Enter Snowmageddon

Actually it’s not going to be horrible here — we’re supposed to get something on the order of eight to ten inches of additional snow in the next twenty four hours to go along with the three or four inches we’ve gotten today — but a foot of snow is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s enough that things will be coming to a standstill. My sympathy goes out to the folks in Texas who are also getting snow and cold temperatures that they usually don’t get; it’s not great when entire metropolitan areas have no real plan for snowfall and the people who live there aren’t really used to dealing with the challenges cold and snow bring. As for us, we’ll be inside, under blankets. Seems the prudent thing to do.

— JS

38 Comments on “Enter Snowmageddon”

  1. I received an email from a friend in Plano, TX. It was 8 degrees there. I’m in downeast Maine, where it is currently 30. Crazy!

  2. I spent the first 12 years of my life living in Chicago, before moving to Houston. In the 35 years I lived in Houston, I saw snow maybe three times–and nowhere to this extent. We moved to Belfast, NI, over the summer, and we haven’t had as much snow here as I’m seeing in Houston.


  3. It’s all relative. When I went to college at Northern Michigan University in Marquette (Upper Peninsula) 8 -10 inches of snow would have been called flurries. But they receive 200 inches per year on average. The Upper Peninsula. Nine months of winter. Three months of bad skiing.

  4. Wishing you continuous electricity for the duration. (Also wishing that for Texans, but they’re getting rolling blackouts because of high demand for electric heat, and winter is something you’ve experienced before.)
    You’ve also got the advantage of a couple of cats to climb on you and keep you warm.

    I’ve occasionally worked in DC and seen the city crippled by half an inch of snow, because nobody there knows how to drive in the stuff.

  5. I’m a Minnesotan, but I lived in Texas for nearly 8 years.

    Some of the worst roads I’ve ever driven on were in Texas after they got a bad ice storm. They have no infrastructure to deal with winter weather – few/no sanding trucks, plows, etc.

    It’s horrifying when you start to depress your car’s brakes and there’s absolutely NO friction.

    And we lived in a rural area with above-ground power lines. Ice weighed down tree branches, tree branches crashed down on power lines, and we had no power for days.

    Much rather have a foot of snow than that ice nonsense.

  6. Ditto Bill Stewart re: blackouts.

    So far we’ve been fortunate, but I can’t imagine not having heat in a house not set up at all for freezing temperatures. I mean, our house is almost entirely windows and there’s definite drafts under the doors that back in the midwest where I grew up we would have snake thingies to prevent. And there’s much higher covid prevalence in the South too.

    Usually in the rare cases it snows, we have random contractors out with snow-plows attached to their F-250s, but nothing this time around. Maybe because it’s a holiday?

  7. “They have no infrastructure to deal with winter weather – few/no sanding trucks, plows, etc.”

    In all fairness, they don’t NEED that infrastructure 9 years out of 10. I’m from Texas and now live in Georgia. I’ve also lived in WA state, Oregon, Alaska, and Illinois over the last 30 years.

    Here is GA we dealt with that in 2014 in a very real way when the whole city shut down due to ice. My then-husband spent 13 hours in his car trying to make his way home from work, which was 12 miles away. It was horrific and I cut a handful of people out of my life for being snotty and hateful about how we were being “pussies” and were so woefully unprepared for what they thought was a no-big-deal amount of ice and snow.

    In reality, it would make no sense for us to spend $$ on that kind of equipment when we only need it once a decade or so.

  8. You’re definitely a beneficiary of geography this time. Yikes, three icestorms in a week!

    Not the best timing for a weather calamity, but we are already accustomed to sitting inside, so…

  9. @Kara

    No, I completely get it.

    My comment wasn’t a “Look how stupid the South is because they don’t have the right equipment” kind of thing. I understand that there would be few times that they’d use it.

    My comment was more to enlighten the people who might be making fun of the South right now for being, as you said, “pussies” because they can’t handle the snow or ice.

  10. In all fairness, they don’t NEED that infrastructure 9 years out of 10.

    This, exactly. Texas doesn’t “have no real plan” because of stupidity; they have no plan because it makes no fiscal sense to invest in a bunch of snowplows and sand trucks that will maybe get used once a decade. And it’s more than just people being “not used to dealing with” serious cold; their houses are not built for it, and with the rolling blackouts, they have no good way of obtaining heat. In sub-freezing temperatures. There will be a death toll from this, and it’s not because people are being dumb or weak.

  11. I’ve lived in Houston almost all my life and it’s almost never this cold. It was 17 this morning and the last time that happened was 1989. Forecast tonight is 9 (!).
    This is a place where most of the year the temps are between 80-105. Houses here are not constructed for this kind of cold, so this is a good time to be a plumber.

    Also, my son in Illinois is having a good laugh.

  12. As a lifelong central Texan (and American) I will say that our refusal to invest in decent infrastructure is deeply frustrating and our electrical grid is a mess. Our apartment lost power at 2 this morning, temperatures haven’t gone above 25 today and are dropping back down into the single digits tonight. Our apartment is also strategically positioned to get essnetially no sun whatsoever, because Texas. We’re hoping to get power back tomorrow morning, if we’re lucky. It’s going to be an incredibly rough night for a lot people and the past few days haven’t been great either.

