Texas Power Failure: Winter Storm Uri (and Minnesota)

A winter storm was moving across North America a couple weeks back.

By February 15, when The Texas Tribune posted Miguel Gutierrez Jr.’s photo of Austin’s Interstate 35 near Stassney Lane, we were dealing with sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures and serious windchill.

And, for the most part, dealing successfully.

I live in central Minnesota.

The mid-February storm included temperatures that were unusually cold, compared to the last 50 years.

February 6-17th, 2021 Arctic Blast
Aberdeen, SD, Weather Forecast Office; National Weather Service

“…The coldest days of the outbreak for many occurred on Sat, Feb 13th when Minnesota set a preliminary daily state record low temperature of -50 F (25 mi E of Ely) and Sun, Feb 14th (Valentine’s Day) when local low temperatures dropped into the -20s and -30s F. Minimum wind chills of -35 to -55 F were recorded on several mornings as well….
“…The magnitude of the cold during this outbreak is fairly rare when compared to the past 50 years, at least in terms of the persistence of the Arctic air, more closely resembling outbreaks from the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s in some locations….”

After the Storm: Routine Street Maintenance Here, Power Failure in Texas

Sauk Centre’s plows had our streets cleared hours after the snow stopped falling. Central Minnesota’s power grid didn’t fail. I figure that’s why we’ve been hearing about power failure and death in Texas, not Minnesota.

I’ve also seen news coverage shift: from hardship and deaths caused by an infrastructure collapse, to blame games.

And, of course, why Texas needs federal control of its power grid. Or why Texans can handle their affairs without outside interference.

My opinion is that I don’t live in Texas — and don’t know nearly enough to have a reasoned opinion on who should control what in that state.

Neither of which will keep me from talking about what growing up in the Upper Midwest, and spending most of my life here, suggests about this month’s storm and power failure.

Texas, Minnesota and Near-Worst-Case Scenarios

U.S. Weather Service map (February 14, 2021)

I don’t know why at least parts of the Texas power grid hadn’t been winterized. Or who made the decision. Or, for that matter, whether the question had ever been considered.

Here in Minnesota, having winterized equipment is no virtue. Over the course of a year, we experience near-tropical weather, near-arctic conditions and everything in between.

As I see it, that encourages us to not take stupid chances. But even with state and local zoning laws and other regulations, every year I hear about someone not coming back from ice fishing. Or a house fire caused by glitchy equipment. Or some other preventable tragedy.

What can I say? We’re human.

I figure the same goes for Texans. Except they don’t have the advantage of being exposed to a full range of near-worst-case scenarios every year. We do.

Perceptions

U.S. Weather Service map (February 15, 17, 2021)We have power grid failures, but not often. Happily, the ones I’ve experienced didn’t last more than hours. Not days.

And, like most residential structures up here, the house I live in is insulated well enough to retain heat. Long enough, so far, to keep pipes from freezing before power comes back.

I was born in 1951, in the Red River Valley of the North. I remember 1950s weather, and learned about earlier events from my parents. That may help explain why winters seem wimpy these days.

Spending the last few decades in central Minnesota may be a factor, too. By my standards, this is almost ‘down south.’

Texas — is huge, even by American standards. Depending on where you live, you’ll deal with Köppen’s hot or cold desert, hot-summer Mediterranean, humid subtropical and other climate types.

Texans, wherever they live, experience seasons.

A normal February exposes folks in Amarillo, for example, to high temperatures around 49° Fahrenheit, plunging to 23° at night.

That’s cold, no question.

Minnesota, Land of Four Seasons: Autumn, Winter, Spring and Road Work

My corner of Sauk Centre, MN. (January 19, 2021)It’s also what folks in St. Cloud, an hour down the road, can expect in late March.

February’s normal high and low is 27° and 7° — warmer than a typical January’s 21° and 2°.

That’s normal highs and lows, mind you. We’ve had January highs in the 50s and lows around -30. Fahrenheit.

Minnesota’s climate seems normal to me, but like I said: I was born around here, and have spent most of my life here.

That’s helped me learn to dress warmly in winter, not try driving on submerged roads, and prep the house and equipment for winter.

Or, in recent years, relax in the knowledge that others in the family are doing so. The one routine we’re not doing, which bothers me, is plugging in the vehicle’s headbolt heater.

The household can’t afford unnecessary expenses. A headbolt heater draws significant power while it’s keeping a vehicle’s engine block a bit warmer than the garage. So we haven’t been using it.

Which may or may not have been a good idea. We needed to plug the vehicle’s battery into a charger a couple time during the recent cold snap.

I’m willing to guess that the headbolt heater would have consumed more power over months of use than the charger did. And that’s almost another topic.

One down side of living in Minnesota is that I need clothing, shelter and equipment that’s usable in near-tropical to near-arctic conditions.

Another is that I’m paying, through taxes and fees, for infrastructure maintenance. Which includes repairing weather-related damage. Our winters are rough on roads.

One up side is that I’m ready for the weather, or can be. And the weather is not boring.

(Mostly) Prepared

After freezing fog, here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota's south side. (January 2, 2021)I can’t say that Minnesotans are prepared for anything. Earthquakes, for example, are very uncommon here. I’m not sure how our structures would hold up.

Hurricanes are a no-show, too. Hardly surprising, since Sauk Centre, Minnesota is about 1,200 miles north of Austin, Texas. And about as far away from Earth’s ocean.

In any case, our summer storms provide us with pretty good hurricane simulations. Something we’re missing are low-flying palm trees, and that’s yet another topic.

Seriously: Truth, Justice, Mercy and Love

I see it’s been a while since I explained why blaming a dyspeptic deity and/or ‘those sinners over there’ makes no sense to me.

So here’s a short version.

Disasters happen. Like folks getting killed when a tower at Siloam fell on them. God doesn’t have anger management issues. Seeing the Almighty as irritable, or worse, is our problem: not God’s. We’ve had a warped image of God for a very long time. (Luke 13:4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 399)

Now, about finding out what went wrong and who can be blamed. This can get tricky.

Not learning what went wrong, why and whodunit. That can be tricky, too, in its own way; and that’s yet again another topic. I’m looking at deciding what to do once the what, how and who is known.

Truth and justice are important. The same goes for mercy and helping each other. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447, 2472, 24752487)

If I’d lost family and friends because someone who should have known better made daft decisions, I’d be angry. Very angry.

But I hope I’d remember what our Lord said about the core of ‘the law and the prophets.’

I should love my neighbor. And see everyone as my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2537; Catechism, 1706, 1776, 1825, 18491851, 1955)

I’ve talked about this before:


More than you may want to know about:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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