Winter Storm Uri crippled the state of Texas in February 2021.
A massive winter storm swept across North America from Feb. 13-17, 2021. Unofficially dubbed Winter Storm Uri by the Weather Channel, this storm especially crippled the state of Texas, leaving millions without power or running water, some for several days. A total of 210 people died, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimated financial losses between $80-$130 billion because of the storm.
Texas Tech University's Ali Nejat, an associate professor of civil, environmental and construction engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, received a $30,421 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a goal of collecting perishable data on the impact of Winter Storm Uri in the state of Texas and, more specifically, within the greater Houston area.
Nejat is collaborating with Laura Solitare, an associate professor of urban planning and environmental policy from Texas Southern University, and Hamed Mohsenian-Rad, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and the associate director of the Winston Chung Global Energy Center at the University of California-Riverside, to explore the extent of the storm's impact on communities with various demographic and socioeconomic statuses. The group also will perform ground truth validation of widely reported disproportionate impacts.
“We want to explore contributing factors to the incident and provide opportunities to learn about what went wrong at various levels, including technical and infrastructure maintenance issues, precautionary measures, planning and execution,” Nejat said. “Findings from this research can be employed to potentially address environmental justice issues and broader infrastructure resilience planning.”
The project will collect data on two fronts. The first is household data which combines demographic and socioeconomic statuses with residents' experiences throughout the storm and outages. These data will be collected by a hybrid data collection method, including an online survey of households, interviews with community-based organizations (CMOs) and secondary data collections from various social media outlets.
“While online data collection helps with uncovering general trends, interviews with CMOs and impacted stakeholders within a diverse set of neighborhoods will help address digital divide issues within lower-income neighborhoods,” Nejat said. “Finally, content analysis of social media posts provides another layer of information which will be used to fill the remaining data gaps and cross-examine data trends.”
The second data collection focuses on the collection of grid and utility data related to the locations, timing and duration of outages during and after the storm. These data will complement household/neighborhood data to provide both top-down and bottom-up insights on the unraveling of the event and associated decision-making.
The Winter Storm Uri project isn't the only project Nejat is currently working on. He has a grant from the U.S. Department of State that allows him to continue work from his time as a Fulbright Scholar in Azerbaijan. The goal is to develop a dual-degree program between Baku Engineering University and Texas Tech, where Azeri graduate students can have the opportunity to spend half of their studies at Texas Tech and obtain degrees from both universities.
Nejat also is the principal investigator on a $149,922 NSF grant collaborating with Texas A&M University at Galveston and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to develop a resiliency roadmap for the Rio Grande Valley. Venkatesh Uddameri, a professor of civil, environmental and construction engineering and the director of Texas Tech's Water Resources Center, is a co-principal investigator on the project.