    That said, not investing in ways to clear snow from roads is honestly reasonable. The strategy for road clearing when it snows or sleets is to wait for it to melt and that has literally worked my entire life. Once every two years or so, things are shut down for a morning while we wait for stuff to melt and then everything opens back up. To me, that makes more sense than investing in a bunch of clearing infrastructure that would honestly encourage folks to be out on the roads before they should be. Emergency vehicles are still getting around fine (even today) and everyone else can generally stay put until one in the afternoon when roads have cleared on their own. Whether this strategy will continue to work as the climate continues to change and we seem to be consistently get more snow here is debatable. But I stand by that strategy of wait-for-it-to-melt as our primary road clearing strategy up until this point.

    If only because it means kids get more snow days. And when it snows half an inch once every two or three years, kids deserve a morning off to create a three inch snowman they can then preserve in the freezer.

  13. My husband is from the Bay Area where the houses don’t have insulation! He’s still not used to weather like we’re having here in Kansas (where he moved when he hooked up with me!) where it’s +1 now with about four inches of snow on the ground now!

  14. Not investing in snow plows and stuff makes sense, though I wonder if a subscription/pool model for some of the Southern states (TX, AR, AL, MS, GA, maybe SC) would make sense – pool a little bit of money and buy some plows and salting trucks at a central location, or make deals to borrow them from places that have too many,

    Electricity infrastructure is likely to be a problem for everyone, especially if electric car use grows.

  15. 8 to 10 inches? Hell, we used to get that on an off-year where I grew up. 6 feet with no power for two weeks over Christmas, now that was a party.

  16. I lived in northern Pennsylvania, and I went to Ft. Worth, Texas after Christmas one year. They had snow and ice, and it did cripple the city. Folks had no idea how do drive in it, nor should they have. The accidents were horrific.

    My hosts had tons of questions for me, and I remember we did have a very lively discussion.

  17. My spouse and I grew up in Michigan, then lived in extreme South Texas for 18 years. The first year we lived there, we were astonished by how many people would walk around in big parkas, boots, gloves and hats when the temps dropped into the 50s – then we discovered how poorly insulated many homes in the region were, and how few of them had any sort of heat source at all other than a space heater. Most winters, that translates to an uncomfortable month or two, but in years like this one, people die in those non-insulated little houses, either from cold or because the space heater overheated and caught fire.

    Of course, on the other hand, our Texas friends were equally baffled and astounded that we can get by quite comfortably most years without air-conditioning. So I guess you could say it all evens out somehow.

    In any case, I am sending good thoughts to those in the path of the polar vortex and/or heavy snowfall – hope you make it through safely. We’ve had below-zero temps for over a week now, but fortunately no new snowfall to deal with. As they say, “at least it’s a dry cold.”

  18. Life long Texan (been away, always came back, I’m over 50). Most of that time is here in Houston. Plenty of ice storms and cold “snaps” but never had any problems until this year.
    There’s a frozen pipe somewhere, so no water since last night. No power as of 7:30 this morning. So much for “rolling” blackouts.
    We’re not too bad off though. Temp in the house has stayed in the high 50s all day.
    My parents are on the beach and their house is absolutely not setup for winter weather, so they’ve been at or below 50 since 2 am this morning. We laughed at them for putting in their fancy gas fireplace last year, but it’s been keeping them warm today..
    It’s an interesting difference than sitting out a hurricane power outage. Not as worried about opening and closing the fridge!

  19. Lifelong Texan except for my years before kindergarten. Been here in Austin for three decades.

    The thing I don’t see mentioned in all the posts and comments about what’s going on is that the whole state lost a huge amount of generating capacity due to this storm.

    We have huge amounts of wind generation in West Texas, some 25000 MW. Those turbines froze; they’re designed for a dry cold and got a wet cold. Don’t get too haughty about it because it’s the same icing problem airplanes have to deal with all the time in winter.

    Then we lost a huge amount of natural gas and coal capacity as well, some 34000 MW, because the generating plants froze as well! That’s the real problem we’re facing: there’s just not enough power in the grid.

    So ERCOT has been in panic mode, allocating fixed amounts of energy to each area. And it just so happens that the slice Austin got is just enough to keep the lights on in critical facilities like hospitals. There’s no leftover power to allocate for rolling blackouts, so we get constant blackouts.

    So please, nobody get on my ass about not buying firewood, when I had a cord for twelve years and never used it because it just never gets cold enough to justify the fire risk.

    Anyway, I haven’t had power since 5 AM Monday. Sunday night’s low was 7. Monday’s high was 20 and the low is looking like it’ll be 10. The house was down to 55 and falling at 5 PM Monday. I’m sleeping (trying to, anyway) in a sleeping bag with a couple heavy blankets on it right now. It’s cozy, so I think I’ll make it.

    The roads are hell. They were bad enough Sunday when we had freezing mist and I had to go into work to reboot a stupid computer (which is probably powered off now in the same blackout).

