A winter storm/extreme cold front has hit this weekend, with overnight temperatures falling into the ‘well-below-freezing’ range; rare indeed for this part of Texas. Our planting zone falls around “9” – which generally means that warm-weather plants – banana trees, citrus, ferns and the like – generally do rather well. The occasional snow that stays for longer than a couple of hours after sunrise is a rare happening. Like about every twenty years or so. But one of those last long-predicted winter blasts hit a little less than two years ago and hit so catastrophically that everyone’s memories are still quite unpleasantly fresh … especially memories of how badly our civic power authorities bungled a long-predicted cold front which left much of suburban San Antonio freezing in the dark, and without tap water.

A foot of snow on the ground, too – which would have left places in the northern tier doubled over laughing; ‘That’s not winter … this (pointing to four feet and more on the ground for weeks and months on end) is winter!’ But the naked fact is that places like Ogden, Utah, Denver, Colorado, and Truckee, California are set up to cope with lots of snow and prolonged freezing temperatures, and South Texas is not. (What we are set up for is months of summer heat at temperatures in the three figures.)

Every one of my neighbors whose memories of the Great Snowmagedden of February, 2021 are uncomfortably vivid grimly prepped for something like it to happen again: stocking up on any groceries to be needed in the next week, making certain that electronic devices are charged, and that we are stocked up on propane, bottled water and toilet paper. The word on Next Door is that various HEB groceries are entirely out of canned soups and the like. Probably bread, milk and sandwich fixings, too. What saved a lot of my neighbors and I during Snowmagedden was having camping gear, propane camping stoves or barbeques, and a lot of blankets and firewood. We made out OK, generally – not happy about it all, especially the owners of one house which burned because the fire department couldn’t pull water from the hydrants because the pipes were frozen or empty – but we all remembered the week of misery. Hence the grim preparations, just in case. Our faith and trust in the power grid and those who manage it has been considerably reduced in the last couple of years. If what I heard on a walkabout during the last prolonged power outage this spring, at least a dozen neighbors have bought and set up household generators.

Right now it’s overcast and 30 degrees outside, and it’s late afternoon. The temperature will drop after sunset: a hard freeze is predicted for tonight, and pretty much the same for the next few days. We’ve taken the few tender plants that the hot, rainless summer didn’t kill into the garage, hung a blanket over the front door, and drawn the curtains and shutters over the windows to preserve as much of the warmth as possible. The dogs and cats are all inside and sheltered – at least this time around, we don’t have chickens to keep inside, too. The battery lanterns, our cellphones and my Kindle are all on their chargers – so, we’ll see what develops. Already, the inside walls and windows are cold to touch. We’ll keep the heat on tonight, which is not our usual custom, but with Wee Jamie as part of the household now, we can’t long endure an excessively cold house.

17 thoughts on “Incoming”

  1. My place is at 60 degrees, but I don’t have a youngun’ to keep warm- and the New England farmhouse I grew up in averaged colder temperatures in the winter. The 2021 Great Freeze lasted about 9 days but didn’t get super cold until five days or so into it. Electricity lasted about 24 hours after the temperature went way down. Fingers crossed on keeping electricity going. I have commenced charging my e-readers, just in case.

    When I took my walk this morning, I wore 2 pairs of corduroy pants. Sufficient substitute for long johns.

  2. Since 2021 we have acquired two additional generators and a propane heater. (We lost power for 30 hours during that storm.) Plus we have lots of firewood–thanks to 2023’s ice storm that downed dozens of large limbs from our trees. It’s 16 degrees now but the power stayed on all night so we’ve rounded one corner.

    Also, supposed the predicted freezing rain/ice is now out of our forecast, which was the thing that had us most concerned. We are retired and don’t have to go anywhere which makes everything easier.

    Well, yesterday’s cooking project was beef stew and today’s is French onion soup. Making that and keeping the fire going rounds out the agenda for today.

    Stay warm and safe, Sgt. Mom, Blondie, and Wee Jamie!

  3. But, but, but … Texas has built lots & lots & lots of taxpayer-subsidized bird-whackers. That will totally without-doubt ensure the reliability of the electric supply regardless of what the weather brings. It is not like the Texas authorities foolishly wasted their customers’ money on more gas-fired or nuclear power plants.

  4. Nice sarcasm, Gavin … we all noticed how well the taxpayer-subsidized bird-whackers worked during Snowmagedden. If the comments on my neighborhood Next Door are any indicator, we’re all pretty well disillusioned about windmill-produced electricity.

    I let the dogs out last night for their last widdle-and-poop break of the day. Nemo the Terrier-mix abominates cold and wet. I think he broke the sound barrier, returning to the house. All I saw was a small black and white blur, shooting past my ankles, when I opened the door for them to come back in.
    So far, the grid is holding. There’s a layer of frost on everything. We don’t have to go anywhere this week – so we won’t!

  5. Well they do have the bird whackers, but people have been building other things.
    We sold the place outside of Alvin following retirement, and bought a much smaller spot by Lake Livingston. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, and as it turns out two years ago they added a hydroelectric plant to it. Not huge, the water level drop won’t allow that, but 25Mw on the line 6 miles down the road is nice. Turns out they added hydro to Steinhagen and Toledo Bend as well.
    Maybe somebody out there is paying attention. I’m still keeping my 10Kw portable generator.

