I will update this blog as more happens.
First came the pandemic.
Second came the insurrection at the United States Capitol.
Third came letting the power die over a large part of Texas….
Yesterday, February 15, 2021, at the beginning of this adventure, we did have power for a few more hours than some of our neighbors, and we even thought of inviting them over to our house to warm up. But then we remembered that there was a COVID pandemic spreading across our state, our city, and our neighborhood. So we did not dare invite anyone to share the warmth of our home.
However, the warmth at our house was short-lived. Yesterday evening at about 6:00 PM, we lost power too. The power outages came after the worst snowstorm in Texas history, with the lowest air temperature and the lowest windchill temperature ever recorded in our area. All afternoon we had been worrying about our neighbors, but now we worried about ourselves.
The outside temperature dropped down to the low teens overnight, and the temperature inside our little house dropped from a high of 68 degrees (at evening power-off time) to a low of 54 degrees (by morning power-on time). When the power went off, there was a little sunlight left, so we quickly added more blankets to our bed, and found our candles and our flashlights. We changed the batteries in the flashlight that looked weak, and we changed into our warmest layered nightwear, just as the sunlight was completely fading away.
Marilyn fell asleep right away but I could not fall asleep at all, and I finally got up to read for awhile, running down the battery on my cell phone, of course. It was at 100% when I started and at about 80% when I finally went to bed. When I woke up this morning, at about 8 AM, it was freezing cold outside the blankets. Marilyn woke up a little later.
After Marilyn got up, I went back to bed. (No good espresso coffee at breakfast will do that to a guy.) Finally, about 11:30 a.m., I heard a rush of air, which sounded like the heater was starting up. I called to Marilyn to see if I was dreaming and at first she said no, but then she said yes, the power was back!
So I jumped up and took off my cap, but then I realized that although the heater was on, the temperature was still freezing. So I put my cap back on and put on my warmest “heavy blanket” robe. (Marilyn got this robe for me several years ago, so that I can continue my habit of reading in the back garden in the evenings, even at times when the temperature drops in the fall and winter months. Usually it is not worn in the house.)
A little after lunch, Marilyn was reading on the weather website that our power has been restored only temporarily and we may lose power again. The weather forecast does not look good either.
Part of our problem is that Texas has a power grid that is not shared with anyone outside the state. We are living in a completely self-contained system without any links to any other power systems. Because, of course, Texas was once an independent republic, and its politicians definitely want to retain some of that independence, at least by not sharing the abundant energy resources of this state unless it becomes absolutely 100% necessary… as the linked article (in bold print) explains.
Here are some tweets by (and about) Real Republican Texans, making fun of California last year when it was having its own power grid problems during wildfires. I should point out that our Texas state government is run from top to bottom by Republicans, and that our national government has, according to the express desires of the leadership of Texas over many decades, absolutely no say whatsoever in the power grid in Texas. But of course that does not prevent any politician in Texas from blaming the Democrats for all their problems during this abnormal winter weather. (I suppose if you think that the weather is always a direct expression of the will of God, this kind of weather might be genuine proof that God is a Democrat who does not like Texas much. Or it might just be a warning that we humans have made a real mess of things.) And of course this very independent stance certainly doesn’t prevent Republican Texas politicians from actually accepting monetary help, even from our current Democratic U.S. President, when things go wrong with fantasy the “go-it-alone” Real Tough Texan model.
Here is a short Twitter thread of prominent Texas Republicans sharing their thoughts on rolling blackouts in California in 2020, demonstrating their utter contempt for people who happen to be governed by Democrats when problems arise.
Lt. Governor of Texas Dan Patrick
Rep. Chip Roy
Representative Ronny Jackson:
Right now, in Republican-governed Texas, we are cowering under a blanket of snow. No electrical power, or only an erratic supply of it, exists in much of our city of Austin, and there’s no information on when things will get better. There’s no water in our area either.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 02:00 PM – We have electrical power right now, so I started a big pot of meatless chili, that we can eat either hot or cold.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 3:15 PM – The sun was out around lunch time, but in the last half hour it has clouded over again. Another storm is predicted for tonight.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 10:00 PM – Our electricity is miraculously still on! The house is still chilly. We don’t want to strain the power grid by turning on the heat. Freezing rain is supposed to start right about now and last until 8:00 AM tomorrow. The news on television says that there is a good chance of rolling blackouts for the next day or two, until it gets warmer. Our Texas governor, Greg Abbott, is now on Fox News blaming the whole mess on the “Green New Deal” currently proposed by those awful liberal Democrats. Of course, that program has never actually been approved by Congress, much less implemented here in Texas, but it makes a good imaginary scapegoat. Other persons, with a bit more grounding in actual reality are pointing out that ERCOT (Texas’ very own electrical grid, which is shared with no other state) was largely built in the twentieth century, with solar and wind power added about two decades ago, long before the current “Green New Deal” started attracting attention. It was built with the idea that Texas did not need any outside help in energy matters, and it was not going to ever need anything, so it was all ours, no sharing. One hundred percent Conservative Republican Values!
