OPINION — During the Great Texas Snowpocalypse of February 2021, I did two things I’ve never done before. One of those was shoveling snow. It usually only snows enough to notice in Central Texas about once every seven years, just often enough for each generation of kids to build a snowman and make snow ice cream once in their sunny little lives. And pretty much all Central Texans would tell you that’s plenty. Texans aren’t greedy. We don’t mind letting the Yankees have all the frigid fun.
But my wife and our oldest son and I were holed up in my mom’s house in Mason during the ordeal, and right after it started we realized we only had about 17 loaves of bread and six gallons of milk. This was far short of the required stock of these staples, so we had to try to get to a store. Never mind that neither my wife nor I can drink milk, or that she can’t have bread. Rules are rules. So I had to shovel snow so we wouldn’t run short of what we had way too much of already.
The other thing I’d never done before was use a maul. We knew we were likely to have to do without electricity for a while, so we needed some firewood, and the neighbors, Mike and Sheila Innis, had a huge stockpile of it. I figured it would easily last through the event, as long as I hauled it across the street at night and didn’t get caught. The problem was that all of it was too big to go in our fireplace.
So I bought a maul, which is an axe which has let itself go, so it’s twice as wide as a normal axe. And they work very well for splitting wood, although it’s a lot of work to use one. I developed a technique I would recommend highly to make that unpleasant job go much easier. I got my son to do the splitting. This is why I get the big bucks.
The electricity was unreliable because of ERCOT, which is the organization that controls power in Texas. ERCOT stands for Electricity Reliability Council of Texas. You may notice the ‘reliability’ in the name. Yeah, not so much. ERCOT is like a company that sells you an umbrella that’s full of holes. When people pointed out their lights didn’t work, ERCOT responded that they didn’t expect Texas to use so much electricity all at once. Which was obviously true, but hardly helpful.
So, to keep the state from running plumb out of power, ERCOT enacted a bold plan – have local electric companies shut off the power periodically, to make it last longer. I tried to call them to suggest shutting off the power to Austin and leaving everyone else’s alone, but never could get through.
The good news is that the plan worked pretty well, as long as you didn’t mind not having electricity for one hour out of three for a few days. Turns out, I minded. So did most of the rest of Texas. If we wanted to skip shaving and read by candlelight we would’ve become Amish, for goodness sake.
The power shortage was caused by a number of factors, although they all arose from the fact that ERCOT is run by knotheads, several of whom don’t even live in Texas. I’m still scratching my head over that one, and although the culprits have resigned, we’re wondering if the new knotheads will be any better. Doubtful.
Part of the problem was that a pretty good chunk of Texas power comes from those ugly windmills in west and south Texas. Almost a quarter of the electricity in the Lone Star State comes from those machines, because they’re supposedly more environmentally sustainable. But there are some problems with that.
For one thing, it takes a lot of fossil fuel to build those fans, and a lot more fossil fuel to transport and install them. It takes a huge amount of oil to keep them turning without screeching loud enough to wake up Oklahoma, and no one wants that. And when they wear out, those huge blades are buried someplace so they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Which doesn’t really sound all that environmental to me, and we haven’t even mentioned the birds that are killed by those things every year, a huge percentage of which are bald eagles. Bummer.
On top of all that, the Snowpocalypse froze about half of those windmills solid, which cuts productivity down to, let’s see, zero.
Besides the wind power shortfall, there was the solar panel problem. When the sun don’t shine, solar panels are basically huge chunks of useless glass, especially when they’re covered with snow. That didn’t help.
Luckily, Texas is the third largest producer of fossil fuel in the world, and has more refineries than most anywhere else. Unfortunately, fuel couldn’t be hauled during the storm. Because of the storm. Bummer.
So the Great Texas Snowpocalypse was a lot less fun than anticipated. Fortunately it only lasted a week, and then Texas weather was back to its normal balmy self.
If anyone needs 40 gallons of milk and 29 loaves of bread, give me a shout. And I know where you can get a good deal on a gently used maul . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who plans to spend the next blizzard in Cancun. Write to him at [email protected].