Texas Research Community Responds to Historic Winter Storm

Texas Winter Storm

After a devastating winter storm last month left millions of Texans without power, water and other basic necessities, Texas’ medical and research institutions were quick to step up and help those in need.

From creating makeshift outpatient dialysis centers, taking in thousands of sea turtles stunned by freezing temperatures, to a swift response from climate scientists and engineers helping the public understand what happened and why, many worked around the clock to help the state deal with the effects of Winter Storm Uri.

There are many stories of resilience, aid and service by the Texas research community in response to the unprecedented winter storm; TAMEST has highlighted a few from our member institutions:

Dialysis Center Crisis:

Facing power outages, broken pipes and depleting water reserves, patients seeking dialysis treatment across Texas were left with limited access to care. Of more than 750 dialysis centers across Texas serving 54,000 patients, the Texas Kidney Foundation reported that half were affected by power outages and water issues.

Houston Methodist hospitals quickly transformed conference rooms and other available spaces into outpatient dialysis centers.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) also experienced an influx of dialysis patients seeking treatment after their normal treatment centers were forced to close during the storm.

To manage the increased demand for treatments, UT Health San Antonio limited dialysis to two hours instead of the normal four hours in an effort to provide care to as many individuals as possible until the network was back up and running to full capacity.

The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council reported that 63 of 70 dialysis centers in their region, including San Antonio, were open as of Friday, February 19.

Sea Turtles Rescued:

Volunteers and academic institutions across the state worked together to rescue more than 10,000 freezing sea turtles along the Texas coastline, according to the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network.

Among them was The University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI), the Port Aransas campus of The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), who rescued a record 900 live sea turtles threatened by the abnormally cold weather. When seawater tanks at UTMSI’s Amos Rehabilitation Center were quickly filled to capacity, they opened overflow at the Institute’s heated auditorium, where about 700 turtles were treated.

At Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus, a marine biology professor and volunteers also rescued hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles. The team put the rescued turtles into plastic containers with moist towels, then placed them in a 60-degree room for about 24 hours.

On Monday, February 22, 850 of these sea turtles were released offshore by UT Austin and thousands more had been released from rescue centers across the state. A pair of vessels donated by Port Aransas Fisherman’s Wharf transported hundreds of turtles 30-50 miles offshore to be released into waters that had warmed to the 55-degree threshold required to prevent a secondary stunning event.

Engineering and Scientific Response:

Climate scientists at Texas Tech University are already analyzing the cause of the winter storm. According to a Daily Toreador article, while it is normal for winter storms to come through Lubbock, bringing snow and low temperatures with them, the most recent storm is well below the normal threshold.

In a recent Dallas Morning News opinion-editorial, Texas Tech Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D. elaborated that Texas will continue to experience more extreme weather, and has seen a record-breaking $124 billion toll from climate and weather events since 1980.

After the storm concluded, several faculty members from Texas A&M University, including TAMEST Members Mark Barteau, Ph.D. (NAE) and Chanan Singh, Ph.D. (NAE), penned an opinion-editorial in the Houston Chronicle outlining their perspective on what happened, why it happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

The goal of the article was to “stimulate conversations among citizens, utilities, system operators, regulatory bodies and academia so that this experience will serve as a wake-up call to address the criticality of our energy infrastructure as we make progress toward a more resilient and sustainable future.”

Other Notable Acts of Support:

Students, staff and faculty at Rice University fulfilled a local Houston hospital’s request for blood donors and were rapidly administered COVID-19 vaccines when power outages threatened to expire doses.

In Galveston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) became a refuge for people with oxygen tanks to charge their medical equipment.

If you’d like to help the recovery, the American Public Health Association (APHA) recommends supporting these organizations providing direct aid to Texans:

 

TAMEST The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas