My little coastal county doesn't fare well in extreme cold. We do have Yankee transplants here, but there's no accounting for citizens who appear to think that "rare freezes" are the same as "impossible freezes." This was an unusual cold spell in that many people have lost power not just for a few hours but for days on end, so the simplest coldproofing steps suddenly proved inadequate. Pipes will freeze now that would have been OK if house heat had stayed on. Not many thought to empty the pipes when the heat went off, and a day or two later--when it became clear that the outages weren't "rolling"--it was too late.

To make matters worse, when everyone drips pipes, or when pipes burst, water pressure goes to nothing. When the municipal water system loses power it can't make the treatment plant work and can't maintain water pressure. Many are outraged to be told that they should boil water, which they can't do because they are helpless without electrical power to boil water with. Or a few have power to boil with, but now no water pressure and so no water to boil. Seems like they would join forces with the contingent on the next block and get some water boiled.

You wouldn't believe how many people haven't got the means even to light a cooking fire in a grill. This cold snap didn't exactly sneak up on us, but many lost water pressure last night without having filled a single container. The stores lack power and haven't been restocked this week--no bottled water! There is no gasoline for sale; too many pumps are still without power. And this is in a county that's not even five years past its last hurricane-related weeks-long power outage.

Communications are strangely stable. I assume people are using smartphones and charging in their cars.

As uncomfortable as this all is, our temperatures have not been what you would call dangerous: upper teens, at the worst. There's no reason for anyone to risk exposure as long as they have dry shelter out of the wind. I doubt there's anyone reading this post who hasn't camped outside in worse. A few large buildings, like churches, have generators, but most are simply larger versions of the cold, uncomfortable boxes that the homes have become, and so are useless as shelters. Better to pile on the blankets at home and wait it out, assuming you keep some food and water in the house.

The weirdest thing I've heard all week: it's barely risen above freezing for several days now, but people are letting food go bad in their unpowered refrigerators. I just read about someone in another town worried about the safety of her insulin supply. What do they think refrigerators do?

One thing I'm pleased about: we had very few wrecks on icy roads. I dreaded hearing that people would skid off the causeway into the bay.

A few look at this situation and think: I should plan right now for improved backup systems in case something like this happens again. The rest want to know the name and phone number of someone they can call and complain to about the lousy service at this hotel.


raven said...

Natures Curley effect-maybe they can move to SF. They probably did not vote for you.

"The rest want to know the name and phone number of someone they can call and complain to about the lousy service at this hotel"

Grim said...

I don't know, Tex. I have it on good authority that this is your fault for failing to build out the Green New Deal down Texas way.

Re: refrigerators in freezing weather, Edward Abbey used to make a distinction between what he called "indoor" and "outdoor" philosophy. It's amazing how "indoor" America has become, this great big beautiful nation with so many natural wonders. People don't realize that cold weather can keep things cold; that the sun can be used to dry foods you want to preserve; there's a whole host of general knowledge our ancestors used to have that has not been taught to the indoor generations.

A lot of people can't build a fire.

Tom said...

I guess I'm the wuss in this hall -- I've never gone camping in conditions like this. It's been -4F and -9F two nights here in Oklahoma. I've gone camping in below-freezing weather, but not sub-zero.

However, I'm happy to report we're having a heat wave today; it's expected to hit 20F.

I wonder what happens if insulin freezes. That does seem like an item that you would want cold, not frozen. I guess you could put snow in a cooler and just keep it cold indoors, maybe with the lid partially open or something. Just pay attention and adjust snow levels as necessary so it doesn't freeze.

That said, letting food go bad in the fridge is shocking.

Texan99 said...

I've never slept on the ground in anything much below about the 20s, I guess. But bear in mind, while it hit maybe 18F here, that's not how cold people's insulated houses were. Few houses here dropped below freezing indoors; mostly I hear people reporting 40s and 50s. That's not in a tent, it's a dry, wind-proof home with mattresses and blankets. In North Texas and Oklahoma, obviously houses without power could get much, much colder.

If I were insulin-dependent, I think I'd be more frantically focused on how to keep my supply safe. Yes, it probably shouldn't be frozen, but as you say we're all familiar with using ice to regulate the temperature in a cooler, aren't we? And it's not 100 degrees after a hurricane: it's freezing outside, and there's ice and snow all over the place.

I sometimes wonder how people think anyone survived before electricity. Would our grandparents have skipped a beat over any of this stuff?

But this is really weird: the third time in 5 years I've seen the supply lines completely break down for an extended period. The local grocery store lost power and actually threw away all its frozen food! Probably couldn't give it away without breaking laws. No restocking has happened all week, hardly any expected soon. Water is now on a boil-notice status not only in our little nearby town but in the city of Houston and apparently other towns all over Texas. That's going to get ugly. Cisterns are your friends, just like generators.

Texan99 said...

This may be my chance to use up the 12 boxes of Cream of Wheat I acquired last spring.

Anonymous said...

When I "enjoyed" the Great Ice Storm of '07 and was without heat/light for a week, I just opened the kitchen window and set the milk and other things outside. I buried them in the snow, so the stuff didn't freeze solid before I could use it. Nothing bothered it (wildlife, two or four footed) because no one noticed. I was more worried about the salsa in the fridge freezing before the heat came back on!

We kept water, but when I left for Christmas before the power was restored, I drained everything I could, turned off what water I could, and left a tap dripping (per the landlord's request). All was well when I returned.


Grim said...

