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The Latest: Biden says Milwaukee is ‘cold as the devil’

February 17, 2021 GMT
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A woman crosses Wabash Avenue Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, after an overnight storm dumped up to 18.5 inches in the Chicago area. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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A woman crosses Wabash Avenue Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, after an overnight storm dumped up to 18.5 inches in the Chicago area. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Latest on winter weather across the U.S. (all times local):

WASHINGTON— President Joe Biden offered his administration’s assistance Tuesday in a call with at least seven governors of states impacted by severe winter weather this week.

The White House says Biden told governors that he and his wife are praying for their citizens and pledged to deploy federal emergency resources as needed.

Among those on the call were Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt.

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Biden, who was heading to Milwaukee to participate in a CNN town hall, declared the weather there “cold as the devil up there.”

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KENSINGTON, Md. — Meteorologists blame the historic chilly weather on a large disruption of the polar vortex with Arctic weather that’s normally kept penned near the North Pole, but it escaped and sent cold temperatures south.

Experts say this polar vortex is stronger and longer than usual, and these events are happening twice as often as they used to. They say it could be a mix of natural weather variations and human-caused climate change, but they’re not sure.

The events show how vulnerable America is to extreme weather —both hot and cold— which increases with climate change, scientists said.

“One thing that Texas situation highlights is that we are likely to deal with more compound extreme weather events - multiple event weather systems that have cascading impacts on society and our infrastructure,” according to University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd.

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DALLAS -- Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin, said the Texas electric grid fell victim to a cold spell that was longer, deeper and more widespread than the state had seen in decades.

“The system as we built it is not performing to the standards we would like to see,” he said. “We need to do a better job. If that involves paying more for energy to have more reliability, that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have.”

Climate change should be factored in, too, he said.

The long cold spell fits what scientists say is a pattern of worsening extremes of all kinds of weather under climate change.

The widespread outages also fit a pattern -- local, state and federal officials across the board have failed to do enough to plan and prepare for the worsening cold and heat under climate change, numerous government and academic assessments say.

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“We’re going to have to plan for more of this kind of weather. People said this would never happen in Texas, and yet it has.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Natalie Harrell said she is sheltered at a Gallery Furniture store in Houston with her boyfriend and four children-- the eldest 11 years old, one 6-year-old and two 1-year-olds.

Harrell said they arrived at the store at 1 p.m. Tuesday after being without power since Monday. Now, she said her children are warm, and she is thankful that the store opened their doors to her family.

She said the warming center at the store, owned by Jim ‘Mattress Mack’ McIngvale, has been providing people with food, water and power to charge essential electronics.

“It’s worse than a hurricane,” Harrell said. “I think we are going to be more days without light, that is what it seems like, more days without light.”

Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Corazon Ministries, an aid organization for people experiencing homelessness downtown, has opened its cold weather shelter since Thursday due to rain, Pastor Gavin Rogers said.

Rogers said although the group, based in Travis Park Church, usually doesn’t provide shelter, they are prepared and coordinating with other local organizations and ministries to do so during the weather emergency.

Rogers said coordinating to open more spaces has come easily due to previous relationships between organizations, but COVID-19 remains a concern with spacing and capacity. The other concern, he said, are people experiencing homelessness who are refusing services due to distrust from previous experiences, mental health problems or addiction, putting themselves at risk of serious harm or death.

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FORT WORTH, Texas — At least 13 children have been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

In a social media posting, the hospital said the children were treated at its emergency department.

“Families are going to extreme measures to warm their homes during the historic winter freeze. Using propane or diesel-burning engines, generators, gas ovens or stovetops inside or too close to your home can emit toxic fumes and cause carbon monoxide poisoning,” according to the hospital posting.

Cook pediatrician Phillip Scott told KTVT-TV in Fort Worth that one parent died of the toxic fumes.

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WASHINGTON — Federal regulators say they are launching an “inquiry” into the operations of the bulk-power system during the severe winter storm that left millions without power in subfreezing temperatures in Texas and other states.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation announced the inquiry Tuesday.

Officials said the immediate emphasis will remain on restoring power to customers and securing the reliability of the bulk-power system, but they will work with other federal agencies, states, regional entities and utilities to identify problems with the performance of the bulk-power system and identify solutions. FERC oversees interstate electricity transmission while NERC oversees reliability standards for the continental U.S., Canada parts of Mexico.

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GALVESTON, Texas— The medical examiner’s office for three Texas counties has requested a refrigerated truck to expand its body storage as the state struggles with extended blackouts that have left millions without power amid subfreezing temperatures.

The Galveston County Medical Examiner’s office requested the truck from the state Tuesday afternoon as another round of snowstorms is set to batter Texas, said Judge Mark Henry, the top county executive. He said it can hold 20 to 50 additional bodies and should be arriving Tuesday evening.

