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Winter storm/blackout/boil water situation, Day 439

I may be a bit off in my counting of the days, but it’s close enough. Between my house and my in-laws’ house, I have had power for maybe 14 hours total since Monday morning, with a bit more time for Internet thanks to a backup battery we have here that we can plug the cable modem and Eero router into. For obvious reasons, I’m not able to stay on top of the news as a result. The blackouts will continue for at least another day or so, the water needs to be boiled until further notice, we have a cracked water pipe but at least it’s under the house and not inside a wall and we may try to wrap some plumber’s tape on it while we wait in line to get it fixed, but all things considered we are fine. So many people are so much worse off, it’s heartbreaking and infuriating. If there’s anything you can do to help someone in need – friend, neighbor, complete stranger – please do so. We’re all in this together.

With that in mind, allow me to offer a hearty Fuck You to Rick Perry, for suggesting that all of the suffering and deprivation are a justifiable price that we should be willing to pay for not having a more regulated power generation system. I am truly at a loss for words here. May we all remember this in 2022, when we get to vote on who runs our state.

On the subject of ERCOT and the system we do have, let me key in on one part of this conversation with energy expert Joshua Rhodes about why things are the way they are here.

TM: When it comes to frozen wells and wind turbines, or other infrastructure that is physically affected by the cold, are there preventative measures that could have been taken, such as winterizing?

JR: There are plenty of oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania and North Dakota. It gets a lot colder there than it does here, even today. There are ways of producing gas. All of that infrastructure is site-specific. I would assume it’s more expensive. We could winterize wind turbines better but it would cost more money. We can winterize pipes on power plants, but it would cost more money. We have to decide, what level of risk are we willing to take and what are we willing to pay for?

TM: How could this have been prevented?

JR: Could we have built a grid that would have fared better during this time? Of course we could have. But we could also build a car that could survive every crash you could possibly throw at it, but it would be very expensive and not many people would probably be able to afford it. At some point we do a cost-benefit analysis of how much risk we are willing to take. We have never had weather like this thrown at us, so it’s not surprising to me that we don’t have infrastructure that can support it.

There are no snow plows out on the road. They’d be handy right now, of course, but we don’t use them very often. We don’t have that capability in the state generally because we don’t want to pay for it. We may decide now as a society that we do, but that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have with our collective self, if you will.

I thought Rhodes was way too deferential to the power generation industry overall, but this here is nearly as tone deaf as Perry’s idiocy. Yeah, sure, we can’t prepare for every possible contingency, but surely we can all recognize that a risk that leaves millions of people without power for multiple days in the midst of freezing temperatures is one that we ought to consider mitigating. As someone who works in cyberdefense at a large company, I can assure you we mitigate the hell out of much smaller risks than that. Actual rolling blackouts that leave a modest number of people without power for a couple of hours at a time is one thing. This was very much not that. Worse, it had already happened ten years ago and was studied at the time, yet nothing of any substance was done. This is a heads-must-roll situation. Anyone who doesn’t see it that way is part of the problem.

There’s a lot more out there but I only have so much battery life on the laptop. Stay safe, stay warm, and boil that water – if you have it – until told otherwise.

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28 Comments

  1. David Fagan says:

    Something I’ve done is shut the water off to the house and drain the pipes.

    The pressure will be restored to the valve outside instead of the pipes in your house.

    Drain pipes to prevent freezing

  2. Manny says:

    Some epoxies will hold that pipe while you wait; the tape may not hold the pressure. There are also fixes for the pipe that you may or not be able to find at the moment. Do have to turn off the water while repairing. I have used duct tape for emergency temporary repair of water hoses on the vehicle.

    The problem with shutting the water off is that it is impossible to completely drain all the water so that when you do turn the water back on, you will still have frozen pipes, and one may be without water for an additional day two. I have done that in the past. The pipes, however, will probably not burst. Plus, one would have been without water for two days.

  3. Flypusher says:

    “ Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Perry is quoted as saying. “Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.”

    I want to know if he was freezing in the dark when he said that. Typical RWNJ talking points. You claim federal regs are bad? Show your goddamned work! There’s plenty of work now to show that TX’s grid isn’t anywhere close to resilient.