We had one ranch style house with a wood burning stove in the living room. In freezing weather we’d just hang blankets to wall off that room, drain the pipes, and let the rest of the house freeze every night. Slept in the warm “yurt” and then recharged the water pipes when it wasn’t freezing any more. Saved tons of money on heating bills.

E Hines said...

We had one ranch style house with a wood burning stove in the living room.

We spent 10 years in Las Cruces living in a geodesic dome that we'd built, heating the 2600' home with a wood-burning stove rated for 900 ft. Las Cruces winters were relatively mild--a couple of inches of snow per winter, mostly around or a little above freezing--but the dome was an efficient heat-holding structure.

I've also done two weeks at -60 deg F at Ft Yukon, but that was outdoors, and we were all indoors. The only thing we had to takes pains about was keeping the fuel oil warm enough to flow to the burners.

Most of that winter was considerably less cold than that, though still substantially below freezing. We had a wood burning stove in our O/NCO lounge, but that "substantially below freezing" winter made the air _heavy_ and we had to light a fire in the stove's flue to get the air to rise so a subsequent fire in the firebox didn't just pour smoke into the room. We could tell when the flue air was warm enough because it would suddenly roar like a rocket taking off.

Eric Hines

douglas said...

"I sometimes wonder how people think anyone survived before electricity. Would our grandparents have skipped a beat over any of this stuff?"
Indeed. Even seventy years ago, a considerable percentage of our population lived in houses with no electricity or indoor plumbing, in areas that had freezing weather from time to time. We've become, as a society, little more than babies.

"I sometimes wonder how people think anyone survived before electricity. Would our grandparents have skipped a beat over any of this stuff?"
When I was a student in Switzerland one winter, and the frig would get full because it was being shared by twenty students in the house, we'd just put stuff on the window sill, natural free refrigeration. Seems so obvious, yet people fail to see it.

About freezing Insulin, this is interesting-
"And look here: a study at the Collaborative Studies Clinical Lab at Fairview-University med center showed that human insulin in blood “is stable up to five freeze-thaw cycles.”

Texan99 said...

I was amused to see repeated pop-up links for articles answering the question "is it safe to put my food outside in cold weather?" The articles wouldn't unambiguously condemn the practice, but they were full of foreboding. It may not be a good idea. Finally they'd get around to suggesting that animals might get into it, but the real thing that was supposed to alarm us was that the temperature might not be 100% regulated every single minute, so someone somewhere might try to eat something that had not been at the FDA-mandatory restaurant-industry standard temperature range for 10 seconds. Honestly. On the other hand, reading Facebook posts this week, I'm getting a better feel for how dangerous it is to assume that any part of the reading audience has a functioning mind. Bureaucrats must succumb, early in their careers, to the temptation to believe that the entire population must live by rules directed to 3-year-olds.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My son in Spring has no exposed pipes, so even when the power went out he thought he was good for a while. But the pipes from the street to his house froze up. It never occurred to me to alert him to that, because no one up here would put such pipes less than 6' deep. So even when you are used to cold weather, it doesn't mean you can automatically get it right in another context.

As for our ancestors surviving. The worry about pipes freezing is a big difference. I don't think there are many outhouses in my town now.

People died in weather-related events in the past more than they do now.

Aggie said...

My daughter called last night from DFW. Their complex had a busted pipe so they were without water for two days, but it came back on last night. My SIL is from the North Heartland, so he's naturally feeling a little contempt for how badly things have been managed, calling Texas a 'failed state'. No gas, no groceries, shelves stripped, roads iced over, people shivering in the cold, cold darkness, etc. etc.

Now I consider this reaction to be a little emotional, having witnessed good friends go through hurricanes in Houston with no power or water afterwards for a month or better, and rampant destruction everywhere to contend with.

And having seen 28" of rain in one day from Harvey, and having cleaned up all the downed trees from Alicia, and having handled all of nature's vagaries before, including riding through floods on the top of a bulldozer, I've learned that preparation is both a useful thing and fun to do. I tried to explain to my SIL that facility winterization is a given up north, but extended hard freezes are infrequent here.

And in any case, managing any business on 'Just In Time' inventory principles can be great for the bottom line over time, but terribly prone to single point failures. Like, not having electricity, or not having a working highway system for deliveries.

So, rather than being dependent upon Just In Time groceries, fuel, and supplies, I've decided instead to pursue a pantry philosophy of Just In Case. It's working well, so far.

Texan99 said...

People here were out of power for days, but stayed in communication via iPhones and so on, so they had some idea what was going on. Yet when the city cut the water system off, many had not thought to fill so much as a gallon container with drinking water. Now they're on a boil-water notice even when the water comes on. Some things are more predictable than others.

I often mention how handy it is to have a generator. Predictably it draws infuriated comments like "tell my 90-year-old impoverished neighbor to find the money for a generator." I never respond. People will either budget for essential safety items before nonessentials, or they won't. Also, I figure their helpless neighbor ought to be their problem before they try to make him mine, if they're all that tender-hearted. One of the reasons to have good backup systems is so that you can save your neighbors' lives, if it comes to that, instead of both of you yelling at each other about how someone else should have thought ahead and invested in essentials instead of eating out, vacations, and so on.

Grim said...

I have a generator, full of fresh non-ethanol gasoline mixed with Seafoam. I’ve never used it except to test it, but it’s there.

ymarsakar said...

I told peeps to get their generators months ago. It is ok. Dont listen to ymar. Frozen 3 frost punk timeline.