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2021 Breaking News, Small/Medium Newsroom finalist

The Historic Texas Freeze

About the Project

During the week of Feb. 14, Texas experienced historic winter weather with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. City water reservoirs were depleted, leaving many without water service for days. And when service did return, many residents were told to boil their water before drinking it.

This catastrophic scenario was compounded by the effects of the pandemic. Many in our audience faced a critical decision: stay in homes with no power and plunging temperatures or seek refuge and risk exposure to COVID-19.

Although many KUT reporters were impacted by the power outages themselves and a burst pipe flooded part of our studios, the newsroom published more than two dozen stories during the week of the storm, most of them translated into Spanish. KUT continued to keep the audience up-to-date throughout the freeze via push alerts and social media, as well as streaming and its terrestrial broadcasting signal.

The newsroom focused on providing useful information that would help our audience to make important decisions to keep their families and neighbors safe, including updates on schools and power outages, where to find water, what to do about broken pipes, and how to get help or give it to those in our community that needed it most. The following week, as state lawmakers held hearings in response to the blackouts, KUT set out to explain the intricacies of the Texas electric grid and why certain neighborhoods in Austin didn’t lose power while others did.