As Ed Morrissey reported yesterday, the situation across much of Texas is getting pretty dire following a freak winter storm and freezing temperatures. Millions of people are without power and many have lost their heating as well. To make matters worse, water pipes are breaking all across the state. Going out to purchase potable water isn’t an option for many because the roads are largely impassable. That’s left a lot of people angry with officials who appear to have been completely unprepared for such a fiasco, with one resident telling the Associated Press that the collapse of the power grid was “a complete bungle.”
The toll of the outages was causing increasing worry. Harris County emergency officials reported “several carbon monoxide deaths” in or around Houston and reminded people not to operate cars or gasoline-powered generators indoors. Authorities said three young children and their grandmother, who were believed to be trying to keep warm, also died in a suburban Houston house fire early Tuesday. In Galveston, the medical examiner’s office requested a refrigerated truck to expand body storage, although County Judge Mark Henry said he didn’t know how many deaths there had been related to the weather.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation of the grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. His indignation struck a much different tone than just a day earlier, when he told Texans that ERCOT was prioritizing residential customers and that power was getting restored to hundreds of thousands of homes.
But hours after those assurances, the number of outages in Texas only rose, at one point exceeding 4 million customers.
Ed covered the collapse of the power grid pretty thoroughly yesterday, but there are other infrastructure failures taking place that highlight the unusual nature of this storm. The shutdown of vehicular traffic is compounding all of the other problems. The total amount of snow and ice on the roads is really almost nothing compared to what people are accustomed to in the northeast and midwest. (I’m in New York State and after the first winter storm of this season I measured 40 inches of snow on my sidewalk.) The problem is that the cities and counties of Texas have almost no way to deal with snow and ice. They so rarely see such conditions that most of them don’t have the fleets of sanding trucks and snowplows that are a requirement in northern states. They don’t stock up on salt for the roads, either.
This is reminiscent of a trip that I took to Chatanooga, Tennessee some years ago during the winter. A brief snowstorm blew through the area leaving an inch or two of snow and a coating of ice. The entire city shut down for two days. Heading to the meeting we were scheduled to attend, we saw dozens of cars piled up off the shoulders of the roads. Southerners don’t tend to invest in all-weather tires and they’re not used to navigating on icy roads. A weather event that wouldn’t have even merited a mention in Pittsburgh completely paralyzed Chattanooga.
The water outages in Texas are a major problem also. Homeowners in the northeast have a little ritual that we go through every autumn. When the first winter weather is approaching, we shut off the water to any outside spigots from inside the house. Then we open the outside faucets and drain them. If you don’t do that, your pipes will burst. When subfreezing temperatures are predicted, any sinks with pipes running near the outside of the house need to have the faucets cracked open so there’s a slow but steady drip of water coming out. That’s done for the same reason.
The point here is that while the power grid failure may have been a “bungle,” most of the rest of these challenges are being seen because neither the residents nor the government are used to dealing with these conditions. They lack the infrastructure and the experience to handle this sort of a storm. Hopefully, Texas will quickly return to more moderate temperatures and life can get back to whatever passes for normal these days. Until then, please keep the people of Texas in your thoughts and prayers.