  6. Good one, Gavin.

    What ever became of the full investigation into the obvious string of bad choices in the building out of our Texas power grid? Are we still subsidizing the solar and wind builders with state and national debt? Of course we are, probably increasing funding for such costly, unreliable and inefficient pet rocks. Nuke power? No, Greta might be offended and bring her song and dance to Austin. Thought: You only get to be the land of the free if you are the land of the brave.

    We now have a back up generator on a large tank of propane, conversion from heat pump to propane heating, water well and food/supplies as back up. Just got to do it a step at time. We got fired up and proactive about this stuff when hurricane Ike knocked out power along the Texas coast and Brenham (and surrounding area) was without power for about three weeks during the heat of the summer. Being of a certain age, that was concerning. Covid ToiletPapermegenddon, Snowmegeddon and the weeks of temps in triple digits last summer put punctuation marks on our concerns.


  7. ERCOT sent out a message yesterday telling us that they have winterized a lot of their generating capacity so not to worry, but there is no wind and so everyone should set their thermostat as low as they can tolerate anyway, just because. 17 here this morning, better than the 11 they were predicting. The chickens are doing okay with a couple of heat lamps in their roost and a heater under their water supply in the run. They finished their molt just in time and they know how to huddle up.

  8. What’s interesting is the attempt to shore up things in east TX is being done by MISO (Mid Continent Supply). If you look at the maps of the distribution networks, we are outside of ERCOT.
    Which I am fine with. When you have the situation of a Nuke plant shutting down because the backup system lost power, well, it doesn’t say much for their planning.

  9. Pardon my laughter, but here in NW Wyoming we saw -38°F on our back deck Saturday morning. The high (yes, highest temperature of the day) was -18°F. We also got snow overnight, and it’s snowed every third day for a week now. But compared to where I grew up (Minnesnowta) this is easy living. The snow if fluff and doesn’t weigh anything, and we won’t be below zero for more than a few days (as opposed to a few weeks). The tiny little wood stove we bought and installed keeps the house warm all day on just a little bit of wood, and we let it go out in the early evening to let the house cool off for sleeping, and have the furnace take over for the middle of the night. As I type it’s -10°F and dropping for the night.

    We also get triple-digit temperatures in the summer and I’ve seen 115°F on my back deck…but that’s pretty sunny despite my “Sunbrella” over the pergola; the actual temperature was only 105°F. The big difference up here (5,000 ft) is that we are in a desert basin with effectively no humidity, so for both those reasons it almost always cools off once the sun sets. I couldn’t imagine living in a place with temperatures that high, AND high humidity since MN was terrible enough. Here we just ventilate the house on summer nights, and close it up for the day to “keep the cool inside”; we typically run our little mini-split A/C only a couple of days for the year.

    Best of luck with the cold snap, and here’ hoping the grid gets through it this time.

  10. This afternoon I tried to help someone who’d gotten stuck on the ice, with no traction, on an uphill stretch of road–only to get stuck myself.

  11. Point is well taken but Denver Colorado is a poor choice of example. Denver is in a bowl. There is a strong Diesel effect as air in the shaded mountain valleys chills, gets denser and rolls downhill toward Denver then falls into the bowl warming with a Diesel effect.

  12. My recall is that two of the major blunders pre-2021 were the conversion of NG well compressors from NG powered engines to electric motors and a failure to weatherize the windmills. There were other blunders but those stuck with me. Been some interesting comments this week out of central Canada and the plight of those provinces who bit the green fruit versus those that kept their NG and particularly coal generators operable.

  13. A couple of points: NG wells don’t have compressors, it all depends on the natural pressure to get to the pipeline and is pumped from there. NG is almost always accompanied by some amount of produced water as well as other gasses such as CO2, Nitrogen and often other hydrocarbons called natural gas liquids. Liquids are separated at the well head. Obviously, water freezes in cold weather and it is not economic to weatherize wells that may only experience freezing weather rarely. Gas wells in North Dakota don’t freeze because they spend a lot of money to prevent it.

    There are two main drivers of electrifying the gas pipelines. The first are various clean air mandates that the NG powered engines can’t meet. Generally, they are still on site to be used as backup to the electric compressors, the pipelines must generally pay a fine every time they are run. Here again, they weren’t prepared for sub-zero temperatures and surely some were victims of neglect as well. The other driver is the cost of maintaining these engines. They are massive and were mostly built by companies long gone. A person once described how he would shimmy down a cylinder after the piston had been removed during overhaul with a mop and bucket to clean the crankcase. They will run thousands of hours between overhauls but the cost is massive as well as the engine.

    Finally, I understand that much of the problem with the generating plants and NG occurred on the generating plant grounds where winterization had been negligent. There are a lot of pipes, mostly exposed in a power plant.

  14. The surest bet in the world was that anything Pickens was behind would be very good for T. Boone Pickens, anybody else???

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