It should have been fun.
I grew up in Wisconsin. Jane grew up in New York.
We grew up with snow, sub-zero temperatures, tire chains, and — best of all — snow days when schools and businesses shut down when so much snow fell that roads couldn’t be cleared fast enough.
We’ve been here in Texas for twenty-six years now, but we’ve never stopped missing snow.
So, when I saw snow falling soon after midnight on Monday morning, I put on my L.L. Bean boots and headed outside to walk in it. (I considered phoning Jane to alert her, but I decided her resentment at being awakened would outweigh her excitement about the snow).
And it was beautiful.
Early the next morning, Jane, Micky (Jane’s pup) and I headed out for a walk.
Micky had never walked in snow before, and he loved the cold and the snow. He was a little less enamored of some black ice he encountered early in the walk — his feet went out from under him — and he spent a minute or two standing still and processing that before he resumed his explorations.
However, our enjoyment didn’t last long.
Soon, as the state’s electrical grid neared collapse, CPS started shutting down our power, we were without heat, and we began to lose water pressure.
We were among the lucky ones. We each have good insulation, and we never lost water pressure entirely. We had enough food on hand. We had flashlight batteries. We were inconvenienced, and the past few days were unpleasant, but we were never in danger.
But many homes in the neighborhood lack insulation sufficient to deal with the temperatures we faced. With power, they would have been cold. Without it, they were freezing.
And then, on top of that, SAWS told us we needed to start boiling our water. With what, exactly, were we supposed to do that boiling, District 8 Councilperson Manny Pelaez reportedly asked a SAWS representative. Wood, perhaps?
The boiling requirement was due to the low water pressure, and that, in turn, was due to CPS power shutdowns. The state electric grid was in such danger of total collapse that CPS was forced to extend its blackouts to critical infrastructure, including some SAWS pumping stations. And that, of course, was happening at the same time that residents were dripping faucets to protect their pipes and at the same time that other pipes — in spite of dripping — were bursting and leaking still more water.
So all our problems — freezing in our homes, running out of water, having to boil the water we were able to get, sitting in the dark, hoping our phone batteries would last, and having trouble getting information because internet service was available to us only through overloaded cell networks — all those problems were due to the Texas electrical power industry.
According to a retired electrical industry executive from outside Texas with whom I spoke, Texas’s largely unregulated industry has put profits ahead of service, failing to take the steps necessary to protect its infrastructure. As a result, gas-powered generation plants were short of gas as demand surged and gas pipelines froze. Across the state, equipment froze and locked up.
And what did we see from state leadership?
Governor Abbot, instead of immediately addressing the problem, decided to make political hay, going on television to falsely blame wind turbine problems for the collapse of the grid. (He did later address the real problem by limiting natural gas exports outside the state).
And of course, Ted Cruz took his family on a trip to Cancun (while Beto O’Rourke, whom Cruz narrowly beat to hold onto his Senate seat, was busy organizing phone banks, door-knocking, and fundraising to identify Texans in danger and get them the help they needed).
This past week should have been, at worst, an inconvenience. Instead, thanks to the state’s leadership and its electrical industry, it was a life-threatening disaster.