AUSTIN — The official number of deaths caused by the winter storm that hit Texas in February 2021 sits at 246, according to a final report released by the Texas Department of State Health Services on Friday.
The deaths occurred in an area that spanned 77 counties, with Harris County — home to Houston — seeing the greatest number of casualties at 43. Travis County, with Austin, and Dallas County also reported high numbers of deaths at 28 and 22, respectively.
“Deaths during disasters can be directly or indirectly related to the disaster itself; these are all important to record and analyze to help individuals, communities, and entities understand better how to prepare themselves for potential future disasters,” the report said.
Temperatures began to drop in Texas on Feb. 10 and lasted through Feb. 20, blanketing the state in snow. It also caused a near complete collapse of the Texas electric grid, leaving most of the state without power and water amid freezing temperatures. Officials estimate the storm inflicted between $80 billion and $130 billion in damage.
Of the deaths confirmed with available data, at least 229 were Texas residents, with another 15 registered as residents of another state, the report said.
The deaths spanned Feb. 11-June 4, with 65.4% caused by extreme cold exposure-related injuries such as hypothermia and frostbite. Other causes of death include disruption to medical care, car crashes, fatal carbon monoxide poisonings, house fires, and trauma or fractures sustained during falls and slips on ice, the report said.
“The goal [of the report] is to inform planning, prevention, and communication preparations for future disasters,” it said.
Prior to this report, the state’s official count was 210 deaths. But other reports that looked at the number of deaths that occurred during and after the storm estimate the total number of deaths is closer to 700.
Nonetheless, the event highlighted the state’s neglect to winterize its electric grid and prepare for extreme winter weather.
Officials from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid, and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, said they have done more to shore up the grid’s reliability than at any point before, pointing to new legislation and rules. Internal and third-party reports find state overseers haven't done enough to prevent a similar grid collapse should another storm like Uri hit.
The PUCT and ERCOT boards, which cleared following the storm, have been reestablished with new members and are at the helm of implementing any changes.
“The ERCOT grid is stronger and more reliable than ever,” PUCT Chairman Peter Lake said. “We go into this winter, knowing that because of all these efforts, the lights will stay on.”