    Tomorrow’s gonna be fun.

  20. Grew up in Minnesota. Our homes including heating systems and road clearing infrastructure were designed for extreme cold and heavy snow.

    Moved to southern tip of Texas – almost Mexico – where many families did not have air conditioning or heat. 50 degrees was a cold winter day.

    Now live in Austin Texas area. We had freezing rain on Thursday with 6 inches of snow overnight. Temperatures have been below freezing for days. Many homes use heat pumps that do not work well when temperatures are this cold. We are fortunate to have power. About 50 percent of Austin / Travis County homes have been without power for almost 24 hours. Another cold night with low around 5 degrees.

    All we can do is help neighbors as needed and wait for warmer temperatures.

  21. As for Texas, when I was a boy, the only people who were prepared for rare events were Boy Scouts and nerds. And even they would later say they “would pick more daisies.” Or as the aforementioned poem laments, “I never go anywhere without a thermometer, a gargle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had it to do over, I would travel lighter.”

  22. Pumping energy into a chaotic system doesn’t mean that specific places get hotter, it means the system gets more chaotic.

    And the climate is a chaotic system.

  23. I’m in the UK and while we do get snow every year, many parts of the UK get it so infrequently (i.e. sometimes just one or two days a year) that we don’t really have the infrastructure here either. It’s a little better than it was – a few years ago there was a much more prolonged period of snow than normal, so some local councils ended up investing in gritting lorries etc. Still though we’re not really set up for it and snow days often lead to school and work closures, massive traffic congestion, disruption to public transport etc.

  24. Sorry for our friends (and anyone here) who is suffering from the cold and snow. For a change this month, New Yorkers are getting a break, as this storm is staying west of us and we got rain overnight rather than snow. I’m hoping it will melt a lot of the stuff that has been on the ground since the 1st, especially as there is another storm headed our way on Thursday.

  25. I guess the opposite of Texas is Canada. There the houses are not only insulated, but the windows all have two panes of glass, with a space between, for window insulation.

    Car parks have posts with electric plug-ins for a gizmo called a “block heater” to keep the oil warm so the car will start, and won’t grind metal on metal while the oil is getting hot enough to flow.

    Every building, except for houses and cramped corner stores, has an “air lock” to keep freeze-dried air from rushing in.

    I am amused at how an insulated coffee cup with a drinking hole can have coffee ice on the lid while steam is coming out the hole.

    Of course the cold across Canada varies: Guess how many time zones?

    Five and a half. Happily, Canada does have a summer—a really, really short one.

  26. I started life in the South Bronx. NYC is a great place when it snows. If things work the way they should, the roads are clear… ooh by noon as I recall. They didn’t plow the snow to the side of the road. They picked it up and took it away. Not sure if they still do that.

    Since seventh grade, I have been slowly moving south. First to central NJ, which is not like the snowiest places, but there will be snow. Every town has it’s own snow moving equipment. Every car gets snow tires, And still, no one ever seems ready for a snow storm. I used to drive to work, just 10 miles. The first light snow of the year meant that those 10 miles would take over an hour. I recall one year where the total overnight accumulation was under a quarter of an inch. Anywhere the sun hit the road was clean and dry before people had to work. There was a little snow in shady places. My 10 miles took over 2 hours that day.

    Now I live right in the middle of SC. It has been my understanding that Columbia actually owns a snowplow. Mostly because it is the state capital, so the mountains in the north of the state can call for the ‘extra’ snowplow. Still, there was usually a snowstorm here in January. (you folks up in Ohio would laugh) No one was ever prepared. When I first came down here, all the schools closed, and everyone just stayed at home for the day, because the snow would be gone by the next morning. More and bigger companies have moved in, so the staying home thing doesn’t happen any more.

    It did strke me as January turned into February, that it’s been several years since we’ve gotten any snow. I don’t think it got below 50 for the daytime temperature this January.

    My next step is Houston TX. Which doesn’t look good the past couple of days.

  27. Southern metropolitan areas have no real plan for snow because having one would involve stockpiling heavy snow removal equipment and, for something that happens once every 5 or 10 years and will melt in 2 or 3 days anyway, would be viewed as corruption.

  28. Portland, OR – day 4 without power, PGE has no estimate of outage end. Ice storms are nasty.

  29. Have a disabled friend in Houston. His situation wasn’t great because COVID, but he was just starting to get back on track. I hope he is relatively warm and safe.

  30. Here in Central Texas. I have spent most of the day in my car keeping warm and charging electronics. Even without the heater on, the car was warmer than the house because the sun was out. Power just came back on about 30 minutes ago. Hoping it stays on

  31. I grew up in southern Ohio. Find myself missing my parents old oil furnace as I sit in my all electric house.

  32. Has anyone looked into how much these once every ten year events cost, in terms of, for example, lost working hours, car accidents, and deaths, as opposed to spending some money on electric grid redundancy?

  33. Here in west Texas, we had a couple days of “don’t even touch the water” before five days of “don’t leave the house.” We absolutely do not have the ability to handle ice and snow. I started writing this at 4 pm Monday, and then lost power until 10:30 pm Tuesday.

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