There’s two facts about Texas snow.
One. It’s extremely rare, to the point where an occurrence of snow becomes a full blown Facebook event for Texans.
Two. One the rare occasions it does snow in Texas, it’s typically a light almost-ice like flurry that melts faster than drivers in the left lane on a Texas highway.
That is to say, it melts very quickly.
That was not the case last week. Valentine’s Day 2021 was the official first day of Texas Snowmaggedon, the Texas Snowpacolypse, call it what you will, but the day to celebrate romance was the proverbial calm before the power and water outage storm. The snow-that-actually-didn’t-melt was definitely fun to experience initially.
Initially the snow felt like a treat. It didn’t matter that I grabbed a handful of snow with an un-gloved hand, eager to throw a snowball. I could just go inside and run some hot water over my hands to defrost.
Two days later the snow had yet to melt, the running water I had once taken for granted completely stopped for days, and the power went out sporadically. Across many parts of the state, a lot of people fared far worse.
Many Texans were forced to seek shelter with family members who had consistent power just to stay warm. Others who didn’t have anyplace to go hunkered down the best they could, and waited for the power to come back on, many going hours or even days without power. It’s also not uncommon for homes in Texas to not be insulated, as we’re usually coping with the heat, so that added to our troubles when we were suddenly faced with extreme cold.
Of course no power led to spoiled groceries, but many H-E-B’s (the Texas haven for grocery shopping) limited store hours from 12 to 5 last week, making the demand for food soar sky-high while stores worked as hard as they could to keep vital supplies in stock.
A trip to my local H-E-B yesterday felt like a grocery trip last year right when the pandemic induced a whole onslaught of panic buyers. The bread aisle was completely gone save for some multi-grain bread and potato buns. There was no milk or alternative milks like almond, soy or cashew in the refrigerated section. The entire section that normally housed sliced ham, bacon, and other pre-packaged deli meats was completely gone as well. If you experienced COVID-19 panic buying just a year ago, you probably remember what it was like to see an empty grocery store.
But there was water.
We’d been put on a boil water notice (which was rather ironic because many people still didn’t have running water or power to boil tap water anyway) so bottled water quickly became as precious as toilet paper was last year. H-E-B has understandably placed limits on certain items, so shoppers were only allowed to buy two cases of water. However, H-E-B continues to live by the company motto: “No store does more than my H-E-B.”
H-E-B has more than 1500 trailers on their way to replenish as many stores as possible with food, even in the midst of ongoing power and water issues. Friends posted about how nice it was that H-E-B employees were literally handing out bouquets of flowers to customers last week, providing a bit of hope amidst the chaos. One H-E-B in Leander, Texas let shoppers go home with groceries without having to pay because the store lost power.
On a slightly amusing note, on my drive to my local H-E-B I was startled by a long line of vehicles in the right lane going towards my destination. Was the line really starting miles back from H-E-B just to get in to shop?
And then I realized the long line was for the Whataburger drive-thru.
How Did This Happen?
Texas is the only state that has its own independent power grid called the Electric Reliability Council of Texas that covers most of the state. (About ten percent of Texas, including El Paso, the upper Panhandle and and parts of East Texas were not affected because they weren’t connected to the ERCOT grid, according to a Texas Tribune report. As a result those sections of Texas were able to borrow power from neighboring states because they were connected to a larger grid conglomeration of several states.) Because Texas’s main power grid is isolated, most of the state was unable to utilize power from the federal power grid when the state’s power grid and systems were hit hard by the weather last week.
Back in February 2011 ERCOT was given a recommendation by federal regulators that ERCOT should winterize their power grid equipment after more than 3 million customers lost power during freezing weather that year. Ten years later, Texans are not only having to deal with having endured hours and days of freezing cold weather without power but are also getting astronomically high energy bills as well.
The reasoning behind the Texas Snowmaggedon, snowpacolypse, whatever you’d like to call it is, of course, incredibly complex. The bottom line is is that Texas did not have the infrastructure to deal with this extreme weather, and millions of people have suffered as a result (and there have been multiple suspected hypothermia deaths reported). The overall issue of what went wrong is incredibly complex, tragic, and will likely be or is already being investigated.
The most important thing is that this should not be allowed to happen again.
The sad thing is what could’ve been a fun and rare occurrence of Texas snow turned into a complete nightmare for state residents. The snow has melted now, but the cleanup after chaos continues.
Here Are A Few Ways To Help Texans in Need
Feeding Texas-“Help food banks support warming shelters, replace perished food, and feed Texans in need.“
You can donate to Texas animal organizations to take care of pets who may have been abandoned or still in need of a warm home-Austin Pets Alive!, Yaqui Animal Rescue in the Rio Grande valley, the Houston Humane Society,
You can also donate to the American Red Cross to help Texans (The American Red Cross has multiple locations across Texas).
Those residents that live in the 77 counties declared a disaster location by President Biden can apply for FEMA aid. Check out more information about that below.
Wishing everyone affected by this terrible winter storm safety, warmth, and clean running water.