Texas is no stranger to hurricanes and tornadoes, but the winter storm and cold snap that hit the state in February now counts as one of the deadliest natural disasters in its history. According to a Houston Chronicle analysis, the cold snap and blackouts caused by the storm killed at least 194 people, including at least 100 who died from hypothermia. The state raised its official death toll to from 57 to 111 last week but many deaths are still being investigated by medical examiners and justices of the peace, including 80 in the Austin area alone. The Chronicle reports that many of the deaths were in the Houston area, though storm and cold-related deaths were reported in 57 counties. Around half the victims were over 65 and nearly three-quarters of them were people of color.
The death toll is hard to confirm because the Texas death certification system is decentralized, the Chronicle notes, but the toll already far exceeds that of Hurricane Harvey, which became the state's deadliest hurricane in more than a century when it killed 68 people in 2017. The death toll from the cold snap includes deaths from medical equipment failure during the blackouts and at least 16 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning as people used dangerous methods to heat their homes. Texas A&M University researcher Garett Sansom tells Houston Public Media that better communication from state officials could have saved lives. "You really can’t blame people for not knowing what to do in a winter storm when they’ve never experienced anything really like that," he says. (Read more Texas stories.)