    I had a 12 hour blackout yesterday. The worst part was not knowing how long it would last and the house was pretty damn cold when the power did return. If these were actual roaming blackouts, people would understand and find ways to deal. Even 12 hours isn’t that bad if you have assurance about when it will end. But for some people they’re into day 4 of no power. Unacceptable. This way of providing power has failed, catastrophically, and it’s time to change it. This type of weather is likely to become more common too.

  4. Manny says:

    Fly I was without power for the two coldest nights, about 40 hours starting at 2 a.m. Monday morning till about 6 pm. Tuesday. I doubt that Perry even spent one hour freezing his behind. The only thing that helped is that after Harvey, I had completely reinsulated the house, so the temperature inside only went down to 56. I don’t have a gas stove, so the only thing I had was hot water. What I did is about every hour to two, I would run all the faucets for about a minute.

    In 2011 the federal government told the state that the plants and pipes should be winterized, the state refused to do that. The same thing happened in 1989.

    I don’t have a generator because they are only good for a few hours, and I don’t want to store gasoline. I could get a gas-powered generator, but I was unsure how it worked if the water was to rise again because I have flooded once.

  5. David Fagan says:

    shut the water off to the house and drain the pipes.

    Then you can Drain pipes to prevent freezing

    The pressure will be restored to the valve outside instead of the pipes in your house.

    Drain pipes to prevent freezing

  6. SocraticGadfly says:

    My particular area of Gainesville was without power about 32 hours straight. And, dudes, we hit below zero up here. I slept in my office two nights.

  7. Manny says:

    David, the pipes on the attic are not at an incline; water can not be properly drained unless you use something to suck it out. That is a fact; nothing you can say will make it false. The pressure will not clear the ice out, and it will take longer to thaw as the attic is freezing, especially if one does not have power and there is no heat from the house escaping up.

    David, you keep spewing nonsense. I did that in 1989 (turn the water off at the curb with all faucets open), and it was one day after the freeze before I got water flowing.

  8. Manny says:

    David: But if you doubt that what I am saying, try this, lay a hose on flat ground, turn of the water. Is all the water drained from the hose?

  9. Jason Hochman says:

    You won’t drain all of the water, but the remaining will be a small enough quantity that if it does freeze and expand, it will have room, and not crack the pipe.

  10. Manny says:

    That is right Jason, that is what I wrote earlier. I would have been without water for three days if I had done as David says, as would have many others, one could leave them dripping, but too small a drip and the pipes can still freeze, that is why I chose to run them for a short time every one to two hours, depending on the temperature. My pipes are fine, even though they are over 60 years old.

    Republicans suck at making government work for the people, whether helping control a pandemic or making sure that electricity will be available during emergencies.

  11. Bill Daniels says:

    Two thoughts:
    First, Devil’s advocate….many Houstonians were just as unprepared for this as they were for Harvey. And why would we even think such a thing would even. be possible, such an extended deep freeze here? Yet we expect the power producers to be prepared for….this, the unthinkable.

    We all have lessons to learn to go forward. Some have learned that they need to insulate better. Some have learned that they need more supplies, like water jugs and barrels to fill up, or at least that they need to fill a bathtub.

    I actually have a generator, but chose not to use it, because I put my fridge contents outside in the freezing weather, and since I have gas, I was able to cook, had plenty of battery operated stuff, and cold doesn’t bother me. Before I lost power, I had the heat at 57 because I’m a team player and want to participate in conservation, and it went down to 43 at the lowest, before I got the power back.

    If I lose it again, I probably will break out the generator, because I can, and don’t HAVE to live like a 3rd Worlder.

    For those without gas, get a grill so you can cook. Everyone on the Gulf Coast should have a generator, period.
    Have some canned/non refrigerated food on hand. I still have stuff I bought in March, when it looked like the Wu flu might impact us. Figure out where your weak spots are, insulation wise and fix it. And finally, either cut off the water and drain, as mentioned above, or do what I did, and set an alarm every two hours to flow the water at each tap and toilet.

    So we should expect our power producers to learn and weatherize, but we should expect the citizenry to do the same. We are Texans, we should be more self reliant, more prepared.