Here is the URL for Austin’s Power Outage Map. Things do not look good at as of 10 p.m. today.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 12:00 Midnight – Light freezing rain is coming down. It may bring down some branches and power lines, too.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 4:30 AM – I got up at 4:00 AM this morning and heard an ominous drip, drip, drip sound from outside our house. It sounded like our outdoor faucet. So I asked Marilyn to see if she could hear the same thing. It took quite a bit to get her up, but eventually she got out of the warm bed and came into the back room. She could hear the same drip, drip, drip. So I put on some warm clothes, my warm shoes that were good for walking in snow, my coat, and hat. I grabbed a flashlight and headed out. The back porch was covered with about four inches of snow, and on top of that was about an eighth of an inch of ice. I carefully maneuvered my way to the faucet. At the beginning of the winter I had put insulated nylon cover over every outdoor faucet. The faucet cover was intact and it was on correctly, but the rain was dripping off the roof and onto the frozen cover, making an amplified sound, like a drum. I rotated the cover a little so that the drips would strike it differently.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 8:30 AM – Our lights are still on. Here is the Power Outage Map.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 9:25 AM – Our water pressure is down to almost nothing. We have filled some more containers with tap water, and we may have to use them if the water gives out.
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 10:25 AM – No running water in our house for about an hour now. This seems to be a widespread problem in our neighborhood, and actually across much of Austin. The City of Austin says that it has lowered the pressure in the water system to conserve energy. (The neighborhood Facebook group is reporting a broken water main in the neighborhood, which has cut off our water supply completely. Nothing about this on the news as yet.)
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 11:55 AM – A roundup of news stories: The Texas Tribune asserts that “No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages” while the Houston Chronicle says “Don’t blame Texas energy players for blackout.” We are also reminded that we had a crisis like this “10 years ago.”
Wed Feb. 17, 2021 2:30 PM – This afternoon the citizens of Austin were instructed to stop dripping water, which is a standard way to stop the water pipes from breaking here in the south, where most houses are just not built for arctic weather. “Stop dripping your faucets: Texas officials say the state’s water supply is at risk.”
Wed Feb 17, 2021 7:42 PM – Natural gas provider urges energy conservation from customers
Wed Feb 17, 2021 9:16 PM – We just received the following text from the City of Austin.
BOIL WATER NOTICE: All Austin Water Customers MUST boil water for 2 full minutes before using it for eating or drinking. Water must come to a rolling boil for 2 minutes, then allowed to cool until it is ready to use. This boil water requirement remains in effect until further notice.City of Austin Water
We also received the same message on the house phone. Of course we and our neighbors have had no water from our taps since this morning. (As I said above, according to the neighborhood Facebook group, a city water main in our area broke about 8:30 a.m.) Fortunately, when this adventure started yesterday, we had filled the largest cooking pot in the kitchen with tap water, to use for drinking and cooking. And we filled a few more containers this morning. (We also try to always keep a regular supply of bottled water on hand in the house, just in case, because Marilyn is a California girl who remembers having occasional water shortages when she was growing up.)
Wed Feb 17, 2021 9:16 PM – A new Electrical Outage Map
My brother Kenny asked me to take pictures of the snow on the roof on the house.
Wed Feb 17, 2021 11:30 PM –
Thursday Feb 18, 2021 8:30 AM – The electrical outage map looks a lot better.
Thursday Feb 18, 2021 8:40 AM Still no tap water here. For those who do have tap water, it’s under a “boil water” order.
Thursday Feb 18, 2021 9:00 AM From KXAN weather:
Thursday Feb 18, 2021 1:00 PM – Here is the latest Electrical Outage Map. Things are looking a lot better. It has been snowing lightly. The last major problem at our house is that we have no water yet. The governor and a local plumber both say that we should turn off the water supply at the street. When the water pressure has been restored, we should first turn on the water supply at the street and then turn on the water in the house.
