Thursday, February 18, 2021

Winter Storm - February 2021 Part 3

Scout ponders the inevitable slowing of all atomic motion

If you're on the outside of the freeze occurring in our Southern States - and, in particular, in Texas, it's very hard to explain the insanity of the past week.  And, I imagine, you have to do a lot of intentional empathizing to care.  Texans have a semi-earned reputation for being natively hateable, and anything bad that befalls them is schadenfreude.  

The truth is - we *are* in fact dealing with the results of bad policy, hubris and a lack of foresight.  All the stuff you'd expect from the blowhards and braggarts who've run the state for decades.

And it's costing lives.  The closest I can compare this to would be - a hurricane or similar event taking out Washington, Oregon and most of California, including LA, but leaving San Diego just fine.  

Texas is huge.  It takes 12 hours to cross from Texarkansas to El Paso and 13 hours from Texhoma to Brownsville.  That's 29 million people.  Houston is currently listed as the most diverse city in the country (don't believe it?  Go hang around the Univ. of Houston campus), and while it's easy to think of morons like Rick Perry as the face of Texas, it's not the reality on the ground.  Good people and many kinds of people live here.  

We're in an unprecendented weather event - it's not just been record cold in intensity, it's also record cold in duration.  I assume the precipitation is also record level.  I've never seen more than a dusting of snow in my decades in this town.  If we can't see the grass, we think it's a blizzard.

One common misconception I've seen is that we just need snow plows.  Well, what that this were so. 


The reasons Austin doesn't have snow plows are (a) we usually get trace amounts of snow making such an investment kind of silly, and (b) snow plows don't clear the layer of wet, slippery ice we do get that keeps everyone from driving.  We do have sand trucks and other options for getting ice off the road, but just the major roads.  

We're looking at a major supply-chain issue with food and fuel on the other side of warmer temps, which are supposed to begin tomorrow (Friday the 19th).  That ice is keeping drivers off the roads - so warehouses full of food aren't getting distributed.  Fuel trucks really, really do not need to be on the road right now where they could slip and wind up spilling a truckload of gas all over a church or elementary school.

Generally in the past, Austin has just shrugged and said "this is 24- 48 hours of impassable ice" and we've all stayed home.  It's usually kind of fun-ish.  29 degrees, a bit of precip, and you stay in and semi-anxiously watch the weather people lose their minds.  I know I'd worked from home on work-issued laptops a couple of times when I was frozen in going as far back as 2011 or so.  

But, stuff happens.  Even in those events, there's almost always a house fire.  1920's - 1940's build houses with no insulation catch one way or another.  Yesterday, two people died in a house here in Austin using, I believe, a gas grill in their house to keep warm.  

Yesterday afternoon we got our power back, and we've had it since.  But there's still many without power or dealing with rolling blackouts.   We've kept the house at 62 degrees to try and conserve.  There's one light on in the house - otherwise we're charging devices.  I have no idea what the grid can and can't take right now - but it does seem like power is gradually coming back.  We went from 512,000 without the other night to 76,000 without today - and it's infuriating.  Some of those 76,000 have been withoiyt power for a full week as of today.

And then...

Yesterday people started losing water pressure.  It's a wild mix of frozen mains, frozen pipes, and one of our treatment centers went down due to cold-related issues.  People are melting snow in their bathtubs for water.  Which is probably safer - because we're also on a boil-water notice for the next couple of days.

The City of Austin was begging people to stop dripping their pipes, but that's a hard sell when you stand a good chance of seeing your own pipes explode, see massive property damage, and know that pipes exploding and leaking everywhere is why we have some reduced water pressure.  (And dealing with water when it's below 30 degrees isn't anyone's favorite task).  

The nearest hospital to our house has been evacuating patients because they aren't getting enough water for basics - and, I read at least one article that stated that their heat is based on steam and they weren't getting enough water for heat.  I cannot imagine what is going on there.

There were rumors going around that we needed to worry about natural gas being cut to homes as well.  We've survived on natural gas for cooking and our little decorative fireplace that keeps us warm and gave us light, once I got it lit.  But I've slept on the sofa near the fireplace the past two nights in case it does go out - my concer being that it would come back on without any flame and fill the house with gas.   

If gas is cut, we can probably do one more night in the house, but then I'd have to abandon our careful COVID plans and get Jamie to my parent's house in North Austin as soon as the roads are passable.

This isn't a "oh, those people we know are having an issue, let's bring them a casserole" type situation so much as a "New Orleans is going to spend a long time recovering" sort of situation.  But we also deeply, deeply need to change our whole line of thinking on infrastructure.  

Unfortunately, we have leaders like Ted Cruz, who was caught on camera yesterday headed for Cancun during a week long disaster in his home state.  I mean, this is who we're electing.  We need to start electing people who want things to be better for their citizens, not just enjoy yanking the levers of power.

1 comment:

Simon MacDonald said...

Been glad to see your posts the past 3 days so I know you and Jamie are doing okay, well as okay as can be in the current situation.

The whole deal reminds me of a book I read on risk called "Waltzing with Bears". Something that his highly unlikely but highly problematic has to be accounted for. It might seems like a waste of time/resources up front but it pays off big time if the even does occur. Sadly, most of North America's infrastructure is suffering from this lack of forethought.

Stay safe!