    These are the lessons we should learn here, all of us. We each, individually and as companies, can do better going forward.

    Finally, go fill up your gas tanks, y’all. With refineries off line, the gas price is gonna spike for a few weeks. I filled up for $ 2.05 with gas, and I think it was $2.29 for diesel. Might have been $ 2.39, not sure.

    Watching Hizzonor’s presser, and apparently more power plants are back up, so they are cautiously optimistic about keeping power on.

    Cross your fingers.

  12. David Fagan says:

    Manny, make your own decisions, I wish you well. I can go without water for a week if it prevents busted water pipes, but that, of course, is my decision.

    It is surprising how many city wide disasters this city goes through and people still make the same mistakes. I’m using the bottled water and food I got for hurricane season. Alaska teaches life skills for the area, maybe Houston needs something similar.

  13. Manny says:

    There are five people (including me) I support: a lot of bottled water, for things like washing hands, taking whatever one may be able to do such as a sponge bath. I have lived on the gulf coast for over 70 years and have been through many hurricanes, never had we lost water. Austin and other cities do not recommend that they shut the water off.

    As to being manly, I grew up without indoor plumbing or electricity, so I don’t need to be told to man up. When we picked cotton, there was nothing out there that was convenient.

    I did not get busted pipes; maybe you read what you chose David, I stated that I had done as you mentioned, but that was one day of a hard freeze, we were looking at least two days minimum.

    Do you really mean that you can survive 7 days without water? Or that you have sufficient bottled water for 7 days for yourself?

    By the way draining the water does not guarantee that you don’t get busted pipes.

    “The first thing to think about when answering this question is, what is the exact temperature outside and how long will is it predicted to stay that temperature or lower? As a general rule of thumb, in order for your home’s water pipes to freeze, the outside temperature needs to be below 20 degrees, for a total of at least six consecutive hours. How long it will take for your pipes to freeze and burst also depends on your home’s insulation, and how deep inside your home your water pipes are located. For example, if you live in a geographical location that usually does not suffer from cold winters, chances are that your water pipes do not have that much insulation to protect them from extreme temperatures. In such cases, the time that it may take for your pipes to freeze and burst may in fact be lower.”

    For more

    https://www.hopeplumbing.com/blog/2020/january/tips-on-preventing-pipe-bursting/

  14. David Fagan says:

    WTF Manny? You gotta find an argument in everything?

    Why does someone over 70 years old even care? I know it’s not because you care about all these racists and fascists.

  15. Manny says:

    David so you dislike old people. It bothers me that you put out falsehoods, you do it often.

    So why shouldn’t old people care, David?

  16. Jen says:

    Temporary fix to a water pipe could be heavy duty tape backed by rubber or leather and hose clamps. If it is a PVC pipe, careful not to over tighten.

  17. C.L. says:

    Always with the arguments and attacks, Manny. It’s official – your schtik has gotten incredibly old. I bet you’re the life of any party you’re invited to !

  18. robert henry kane says:

    “and don’t HAVE to live like a 3rd Worlder.”

    Yet you do….you live in Houston, no???

  19. Jason Hochman says:

    Good heavens I can’t believe that all the people are sniping at each other when everyone is still stressed out from no electricity, no heat, no water, busted pipes, and a sink full of dirty dishes and pans because you have no water to wash them, but that’s OK, you don’t notice because you have your toilet overflowing.

    There will be time next week to point fingers. Indeed, our biggers and betters will need to be prepared for the cold, as many experts are predicting that we are about to enter an ice age. The sun, they say, has cycles, and it is about to enter a coffee break, during which it will send less energy our way.

    As well, our greaters and imperial rulers want us to live a dystopian virtual reality life of everything online. If that is the case, they need to get a handle on controlling real reality, and making sure that the power and connectivity to make life a giant Zoom meeting will be in place and remain in place, so that we can hide under a rock from germs forever. We will get to that next week, and demand that ERCOT be disbanded, because we can’t vote them out. But we are going to vote out Rick Perry, Dan Patrick, Greg Abbott, and Ted Cruz. Mayor Turner is term limited out. The crazy mayor of Colorado City apparently resigned in disgrace.

