By Pauline Kerr
Watching, discussing and often complaining or joking about weather goes with living in this part of the world.
Summer is too hot, winter too cold, rain is never enough or always too much and weather events – referred to by ordinary people as storms – can be scary.
Recently, between firing up the snowblower and digging out the car – ordinary February activities around here – quite a few of us took the time to find out about what was happening weather-wise in Texas.
When we think about weather in that part of the world, we think hurricanes and tornadoes, plus heat. We do not think of bone-chilling cold and snow. Unfortunately, neither do residents of Texas.
In areas where the normal daytime temperature this time of year would be what we would enjoy on a warmish May afternoon, houses are not insulated. Most heating – in homes that have it – is electric. People are more worried about keeping cool in summertime than freezing in winter.
At least they were, until they were hit with an unusually intense and long-lasting cold snap. Our kind of cold, not south Texas cold. Swimming pools froze over, frozen water pipes burst and millions were without power. Lack of power affected water treatment facilities, and boil-water orders went out. Many people went days without safe drinking water or electricity.
As the cold snap finally came to an end, the toll it had taken was shocking – a huge amount of damage from burst pipes, automobile collisions from weather that would keep Ontario drivers off the roads (and we have snow tires), and house fires from people using barbecues and generators indoors.
Oil and gas wells in the south part of Texas are not protected from the cold, the way they are further north, and many shut down. The electrical grid was slow getting back up to speed. And we can only imagine the devastation to agriculture.
Human nature being what it is, people have been quick to lay blame on the negligence of those who failed to update the electrical infrastructure of the state. Senator Ted Cruz has come under fire for heading to Cancun, Mexico during the worst of the emergency, and then trying to say the trip was his kids’ fault.
The real culprit, of course, is global climate change. Weather events that used to happen once in a century are happening much more frequently. We have seen the impact here, with flooding and rainfall, as well as heat and drought. Climate change is not something to fear in the future – it is happening now.
There is a lesson for all of us in what happened in Texas. Weather is less predictable than it used to be, and governments have to respond with emergency plans that take into consideration those century storms that are hitting every decade.
Individuals can do our part by being prepared. While it is impossible to plan for every eventuality, it takes only a bit of time to get a waterproof plastic bin and fill it with such necessities as enough bottled water for all family members and pets, copies of important papers, a few days’ supply of medications plus copies of prescriptions, non-perishable food items and a manual can opener, matches, candles, flashlights and batteries, mylar “space” blankets, a first aid kit and some money in small denominations – when the grid is down, some stores will still conduct cash transactions. And tossing in a couple of board games will keep the kids’ minds occupied. The really prepared would likely add an emergency stove, a solar cell phone charger and a battery-operated radio.
The idea is to look after ourselves until help starts arriving. In Texas, it took a couple of days for truckloads of generators and blankets to get to people, and the same would be true here, weather permitting.
If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. This means devoting sufficient resources to emergency planning – individuals, communities and every level of government.