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The Southwest Power Pool ordered controlled rolling cutoffs in 14 states, including OklahomaCredit…Nick Oxford/Reuters
The Southwest Power Pool has ordered member electric utilities in 14 states to start controlled rolling cutoffs of electric service because the demand for power in the region, driven upward by the bitter cold, is overwhelming the available generation, hampered by the storm.
“This is an unprecedented event and marks the first time S.P.P. has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” Lanny Nickell, the power pool’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “It’s a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse.”
Most of the outages will last about an hour and will cut power to a few thousand customers at a time. They are necessary to limit demand and “safeguard the reliability of the regional grid,” Mr. Nickell said. An outage in Oklahoma that began shortly after noon affected about 6,000 customers.
The power pool, based in Little Rock, Ark., manages the electric grid that links utilities in all of Oklahoma and Kansas and parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico. Most of that region has been affected by the winter storm or by the frigid Arctic air mass that has driven the storm south.
The statement said the power pool was forced to begin relying on reserve energy sources at 10:08 a.m. Central Time on Monday, and it issued the controlled outage order when the reserves were exhausted a few hours later. It said it had been steadily stepping up warnings to conserve power since Feb. 9.
Each member utility would decide for itself how, where and when to cut off power to customers to achieve the necessary reductions, the statement said.
Utilities belonging to the main grid operating authority in Texas, which connects with the Southwest Power Pool, began imposing rolling outages overnight because of the storm.
Snow accumulated on Monday in Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati, with more heavy snow expected through Tuesday.Credit…Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer, via Associated Press
As bitterly cold temperatures break records and spread dangerous wintry conditions, the storm sprawling from coast to coast was expected to move into the Ohio Valley from the Gulf Coast on Monday, and then continue to the Northeast, the National Weather Service said.
The “unprecedented and expansive area of hazardous winter weather” was expected to bring major to extreme impacts from southeast Texas to northern Ohio, the National Weather Service said, with snow, ice and freezing rain causing travel disruptions and unsafe conditions across the country.
“It’s a pretty sprawled-out system,” said Michael J. Ventrice, a meteorological scientist with IBM. “We’re seeing snowfall in eastern Texas, and a wintry mix of snow, freezing rain, sleet, etc., all the way up through parts of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes this morning.”
The heaviest snowfall will develop in the Ohio Valley, Mr. Ventrice said, while sleet or freezing rain will predominate in the Mid-Atlantic States.
Six to 12 inches of snow was expected on Monday across an area stretching from the Ohio Valley and eastern Great Lakes to northern New England, the National Weather Service said.
South of the snow, a band of sleet and freezing rain will stretch from East Texas to southern New England, where a 10th of an inch of ice was predicted. As much as a half-inch of ice was forecast for parts of the lower Mississippi Valley. In the Southeast, where temperatures will remain warmer, the storm will probably produce nothing but rain.
While southern and eastern Alabama may largely get rain, the northwestern part of the state may get the most severe ice storm conditions seen there in two or three decades, said Kurt Weber, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville.
“It doesn’t take much ice, only a glaze, to cause big problems on roads,” he said, “especially when you’re not used to driving in it.” But the forecast calls for a much thicker coating than a glaze, he said, with over a half-inch of ice possible, making it difficult to address power failures quickly.
The worst of the storm’s ice may fall in central Pennsylvania, where high-resolution forecast models have predicted nearly an inch — “which is quite impressive and could cause significant impact,” Mr. Ventrice said.
Below Freezing Temperatures in Nearly Every State
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Though the snow and wintry mix in the southern Plains states was expected to end by late Monday morning, the “bitterly cold temperatures will limit the amount of melting today, and thus treacherous travel conditions are likely to persist,” the National Weather Service said.
Bitter temperatures were expected to persist from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians through Tuesday, with readings 25 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for this time of year, the National Weather Service said.
As the storm tracks toward the Northeast, warmer temperatures will creep in behind it and change the snow in some areas to rain. “It’s going to get all the elements in this one,” Mr. Ventrice said.