  20. brad says:

    Screw you Republican suckers. I am going to Cancun!!!

    But, of course, I still have to boil the water down there.

  21. Jen says:

    Well you know the really important thing is, what are we going to call this event?? I vote for The Big Dark Freeze… but i bet it will end up being just The Big Freeze.

  22. Manny says:

    C.L. pandering to the audience of other bigots and racists, you never change, dumb and dumber.

    What do you call what you do C.L.

  23. Manny says:

    Jason, let us be honest, it was occurring before the Dark Ages occurred.

    Jen, I think the Cotton Bowl game between U of H and Norte Dame has the Chicken Soup Game.

    “Forty years have passed since Notre Dame edged Houston 35-34 in the 1979 Cotton Bowl, but you can still hear the shiver in the voices of those who took the field that day in Dallas.

    “It was brutal,” Steve Cichy recalls. “Absolutely brutal.”

    Riding to the stadium on New Year’s morning after the worst ice storm to hit the area in 30 years, one that snapped tree limbs and left more than 50,000 homes without power, Cichy, then a freshman defensive back from Fargo, N.D., fielded a question from Irish coach Dan Devine.

    “He was asking me if I’d ever played in a game like this,” Cichy says of the Minnesota-raised Devine. “I said, ‘No, never.’ I’d played in blizzards and single-digit temperature games, but not like it was down in the Cotton Bowl. That was the coldest game I ever played in. It was almost a surreal day.”

  24. Bill Daniels says:

    @ Jen:

    I am partial to “Coldpocalypse,” but I would be ok with “The Big Freeze,” too. Of course, we could go with the classic movie tie in and refer to this as, “The Big Chill.”

  25. Lobo says:

    While we are at it, let’s rename ERCOT: Electricity Rationing Commission of Texas

  26. MarkCov says:

    I get your argument about cybersecurity, but I don’t think the corporate assessment of risk vs freezing conditions would be the same.
    Cybersecurity is a safeguard that protects against financial, reputation, and legal risk. If it’s bad enough the entire company could go bankrupt. If someone can adequately explain that to Sr. Mgmt, it’s a great motivator to over-design your security.
    Now consider freezing conditions as a power plant operator in TX. There’s a financial risk that a specific machine, or potentially the whole facility might have to shutdown for a few days. There’s not a lot of reputation or legal risk. You’re not going to go bankrupt from it. The owner says, I’ve got several power gen sites scattered around TX (or the US). If I have to take one offline for a few days, that’s pretty minor. Single machines go offline for maintenance all the time, so that’s even less of a concern.
    Risk assessments I’ve been in rarely look at anything systemic or facility wide. Instead of considering the forest, or even the trees, the analysis is at a leaf by leaf level.
    I’ll be curious to see a more detailed report on what specifically failed and why. Only then can we start discussing solutions.

  27. Lobo says:

    “Winterizing” yourself as needed

    I didn’t hear any one in the media explain how to best keep your body warm when you have no way to heat up the environment/house. In that case, the remaining/residual heat source is your own body, and the key to preservation of life (and perhaps even comfort) is to prevent your own body from shedding heat to your surroundings. Same principle as when camping or biwak-ing in the mountains under adverse weather conditions/cold nights.

    So, best place to “hunker down” under unusually cold conditions at home may be your bed with multiple layers of blankets heaped on in addition to thermal underwear and bedwear or regular clothes and socks. If you have a same-species partner or a large nonhuman pet, spooning inside the bed-turned-stacked-sandwich might also be effective. These mitigation measures can be deployed as needed and don’t require capital investments with the associated costs, such as installing or replacing insulation in an old house. Intermittent exercising in proper winter/skiing attire (such as up-and-down the stairs, if any, or stationary bike) may also be useful to generate body heat. And dont’ forget to fill the stomach for fuel for your body to burn.

  28. Manny says:

    Lobo, if one remembered to fill up the vehicle, the best way is to sit in your vehicle with the heater on. Crack the windows a little to make sure that one does not die of carbon monoxide. My house never got below 56 degrees, but I went out there to the vehicle to warm up after two nights of frigid weather inside the house.

    I have done it several times, especially when traveling during cold weather.

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