Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Winter Storm - February 2021 Part 2

the neighborhood pond is frozen over

Since I was in college, way, way back in the 1990's, I've heard nothing but how the power grid in Texas was outdated and needed overhauls, improvements and extensions.  Some of that has happened, but this being Texas, the loads has been focused on the load the state requires during the summer.   Texas summers can see weeks on end with temperatures in the 100's, and if you don't provide AC, we'd all likely die of heat stroke.  There's a reason Texas was sparsely inhabited by ingidgenous people and Mexican settlers when Anglos set their sites on Texas in the early 1800's.  

Anyhoo...  what we haven't worried about a whole lot has been extreme winter weather.  Most of the time, we get into March and say "man, it never really got all that cold this winter."  I mean, we've had cold winters, and icy spells that kept us off the roads, but it was never a question of "hey, why is almost half the state without power?  And why is it different street by street?"

Because, yeah, two streets over in my same subdivision, people had power this whole time.  Go figure.  And I have no idea why we currently have power and others do not.  

Anyway - hearing that Texas has an outdated grid isn't new.  Now add in Texas' booming population and energy needs.  We've added millions of people every decade for some time.  I believe the last two decades saw about 4 million new Texans for a total of, like, 8 million new people.  And not a whole lot of new sources of power.  

I remember the summer before Hurricane Katrina watching a CNN doc on the levees and they interviewed one of the staff who had *clearly* had it with warning people what one good hurricane was going to do to New Orleans.  He'd given up being polite on the topic and was basically giving up being calm and cool - he was straight up pissed off.  And, (a) you couldn't blame him and (b) he was right, but that's a hell of an "I told you so".

That all seems to be happening now in Texas.  We always thought the grid collapse would occur during a heatwave, but it never quite happened.  Somehow we always managed to come through it with power even as individual AC units would buckle and fail.  

I'm not sure what it means for Texas going forward, but this week is going to be remembered statewide.  No - no one thought 2021 was going to have an insurrection, an impeachment AND snow on the US/ Mexico border before we hit March.  But, fuck it.  This is where we are, people.

this Snowpiercer nonsense is for the birds

The OTHER bit of all of this is - it's not like scientists haven't been saying for 30 years that part of "Global Warming" is that we'd have more extreme winter weather.  As I understand it, this is that.  Essentially the arctic cold experienced a bit of warming at the pole and it broke up the cold air that's normally hanging around kind of frozen up there, and this is a shard of that cold.  We've had this recently in Chicago back in 2019 and in Europe.  

I don't know how else to say this, but the science is now in.  We broke weather.

I watch a lot of our local NBC affiliate, KXAN, but I've also gotten pretty used to a certain level of "drama" from their weather team.  I think a lot of it comes from a good place - they really do not want people to be caught by surprise in tornadoes and other extreme Texas weather.  And, I'll be honest, when they do their bits, if they're predicting doomsday, I tend to check other sources so I get some reality check rather than the "let's prepare for the worst" take they've cultivated since the terrible tragedy of the Jarrell tornadoes in 1997.  

But, yeah, good ol' KXAN and it's crack squad of meteorologists actually nailed this one way in advance.  Thanks Jim, Kristen, David, Sean, Mark and The Gooch.

Fortunately, I was ready with my grocery order in a timely fashion and we're more or less okay for food til Friday.  Unfortunately, it's not clear the state will have any food on Friday.

Our Governor is a bit of a meathead, but he loves blaming other people and making it look like he's holding them accountable - rather than, you know, foreseeing problems and proactively dealing with them.  He's already taking it a bit on the chin for a shitty response to COVID, and vaccine distribution (which he keeps having press conferences to tell us is NOT a shitty response).  Well, now he's finger wagging ERCOT, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, that manages Texas' grid.   

I mean, it's kinda lousy that he waited for this, and that this is what it takes for him to do something other than be mad that Austin banned plastic bags.  On the other hand, if he can keep a thought in his head for a full month, we may actually see ERCOT get rethought and reformed and be ready for whatever is next for Texas' energy needs.  In a state that produces a metric shit-ton of energy, telling customers "whoopsie, we can't get it to you because it is very cold out" is not much of an answer.  We assume you thought of this problem.  

Meanwhile, my brother and his family brace for a third night without power, as do literally millions of Texans as a wave of ice is set to fall this evening, causing unknown danger.  

6:20 PM Tuesday 02/16 - we lost power while I was typing this.

2:50 PM Wednesday 02/17 - power was restored

Fortunately, I'd managed to light the dopey decorative gas fire place we have in the house, so we had more heat last night.  There was an icy-rain storm that I listened to a bit, but we fell asleep around 10:00 PM.  

Jamie's been working on a 1000 piece puzzle, and I've been reading comics (definitely recommend that Ta-Nehisi Coates Black Panther in Space).  

It's all incredibly stressful.  We really don't know if we'll keep power.  They're telling us we're on a "boil water" notice.  And, of course, we'll see if we lose any pipes.  I already wrestled with some in the house yesterday. 

I dunno.  While the Governor and others are trying to deal with this, I'm concerned they'll politicize this.  The bottom line is that water and power aren't dealt with in Texas in a "Failure is Not an Option" manner.  Instead, it's been treated as a "business" - as in, "what is the cheapest way we can do this and make the most money?"

Look, people are suffering, and people are going to die because we didn't plan for the worst.  And we need to, as Texans, take pride in planning for the worst and not letting this happen again.  Texas is an energy rich state, and we've been on the precipice of disaster for a long time.  

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