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Here is why death totals from Winter Storm Uri may vary

Looking at the total death count during Winter Storm Uri, State records show more than 200 deaths. Some news articles cite hundreds more.

AUSTIN, Texas — Analyzing data can take different approaches, sometimes leading to different outcomes.

Data analysis usually has some sort of limitation. Understanding those limitations helps us understand the results. So, when it comes to last year’s Winter Storm you can see the different death totals.

The Texas Department of State Health Service reports 246 people died in the storm. Online news outlet Buzzfeed reports it's “between 426 and 978” and the “best estimate is that 702 people were killed.” 

The difference is in the way deaths were counted.

RELATED: Travis County winter storm death toll more than doubles since last update

The State’s report shows how it measured the amount. It shows the State used mortality surveillance forms, death certificates and verified informally reported deaths. The death certificates could have said different versions of “February 2021 winter storm”  or “winter storm Uri.” 

“DSHS used CDC guidance and standard tools to identify deaths related to the winter storm. DSHS surveillance began on Feb. 15, 2021, and concluded on Oct. 27, 2021,” the report shows.

Analysts searched for misspellings, abbreviated terms like “Feb 2021,” and looked for things like “icy, freezing, weather, hypothermia, fire-related injuries or carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Buzzfeed used a different approach. Its website shows a series of data analysis. Among those steps, researchers pulled weekly death counts from the CDC dating back to 2014. It used that data to estimate how many people would have died without the storm.

Researchers also plotted deaths and accounted for anomalies. They looked at estimated excess deaths from other states and compared that to Texas numbers.

They also compared deaths during the storm against other natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey. The online news outlet also acknowledges experts from three universities who reviewed their work.

No matter which number you use to measure the winter storm deaths, everyone would agree that one death is too many.


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