Many places have set record low temperatures, including 26 below zero in Sioux Falls, S.D., the National Weather Service said. Hundreds more new daily records were expected to be set by the end of the week.
And another storm is on its way. A frontal system, accompanied by moisture from the Pacific, was expected to make landfall on Monday, bringing more wintry weather. “This storm system is expected to be the next winter storm to impact the South Central U.S. midweek,” the National Weather Service said.
Utility crews worked to repair storm-damaged power facilities across Texas. Many customers lost their electricity in rotating outages ordered by regulators to protect the power grid after the storm took generating capacity offline.Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times
The storm is taking a heavy toll on electric service in Texas. An estimated 2.6 million homes and businesses in the state had their power interrupted Sunday night and Monday morning because of storm damage or in rotating outages ordered by regulators.
Many of the interruptions were fairly short, lasting between 15 and 45 minutes, but some customers have lost power for hours and are unsure when it will be back on.
Part of the problem arose when wind turbines in West Texas became frozen. Roughly half of the state’s wind generating capacity was knocked offline, shutting off as much as 10,500 megawatts of wind power, a significant chunk of the state’s total electricity supply. Authorities were expected to de-ice the turbines through the day.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid, said in a statement that the rotating outages were a “last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”
The outages began at about 1:25 a.m., affecting different areas at different times, and could continue through the day.
The council ordered local utilities to begin the outages to conserve power because of high demand and the loss of generating capacity. That action is usually kept as a last resort for extreme heat waves in the summer, when consumers turn their air-conditioners way up. The last time such an order was issued in the winter was in February 2011.
Monday’s wind power loss alone affected 2 million customers. But the problems deepened as other generating sources also experienced cold- and storm-related problems and were taken off line. All told, the state was missing as much as 30,000 megawatts of generating capacity at times on Monday.
“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” said Bill Magness, the chief executive of the council.
“Please do your best to stay warm safely,” Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston wrote on Twitter early Monday. “We will get through this together.”
Snow fall in San Antonio, Texas on Sunday. Credit…Eric Gay/Associated Press
A low of 12 degrees and a few inches of snow would not be unusual for mid-February in plenty of American cities. But in San Antonio, it’s unheard-of.
“People don’t feel safe going out,” said George Osorio, 29, the front desk manager at the O’Brien Hotel near the city’s Riverwalk. “San Antonians are not used to this weather. We have guests from Wisconsin, and they find it funny, because this is warm for them.”
The path of the winter storm sweeping across the country includes many places where the worst of winter usually comes as a glancing blow, meaning that the storm is punishing them with a surprising intensity.
In Mississippi, officials told residents that they would probably need to stay off the roads at least until Tuesday. They cautioned that the local authorities there were not as well equipped for the wintry conditions as those in Northern states are.
“We have some plows on our trucks, but it’s not the kind like you have up North that is really designed to put weight on that plow and dig down and get it off of the roadway,” said Melinda McGrath, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. “We do not invest in those, because this only occurs like once every five years or so.”
The Gulf Coast in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi is quite familiar with brutal weather in the form of hurricanes, floods and thick summer heat. But single-digit temperatures and ice-slicked roads are something entirely different.
For many, the weather over the weekend rekindled memories of an ice storm in 1997 that was among the worst on record in parts of Texas and Louisiana. That storm snapped trees, damaged and destroyed homes and knocked out power for days, leaving residents to bundle up without heat.
Rural areas have been hit hard by the weather and the power outages it is causing. In Gillespie County, about 75 miles west of Austin, some households haven’t had electricity since Thursday, when ice and freezing rain first began to pelt the region. In addition to losing heat, lights, and energy for cooking, many rural homes have also been left without water, since electricity is needed to operate the wells they depend on.