Henry could not immediately provide details on why the extra capacity was needed or on how many deaths related to the weather there have been in his 340,000-person county. But he’s worried.

“We were listening to the radio this morning and it was just welfare check, after welfare check, after welfare check,” Henry said. “Unfortunately, those are not all going to turn out to be positive.”

The medical examiner’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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DAMASCUS, Ga. — The National Weather Service confirmed Tuesday that a tornado struck an area of southwest Georgia where one home was destroyed and several others got damaged.

The weather service’s office in Tallahassee, Florida, reported that preliminary results of a damage survey show a tornado of at least EF-2 intensity struck Monday in the rural Georgia community of Damascus in Early County.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reported a brick home was destroyed as the storm front that spawned the tornado moved through the area. WALB-TV reports at least five other Early County homes were damaged in the storm. No one was killed.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A “perfect storm” of record-breaking cold temperatures that led to unprecedented demand for energy, combined with inadequate supplies of natural gas to power gas-fired electric generation plants, led to rolling blackouts across much of the central United States, according to officials at Southwest Power Pool, a wholesale energy transmission organization that serves part of 14 states.

The organization began planning for the bitter cold and increased demand last week and knew that demand for electricity Monday and Tuesday would be extremely high, said Lanny Nickel, the Southwest Power Pool’s chief operating officer.

“Despite these efforts and despite these plans, the severe weather we experienced, the limited fuel supply we began to observe and experience, began to hamper our ability to balance the supply we had available to us with the demand from consumers being served by each of our utility members,” Nickel told reporters on a conference call Tuesday evening.

Nickel said the organization issued escalating notices and began asking for voluntary reductions in energy use, but eventually had to ask its utility customers to implement controlled interruptions in service.

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JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi coroner said Tuesday that a man died after losing control of his vehicle on an icy road Monday night near Starkville.

Oktibbeha County coroner Michael Hunt told the Commercial Dispatch newspaper that the man who died was Leander Outlaw, 58, of Starkville. Hunt said Outlaw’s vehicle overturned.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Health Department, which covers Memphis, Tennessee, and its suburbs, said Tuesday that COVID-19 vaccinations at its five county-run sites are canceled through Saturday due to the hazardous driving conditions caused by winter storms.

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CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has declared a disaster proclamation after a winter storm blanketed the state with snow and caused power outages.

Tuesday’s declaration means Illinois can tap additional state help and seek federal assistance. Parts of the Chicago area got up to a foot and a half of snow, shuttering schools to in-person classes Tuesday as officials urged residents to stay off the snow-filled roads.

Roughly 7,000 Illinois households were without power. Illinois State Police and transportation officials are urging residents to stay at home while crews clear roadways.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has declared a state of emergency in four western counties where an ice storm caused tens of thousands of power outages and knocked trees onto roads.

The declaration Tuesday for Cabell, Lincoln, Putnam and Wayne counties allows the National Guard to assist in storm-related response. More than 60% of Appalachian Power customers in the four counties lost service.

More than 89,000 Appalachian Power customers remained without service in southern West Virginia on Tuesday afternoon. That represents 19% of the utility’s total customers in the state. The utility said some of the outages involved customers who were still without service from a Feb. 11 ice storm.

The utility said it has nearly 2,600 crews and contractors from as far away as Illinois working to get service restored.

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HOUSTON — A fire official says three young children and their grandmother died in a Houston-area house fire early Tuesday morning while it’s believed they were trying to stay warm during a power outage.

Sugar Land Fire and EMS spokesman Doug Adolph said that when firefighters arrived after the call at about 2 a.m., the house was fully engulfed and the 41-year-old mother of the children and her female friend were outside of the home and suffering from burns. He said a responder had to restrain the mother from going back into the house.

Both women have been taken to a hospital.

He said they are still investigating the cause of the fire but that the neighborhood had been without power for over eight hours and social media posts from the family indicated they were using the fireplace to keep warm.

He did not have ages for the children but said they were elementary school aged. He said their mother was the daughter of the woman who died.

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WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jen Psaki said homeland security aide Liz Sherwood-Randall called the Texas governor on Sunday to let him know that President Biden had immediately granted his request for an emergency declaration.

Sherwood-Randall on Monday also called the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Psaki said Biden has been kept abreast of the situation and expects he will be involved personally in response to the brutal snowstorm.

Biden’s administration also said Tuesday that delays in vaccine shipments and deliveries are likely because of severe weather across parts of the country.

The administration says the weather is expected to affect shipments from a FedEx facility in Memphis, Tennessee, and a UPS facility in Louisville, Kentucky. Both facilities serve as vaccine shipping hubs for multiple states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies are working with the jurisdictions, as well as manufacturing and shipping partners, to assess weather conditions and to help offset potential delivery delays and cancellations.

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