Cold Outages And Texas

OK. Let’s not make fun of Texas. It would be so easy, but hey, Whidbey Island gets hit by bad weather and we have outages, too. Islanders have the benefit of practice. Strangely enough, that’s a good thing.

This wasn’t supposed to be yet another weather-related blog, but weather is in the news and there were a few Whidbey-specific things that were missed in the last post.

A Snowy Island Valentine? It was probably just right for those who wanted an excuse to snuggle in with their valentine. For those who were trapped in different places, well, maybe the holiday was simply postponed a day or a week. Before that, we had two times when almost the entire island was cut off from power. Power out once or twice, roads closed or at least risky, and enough reasons to bemoan the long lines between the island and the power plants or bemoan the need for maybe some more plows.

Texas, unfortunately, has Texas-sized issues. Their power infrastructure is unique. Millions of people rely on it and infrastructure for water as well. Plows? Sure, maybe on the farms. Snow plows? Snow? In Texas? Well, on occasion. Even as the weather warms, utilities may take longer to restore because storms of this scale are so uncommon.

And then there’s Whidbey. For one, we’re practiced.

Power. Lots of smaller outages make it easier to know what to have and how to use it and when to stay home. Sure, the power goes out; but that also is an opportunity to trim trees that are near lines, replace old equipment, and identify weak spots that make the grid stronger next time.

Water. The closer you are to a farm the closer you are to someone who doesn’t have to guess about where their water comes from and where it goes. At the most basic level, here’s the pump, there’s the septic system, make sure they’re inspected and operating, make sure they aren’t too close, and find out soon enough whether they’ll need power and protection.

Roads and plows. Gripe as we might, but the Pacific Northwest has an interesting range of snow removal equipment. The lowlands might not get much snow, hence fewer snowplows; but the mountains set historic records exceeding a thousand inches in a season. It’s hard to get close to the equipment while it’s working; but the sight of a snowblower throwing a hundred foot plume of white from the road and into a valley is captivating. Those crews are so good at what they do that they can have fun while doing it.

Roads without plows. In some ways, our most reliable snow removal technique is to wait for Mother Nature to take care of the snow. As said before, snow happens here when two air masses collide: moisture from the south and cold air from the north. Last week we got lucky. The snow persisted a little longer than normal because it was a little deeper than normal, but the roads are already clear. That moist air was followed by more moist air, and moist air around here tends to be above freezing. Rain is excellent at melting and washing away snow. No need to wait for the plow and its schedule. Rain can be delivered to every road and continue until the pavement shows through. That’s why we had good luck. We could’ve have the bad luck of the other, cold, dry air mass dominating. Then our roads would be in a situation worse than Texas’. Packed snow turns to ice, a bit of melt smooths it more, winter sun is so shallow that shadows protect the precipitation. Roads can be covered and tricky for several days. Crews have a hard time making their way to repairs. Texas’ roads probably cleared far more quickly.

There are plenty of other issues that Texas is dealing with: damaged power systems, busted water lines, interrupted lives, a disrupted economy. Those are tough hurdles, especially because much of it is not normal for that area. Maybe that’s why we’re less likely to make the news. We’re already supplied with home generators, updated power systems, decentralized utilities, and that major odd benefit of living over fault lines and in tsunami zones: earthquake preparedness kits paired with full pantries. The even luckier few can step into their RV or spend some time on their cruising boat.

The island has hiccups often enough that we’ve developed skills and resources. Texas may have the same for heat waves and tornadoes, things that we’d have a tough time with.

Wish them well, and maybe @WSDOT can loan them their Cow on a Plow.

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