In the time since I have moved to Corsicana from Illinois, my blood has thinned. The freezing temps provided final proof that I won’t be going home for the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. Not even a Norman Rockwell scene can make winter appealing again.
Many Midwesterners still talk with horrific amazement about the winter of 1978-1979. During that season, almost 53 inches of snow fell on Western Illinois. More than 26 inches in January alone, when the average temperature was 6.3 degrees.
According to the National Weather Service, 18 inches accumulated in just two days. Two storms also dumped 20 inches on the City of Chicago, effectively ending the political career of Chicago’s mayor, Michael Bilandic.
The Democratic incumbent had several political issues, but the machine’s hold on the Windy City was temporarily broken when he couldn’t get the snow removed or the city’s buses and trains running in a timely fashion. He lost the Feb. 27, 1979 mayoral primary to challenger Jane Byrne.
If I’d had the ability then, I’d have suggested that my parents and extended family pack my stuffed animals and head south.
During this remarkable winter storm of 2021, our community stepped up when neighbors and friends needed help. Warming centers were operational, phone calls were made, while firewood was gathered for those in need. Many offered a place to stay or a warm meal until power was restored. On one hand this event showed the best of us. Together, people can make it through nearly anything.
The crisis also revealed a host of negatives as well. Frustrations boiled over as boil orders were issued. Pipes froze but we were asked not to drip the faucets because the water supply was at risk. High demand for electricity caused extended outages throughout the state.
Cascading failures caused millions to have cold dark nights. Independent minded Texans were reminded they depended on machines which fail when they aren’t maintained, upgraded, or winterized. Platitudes about economic strength are meaningless when the electricity and water systems don’t work. The pursuit of profit should not come at the expense of personal safety.
This may have been a generational storm, but as the ground thaws the memories shouldn’t fade. Some, most likely mid-level bureaucrats, will pay with their jobs because the response to this crisis was so inept. Elected officials across the state should resist the temptation to plan their next vacation or reduce the seriousness of the loss of power and water to simple finger pointing. Investigations into the multifaceted failures should continue until improvements are implemented.
I’m not suggesting the state buy heaps of road salt, which would likely solidify before use. However, as thousands of people continue to move to Texas annually, the state must plan ahead to sustain the grid and have some capacity to work even when it’s cold.
I don’t have a fireplace or wood stove, luckily, I never lost heat or power. Unfortunately, unlike 1979, it seems any good fortune had to do more with chance than good planning.