Denise Britt of Cedar Park, an Austin suburb, said her elderly parents live in Gillespie County and were among those whose homes were left totally powerless. They decided to take their chances on the icy roads and drive 15 miles to Fredericksburg, she said, to take refuge in a hotel. After their car skidded into a ditch, a neighbor gave them a lift the rest of the way.
“They’re in dire straits out there,” Ms. Britt said of her parents’ rural county. “It’s an historic winter storm, nothing anybody is prepared for.”
— Rick Rojas, James Dobbins, Sarah Fowler and Dave Montgomery
On Monday, Cheryl Rodriguez and her husband woke up to heaps of snow outside of their house, nestled in a neighborhood cul-de-sac in Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles north of Houston.
“This is just awesome — we haven’t seen this,” said Ms. Rodriguez, who has lived in the area for almost 50 years. “It’s just beautiful, and it’s fun to hear your feet crunch in the snow.”
Snow in Conroe, Texas, on Monday.Credit…Allyson Waller/The New York Times
Though the snow was an unusual experience for the couple, the power failures were all too familiar. This past hurricane season, storms ravaged parts of the South, particularly in Louisiana, and affected Texas’ power grids.
A winter storm warning is in effect for the Conroe area until Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service, and rolling power outages have been ongoing throughout Texas.
Across the state, at least 2.8 million customers had lost power, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates data from utilities across the country. In an interview with ABC13, Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston said: “Don’t expect the power to come back in on in hour or so. It might be the rest of the day, if not longer.”
Houston set a record low temperature of 17 degrees, the National Weather Service said, beating the former record of 18 degrees from 1905.
After taking a small walk around her home, Ms. Rodriguez said she planned to spend the day inside quilting and swapping her Valentine’s Day decorations for the upcoming Easter season, and avoiding driving.
Recalling an earlier experience driving in icy conditions, Ms. Rodriguez said, “Every time I put on the brakes, it felt like I was going to skid off the road.” She added, “we’re just not equipped here for that.”
The couple’s black Labrador retriever, Angel, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the snow, although she did seem apprehensive at first.
“When we took her out this morning, she put her paws on that snow and she immediately withdrew her paws real quick,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “Then all of sudden she just took off in that snow and just started running back and forth, back and forth across the back yard.”
Ms. Rodriguez said she’s grateful their home has gas so they’re able to use their stove and fireplace, although she said: “I wish I had a generator. In fact after this, I may end up putting one in my house.”
Lining up to buy groceries in Houston, Texas, on Monday. Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston said on Twitter that city residents whose lights had gone out may be without electricity all day.Credit…David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Millions of homes and businesses across the country were without electricity Monday because of the destructive band of snow and ice that was forecast to extend for more than 2,000 miles.
With more than one-third of Americans under winter storm warnings, utility companies from Texas to the Northeast were bracing for more widespread power losses as the storm progressed.
In Texas alone, nearly 2.8 million customers had lost power, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates data from utilities across the United States. Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston said on Twitter that city residents whose lights had gone out may be without electricity all day. He said he had lost power at his own home.
Some of the outages were intentionally imposed, and could last throughout the morning, as utilities struggled to alleviate strain on the power grid after the weather forced some generating units offline, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said.
Elsewhere, about 300,000 customers in Oregon and 150,000 in Virginia were also without electricity.
Portions of the Lower Mississippi, Tennessee and Lower Ohio Valleys could get as much as half an inch of ice on Monday, snapping cables and tree branches, the National Weather Service said. Central Pennsylvania could get an inch of ice.
In Middle Tennessee, Nashville Electric Service urged its 418,000 customers to charge cellphones and other electronic devices as the storm moved into the area on Sunday night. The utility also advised them to prepare emergency kits, flashlights and batteries.
“It’s the freezing rain that’s the largest concern,” Sylvia Smith, a spokeswoman for the utility, said in an interview.
Ms. Smith said that the utility had a full complement of employees ready to respond to downed power lines and that it had contract crews on standby. She noted that efforts to restore power overnight could be hampered by black ice.
