Friday, February 19, 2021

In Texas it's not as bad as you think - it's far, far worse

Things are very very bad in Texas reports a TX resident, txjackalope at the Daily Kos.

Quote of the Day: like Beto said on MSNBC it’s not as bad as the news reports say. It’s worse.


First off this isn’t localized or even limited to big or even medium sized cities. There are rural areas that don’t have power either. This is a classic cascade failure. It is worse than a hurricane.

  1. It started with ERCOT misprediction of energy demand by about 30%.

  2. Sunday demand spiked to new historic winter levels. A full 10 MW higher than the previous Winter peak. Texas runs on electric heat. Virtually no one has fuel oil heaters. Fireplaces are things you have for ambiance.

  3. Then it froze. The whole state in one night. That sounds not weird to most people but south of say San Antonio it hardly ever freezes. It barely ever snows. Like once every hundred years. But this was a deep freeze. Our normal once a decade freezes are it goes in the high twenties for a few hours overnight. This was a freeze that lasted two days. Lots of people just don’t have clothing to deal with this either.

  4. So the roads shut down because of wrecks. We have trucks that the highway department can lay salt with or sand. But we had enough to cover those overnight type events on major bridges. Nothing like the ground freezing. People got stuck where they were. Freezing rain quickly washed the little salt and sand we had away.

  5. Then the power went out. They said at first they would be rolling blackouts but when it went out it virtually never came back on. For my city the blackouts started around 2am Monday morning.

  6. Since we never had a ground freeze they hastily told everyone to keep our taps dripping overnight so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. But we don’t have insulated piping. So many pipes froze and many burst.

  7. Monday during the day the roads were still closed so you couldn’t get out. Heat was ok for many since houses could retain some heat.

  8. Tuesday is when the shit hit the fan. Without power all the water infrastructure was hobbled. Pumps are non operable since entire sections of the city are blacked out.

  9. With lines broken and pumps out and people dripping faucets water pressure has dropped to a trickle or none at all.

  10. City orders a boil water notice because of this but large segments of people have no power to boil water with.

  11. Meanwhile ERCOT tries to get everyone to start producing more power. Turns out energy production is as winterized as our houses. Gas power plants that had been told they wouldn’t be needed had gas lines freeze. Nuclear plants had instrumentation failures due to cold(a holy shit in it’s own right). Wind Turbines sited to provide surge power for Summer afternoons and built without heating elements had their gear casings freeze and lock up(they still outperformed ERCOT estimates). Even coal plants got knocked out with instrument failures. Roads being frozen means any maintenance response is limited.

  12. So by Tuesday it’s clear any power restoration is a cold restart, meaning for instance you have to count on any re-energized building pulling it’s maximum demand. That’s because you’ve gone from trying to keep a building at 68–72 degrees to trying to get it from 35 degrees to anywhere warmer than that(our electric heat kits aren’t designed to do that anyway).

  13. It did warm up enough Tuesday for people to drive. That meant firewood, water, propane, batteries of any kind, all gone instantly. Gas lines out in the street at gas stations. Dairy and meat shortages.

  14. And cell reception is abysmal even for texting. With so many houses with power out people are using their cars to charge cell phones or stay warm. With so much internet traffic switching to cell based the network is slammed. It’s worse than New York after 9–11 slammed(I was there). Voice calls are impossible most of the time. Texts take 20–30 minutes to get through if they do. I think the battery backups and fuel tanks on back up generators are out on lots of the towers.

  15. This afternoon was kind of the great migration when it became clear that ERCOTs promises that the blackouts would be getting rolled back got called out by the lines companies coming out publicly saying ERCOT was telling them to cut off more people. Think they got pissed people were rumor mongering that power was out because their lines were down. My fairly wealthy neighborhood is mostly abandoned as the neighbors stay with relatives with power or find hotel rooms. With cell coverage so bad it’s impossible to check up on everyone.

I’m only writing this because I have a natural gas backup generator in a brand new foam insulated house. I have heat, internet, and a working kitchen. I don’t have hot water because you have to make choices on what you can have hooked up and hot showers is not a priority when you have a Summer hurricane(It’s usually 100 outside after a storm).

I spent the day trying to get word to friends and neighbors they could come over and have a hot meal, charge devices, and warm up. Can’t get people to spend the night because they are worried about leaving pets and houses alone or are worried about COVID(We’ve had our first shots but not our second). I gave all my firewood to a neighbor who has a kid running a fever with a cough. I sent him home with hot coffee for his wife. I charged the phones and tablet of an ER nurse friend who hasn’t been home in two days because the road home is closed. Her partner is stuck there with her dog.

This has none of the hallmarks of a hurricane. In hurricanes you prep, the vulnerable evac, and it hits. It’s bad for a few hours and after that few hours everyone gets to work and things get incrementally better every hour. Help starts arriving from non impacted areas almost immediately. Lightly effected areas patch themselves up and send help to the epicenter in a day.

This shit just keeps getting worse. The closest “unaffected area” is 600 miles away.

So like Beto said on MSNBC it’s not as bad as the news reports say. It’s worse.

Update: Wow this had more reaction than I thought it would. People have had thoughts on how to help. Just a bit of a reminder. I’m fairly south and we still have the airport closed and streets closed intermittently(it froze again last night). So you understand most of the state has no functioning transportation infrastructure right now. Airports don’t have deicing equipment for runways and planes. Highway departments have absolutely minimal plowing and ice prevention equipment. People don’t know how to drive in it anyway.

One thing you can do is some advocacy on government competency from a rationalist perspective. Anything the feds could do to “save” us would be helpful. I’ve noticed only the hardcore Trumpers are still on the wind turbine are to blame thing. The moderate business people(who cannot operate) are fully aware ERCOT and bad state management is to blame. In Texas this is the group that could swing over and clinch future elections. The federal government actively helping in a visible way would help in this.


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