Winter weather in Texas does not usually start until December or January for most years. We Texans know that February is usually our coldest month of the winter. A typical cold spell for us would be a few degrees below freezing for a night or two. A hard freeze would be temperatures in the low 20’s for 2 or 3 nights with the daytime temperatures back into the upper 30’s. The week after Valentine’s Day this year reminded us what a real winter storm is like.
It started on Sunday, February 15 and did not let up until Saturday, February 21. We started with temperatures in the single digits and low teens across the entire state. On Monday, all 254 counties in Texas received some amount of snow ranging from a foot deep in West Texas to a couple of inches on the beaches of Galveston. Temperatures remained in the low teens or single digits for several days, and many parts of the state did not get above freezing for 72 hours. We did what we could to prepare for this storm but we had no idea that electricity would be an issue.
On Sunday, February 15 is when the first rolling blackouts started throughout the state. My wife and I lost power Sunday night and it did not come back on for 10 hours. Later, on Monday night, we lost power again for 38 hours. I have heard reports that some people went 4 days in a row without any electricity.
Here is what happened to the power grid of Texas: Our grid separated from the main grid of the United States a few decades ago so that federal regulations would not be imposed, so that our power system could be deregulated and privatized with for-profit, private generating plants. Many of these private plants were not winterized for this storm and had to go offline due to their plants freezing. Our wind turbines also began to freeze up and could not generate any power. Our power grid was reduced to more than 50 percent reduction of power in the worst winter storm in over 75 years.
It will be months before we can sort out all of the things that went wrong with the power during this storm, but without power during this cold spell many, many homes, businesses and schools had frozen pipes due to the lack of heat because of no electricity. When the temperature began to warm and pipes began to thaw is when we realized the extent of the frozen pipes. In the southern part of the state, most home and small businesses have the water lines installed in the attic because we just don’t usually get that cold in the winter. There is usually enough ambient heat from the house to keep the attic warm enough to keep the water lines from freezing.
Needless to say, when the pipes thawed and the water began to flow in the attic, a lot of damage occurred with ceilings and walls falling down. This also caused a major drop in water supply in medium to large cities which caused the water to be turned off. You would think that severe cold temperatures, no electricity, no heat and no water and thousands of dollars of damage to people’s homes and businesses would be enough for us to deal with.
The last gut punch was the electric bills that started showing up just days after the storm. Many, many people had electric bills for one month that was in the thousands of dollars and there were several reports of some homeowners being charged over $10,000 for service that was not reliable. This was a storm that we will not forget anytime soon and hopefully changes will be made so something like this never happens again. The week after the storm the temperature was back in the 70’s and 80’s and we were back in our normal weather clothing of shorts and flip flops.