“When you have these types of conditions, we have to ensure that it is safe for us to do the work,” she said.
It is the latest test for Nashville Electric Service during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, a tornado hit the utility’s service area, and in May, 125,000 customers lost power during an unusually powerful group of storms known as a derecho, Ms. Smith said.
“Nashville has had some extreme weather events this past year,” she said.
The storm is snarling travel across a wide region. People on Oklahoma City pitched in on Monday to help a stuck motorist.Credit…Nick Oxford/Reuters
Recent multiple-vehicle pileups amid this year’s brutal weather have underscored the dangers of driving in winter conditions. In 28 hours last week, from early Thursday to Friday morning, the Iowa State Patrol received calls for help at 195 crashes. In Texas, six people were killed and dozens were hospitalized on Thursday in a pileup that involved more than 100 vehicles on Interstate 35.
In both states, the authorities had issued warnings about hazardous driving conditions. Drivers in Texas were confronted with slick roads and patches of ice. An Arctic front that sped across Iowa enveloped vehicles in a wintry mess of freezing rain, snow and ice.
Experts offer these tips on driving safely in winter weather:
Heed travel advisories, and avoid driving in inclement weather if at all possible.
If a driver sees a string of cars and trucks ahead crashing into each other like dominoes, Steve Gent, a traffic safety director in Iowa, has two recommendations. First, tap your brakes. Then, maneuver to avoid. “Take the ditch,” Mr. Gent said. “The worst thing you want to do is slow down and get in the pileup. We design those ditches so you can drive in, and you are not going to flip over.”
Drivers should avoid roadways that do not give them an out, said Will Miller, an analyst with Crash Analysis Consulting in Southlake, Texas. Avoid highways that have barrier walls on both sides, and beware bridges, overpasses and other elevated structures. They freeze more quickly and stay frozen longer than the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises drivers to double-check that they understand how their vehicle’s equipment, such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, will perform in wintry conditions. Experts generally advise against using cruise control when ice or snow patches could crop up.
Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA, advised drivers to ensure at least “three seconds of distance between you and the car ahead of you.” That means you should be able to count at least three seconds between when the car ahead of you passes a landmark and when your car passes the same point. Slamming on brakes in ice, snow or rain should be avoided because it can lead to hydroplaning.
Frigid air that usually sits over the Arctic has swept much farther south than usual because of changes to the jet stream, bringing frosty weather to parts of Texas like Austin that rarely see snow.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times
The notion that the global phenomenon of a hotter planet could be sending a shocking cold wave into the southern United States might seem nonsensical. And every cold snap can be counted on to elicit quips and stunts from those who deny the science of climate change.
But the weather patterns that send freezing air from the polar vortex plunging all the way to the Gulf Coast could, like other forms of extreme weather, be linked to global warming — which is why the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe prefers the phrase “global weirding.”
Winter storms are influenced by many factors, including the natural variability that affects all weather systems. The planet’s warming could be part of that icy blend, even while climate change is making winters milder over all.
The air that usually sits over the Arctic is now sweeping down South because of changes to the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the Northern Hemisphere and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex.
There is research suggesting that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, allowing the cold air to escape to the south, especially when a blast of additional warming strikes the stratosphere and deforms the vortex. The result can be episodes of plunging temperatures, even in places that rarely get nipped by frost.
Of course, bitter cold from the polar vortex has long been a part of the North American weather picture. Dr. Amy Butler, a research scientist at the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory, has said that she has yet to find any long-term trend in polar vortex disruptions, which “occur naturally even in the absence of climate change.”
But Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a company that provides information to clients about weather and climate-related risk, has identified general trends in winter storms. He was an author of a paper last year in the journal Nature Climate Change that found a sharp increase in Northeast winter storms over the decade from 2008 to 2018.
“Severe winter weather is much more frequent when the Arctic is warmest,” Dr. Cohen said, adding, “It’s not in spite of climate change, but related to climate change.”