Thursday Feb 18, 2021 2:00 PM – Met with Marilyn A., the homeowner next door, who shares our double-meter box, to turn off the water supply to both our houses at the street, where it comes in from the main supply provided by the city. When it warms up, or whenever the city water service is restored, we will both turn on our water supplies again and check to insure that there are no leaks.
Thursday Feb 18, 2021 5:00 PM – KXAN has reported that it will be 3-5 days before water service in Austin is restored. First, the reservoirs must be replenished, and the water mains must be checked for leaks, and repaired if necessary. Then the replenished water supply will be treated and tested for purity. Then the hospitals in the area will have service restored. After that, the restoration of service to neighborhoods and commercial areas will begin, but there is currently no specific information on when any particular part of town will get service again.
Friday Feb 19, 2021 4:30 AM – I was up typing a new blog, when I heard a strange sound in the house. I got up and checked, but I could find nothing. Then it happened again 30 minutes later, I ignored it, but after a few minutes I decided that I should check what the sound was, and it sounded like rushing water. So I investigated more thoroughly. I found that there was a trickle of water flowing from the bathtub faucet. It was the first water we have had in many hours. The faucet was turned on all the way. I debated what I should do — close it to allow pressure to build in the system (this is what the city wanted us to do), set the flow to just merely a drip, or shut it off completely and risk a pipe freezing and breaking. I choose to let the faucet leak.
Friday Feb 19, 2011 8:30 AM – When I woke up the second time, the sky was clear and the temperature was 29 degrees Fahrenheit. It looked like it was going to warm up a lot. I checked to water coming out of the faucet, and it was flowing, but very weakly. I debated whether to call Marilyn A. next door, but decided to wait until the temperature had reached 32 degrees Fahrenheit. About 10:40 a.m., Marilyn A. from next door called and said that neighbor on the other side of her had water that was running, and she would like to turn her own water on. So I met her at the water meter at about 11:00 a.m. and we turned our water on, following the instructions suggested by Chris Siebenthaler, owner of Redbud Plumbing here in Austin, who is also a member of our neighborhood group on Facebook. It sounded like the procedure a plumber had used a year earlier when we were having work done on a major project in our house. So, in summary, “WE HAVE WATER AND ELECTRICITY.” We hope we are ready for whatever challenges that may be thrown at us next.
Saturday Feb 20, 2021 2:00 AM – Something has gone wrong with the dishwasher. It started running at about 6 PM yesterday and it was still running at 2:00 AM this morning. I’ve shut off the water going to the dishwasher and I am powering it down completely. The draining mechanism does not seem to be working. Our current plan is that we will try to get a repair person to look at it, after we (and the repair person) have been able to receive Covid shots.
Saturday Feb 20, 2021 7:00 PM Our new dishwasher — me!
Monday Feb 22, 2021 2:00 PM – The dishwasher is continuing to leak. A pool of water is spreading on the kitchen floor. We have turned off the hot water supply to the sink and dishwasher, and we have not run any water down the drain of the kitchen sink. We also noticed that the Pergo flooring at the entrance to the family room behind the kitchen is starting to buckle. At 9:00 p.m. things were getting worse, so we sent a repair request (via their website) to ABA Appliance Repair about our dishwasher. We were expecting that it might be several weeks before they could get to us. To our surprise, they answered back almost instantly. The repair person will be here Wednesday afternoon. (They are located on Richcreek Drive, in the Crestview Neighborhood, not far from us.)
Tuesday Feb 23, 2021 1:00 PM – Before we went to bed last night, I pulled the dishwasher out of the cabinet, in the hope that I might see where the water leak is coming from, but I couldn’t find it. I piled some rags and all of our beach towels under the dishwasher before I went to bed, and they are soaking wet this morning.
Wednesday Feb 24, 2021 1:00 PM – A repairman came from ABA Appliance Repair and checked out the dishwasher. He found two problems: 1) The valve that lets water in was leaking. He said that is something that occurs when the water pressure drops to a very low level for several hours. 2) The pump that removes the water from the dishwasher was malfunctioning, and overheating and shutting down before the water could be pumped out.
He quoted us a price of around $250 for the parts and labor. We accepted the quote. The bad part is, the parts will not be in until next week.
To be continued…