rage on over power failures that left millions shivering and without lights for days, just experienced its second-coldest week on record, according to the state climatologist.
Analyzing statewide temperatures and factoring in how much of the population was affected by extreme temperatures, John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor at Texas A&M University, calculated that the only week that was colder in records dating to the 19th century occurred in 1983.
Austin set low-temperature records on five of six days starting Feb. 14, getting as low as 6 above. By contrast, Philadelphia officially has recorded only one temperature below 20 all winter.
The 6.4 inches of snow that fell upon Austin on Feb. 14-15 just missed the all-time record for a single snowfall, 6.5 inches, set in 1949.
On those same dates verifiable readings of zero degrees or lower, including a minus-11 Fahrenheit in Amarillo, were reported from 12 measuring sites in populated areas, Nielsen-Gammon said. Philadelphia hasn’t hit zero since 1994.
Yes, Texans are not used to such extreme temperatures, which were 25 and 35 degrees below long-term normals.
As a point of comparison, Nielsen-Gammon said the temperatures for the week that ended Thursday were 6 to 7 degrees lower than they were during the 2011 cold spell that resulted in widespread blackouts.
The power grids obviously weren’t ready for this assault, which resulted from a piece of the polar vortex penetrating all the way to the Mexican border with Arctic air, said Lara Pagano, meteorologist with the government’s Weather Prediction Center. Millions were without power during the week, and that number had dropped to 135,000 on Friday.
Lower daytime temperatures have been recorded in the past, notably in 1899, however this cold spell was especially tenacious.
Texas buildings and houses generally aren’t constructed for such conditions, Nielsen-Gammon said. “Our pipes aren’t insulated, etc., etc.”
And thermal comfort being relative, this has been a challenge for Texas residents on a personal level.
Nielsen-Gammon said a graduate student had just returned from Minnesota, where it was colder, but she said, “Somehow it feels colder here.”