The current storm “could be one of the most costly natural disasters of the year,” he said, in part because of its unusual geography: “Texas, which is known for hurricanes, is not known for snow and cold damage” like burst water pipes.
Mackenzie Mitchell plays in the snow outside her apartment complex in Austin, Texas, on Monday after the storm passed.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times
Before last week, Texas wasn’t much known for dangerous winter weather, or for being well practiced at coping with it. More than 120 accidents were reported on slick roads in and around Houston Sunday night.
Still, some Texans have been embracing the shock of snow, ice and frigid temperatures with the kind of gusto that could only come from the Lone Star State.
“Oh — medium-rare is the way to go,” said Ryan Villanueva, 20 of Weslaco, in the Rio Grande Valley, who shared his wintry grilling technique on Twitter. “If it’s more than well or well done, that’s a piece of rubber.”
Mr. Villanueva was describing the four 1½-inch rib-eye steaks he had just grilled on his barbecue as snow fell all around him Sunday night. “I wanted to cook something nice for my family.”
Starting the fire in the cold was not easy. “It’s a little bit of trouble trying to get it started, because the wind is blowing, you’re there with trembling hands and cold matches that are damp for whatever reason,” he recalled. Mr. Villanueva finally got the fire going with the help of some odorless charcoal lighter fluid. The end result: “It was very good.”
“Lady Bird did not like it,” Victoria Martinez, 26, said of her cat’s response to the snow. But Lady Bird’s partner, LBJ, “wanted to run around the yard,” she said.
“Their personalities are complete opposites,” said Ms. Martinez, who plans to study marriage and family therapy.
Christoph Schittko was in uptown Dallas on Sunday, on his way to a park to go sledding with his wife and son, when a car, and then two skiers, passed them. Mr. Schittko’s reaction: “I was laughing out loud.”
Ian Camfield, a radio broadcaster originally from England, posted a picture of the outdoor swimming pool at his apartment complex in Dallas.
He has a podcast about how much he loves America, and the cold weather has brought inquiries from back home. Mr. Camfield said he had been called by radio stations and friends, asking for dispatches about the snow in Texas. “I think they’re just fascinated with it,” he said.
The purest expression of delight may have come from Maeven Evans, 19 of Lewisville, Texas, about 30 minutes north of Dallas. In a short video, Ms. Evans smiles and lip-syncs the lyrics to a song: “It’s just water.”
“I picked that song,” she said, “because in Texas, if the meteorologist says snow, it usually turns into water.”
This time, it was snow — but it wasn’t the kind you could pack into snowballs, Ms. Evans discovered. No matter: She and her roommate used large plastic container lids to fling the stuff onto one another — a snowball fight without snowballs.
“Just make do with what you have,” she advised her neighbors. “There is no telling when we’ll get snow like this.”
More snow is expected Monday.
In Kansas City, Mo., where temperatures fell below zero, people tried to stay warm at the headquarters of Street Medicine Kansas City, a nonprofit organization that assists the homeless.Credit…Christopher Smith for The New York Times
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cold weather and the nation’s homeless crisis have long been a fatal mix that community advocates and public officials have struggled to address. But this winter, the coronavirus has added a dangerous new complication as cities and community groups wrestle with how to shelter members of a vulnerable population from the elements while not exposing them to an airborne virus that spreads most easily indoors.
The calculation has taken on greater urgency in recent days as arctic weather freezes a large swath of the middle of the country, from Minnesota to Texas, with wind chills expected to dip as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.
Officials in Ramsey County, Minn., which includes St. Paul, have set up shelters in a vacant hospital and a vacant seminary dormitory so that they can better distance homeless residents from one another.
Chicago officials have used former school buildings as well as Salvation Army and Y.M.C.A. locations to give service providers more space for shelter beds.
New Life Center, a nonprofit rescue mission in Fargo, N.D., outfitted an abandoned warehouse to expand its shelter capacity.
And in Kansas City, where the forecast calls for a low of minus 14 degrees on Monday, officials have converted the downtown convention center — the size of eight football fields — into a shelter.
With public spaces like libraries and the dining rooms of many fast food restaurants closed, people experiencing homelessness have fewer places to warm up during the day or use the bathroom. Traditional shelters have had to reduce their capacity for social distancing.
Kansas City typically spends $1.5 million a year on homeless services, according to a city spokesman. But this year, with the help of federal relief funds, it plans to spend $8.5 million on programs that include paying for hotel rooms to house families and providing financial assistance to prevent evictions.
At the urging of local activists, city officials opened a temporary shelter, with a capacity of 65 people, at a community center in mid-January. The number who showed up quickly exceeded that, and city leaders had a difficult call to make.
“We made a collective decision to say, ‘Look, if any one of these people had to spend the night in the street, it’s likely a death sentence,’” said Brian Platt, the city manager. “If they come inside and there’s a possibility of spreading or catching the Covid virus, there’s a greater chance that they could live through that.”
VideoA major winter storm hit a large part of the United States, delivering heavy snowfall and causing power outages in many cities as temperatures plunged below freezing.CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times
A sprawling winter storm pummeled a large swath of the United States on Monday, delivering heavy snowfall and icy conditions as temperatures plunged well below freezing.
The coast-to-coast storm has knocked out power for several million people across the country. Ice-slicked roads have led to highway pileups and sent eighteen-wheelers careening off the pavement.
The National Weather Service said early Monday that at least 150 million Americans were under ice or winter weather advisories. As the storm continued to intensify, officials urged residents to brace themselves.
“The time to prepare for this storm was yesterday,” the National Weather Service in Texas said in an ominous warning issued on Sunday.
More than 120 accidents were reported on roads overnight in Houston, including a 10-vehicle tangle on Interstate 45. In Oklahoma, a crash northeast of Oklahoma City led to several semi trucks catching fire, the authorities said.
The storm, which brought record low temperatures in Minnesota and dumped 11 inches of snow in Seattle, is now barraging parts of the country that are far less familiar with the worst of winter.
“This will be probably more snow over a larger swath of land to a higher degree than ever before in Texas history,” Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said at a news conference. Even the state’s Gulf Coast was put under freeze warnings. Both the state and the federal government have issued disaster declarations for all 254 counties in Texas because of the weather; President Biden approved the federal declaration on Sunday.
The conditions stem from a strong high pressure system that has moved down from the Arctic Circle, bringing some of the lowest temperatures that parts of the country have experienced in years, said Michael J. Ventrice, a meteorological scientist with IBM.
The collision between the Arctic high and warmer, wetter air to the south was producing “a very impactful winter storm” that would stretch from Texas and Louisiana all the way up to the Northeast, he said.
The temperatures in the middle of the country are expected to approach record lows. In Oklahoma City, the temperature on Tuesday is forecast to be minus 9 degrees; the record low of minus 17 degrees was set in 1899.
Temperatures in parts of Oklahoma were 40 degrees lower than usual for this time of year, the National Weather Service said. The duration of the cold conditions is also unusual: Oklahoma may experience nine consecutive days of temperatures below 20 degrees, the Weather Service said.
“This could be one of the most costly natural disasters of the year,” said Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a company that provides information to clients about weather and climate-related risk. “Texas, which is known for hurricanes, is not known for snow and cold damage” such as burst water pipes, he said, and “it’s not in spite of climate change, but related to climate change.”
In Texas, Austin was locked down for the worst winter storm in a generation. Tree branches laden with icicles bowed toward the ground. Parked cars were covered by sheets of ice. The city with palm trees and typically mild weather braced for possibly more than five inches of snow, an amount not seen since 1966.
The parking lot at a grocery store in San Antonio was full as shoppers grabbed last-minute items before the market closed four hours early.
For Zoe Waldron, 30, the polar vortex and gray sky made her nostalgic for La Conner, Wash., her hometown. But in San Antonio? “It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event,” she said.
Source by www.nytimes.com