The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Bud Kennedy is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Forty years ago, Texans felt so indestructible that we sang along when a Dallas radio station played “Freeze a Yankee”:
Cut off the gas, turn off the oil/And let ‘em all freeze and boil.
After the most costly storm in state history destroyed homes, businesses, cities and lives, songwriter Bob Arnold of Dallas said last week was “just completely embarrassing” for Texas.
“Now the Yankees are not freezing — we are,” he said.
Texas’ pinchpenny failure to prepare for decennial winter storms, along with state bureaucrats’ grossly lazy oversight of energy companies, put another giant dent in the myth of an invincible Texas.
“Nobody wants to spend a lot of money, and now that’s come to bear fruit,” said Arnold, a former energy company spokesperson who co-wrote the 1979 lyrics for his folk group, the Folkel Minority, a spinoff from the Vocal Majority chorus:
We gonna keep all the gas we can make/And let them Yankees shiver ‘n’ shake.
“Back then, there were so many states that didn’t want drilling — they expected Texas to do that,” Arnold said.
“It doesn’t do us any good if we can’t run the power plants.”
If you thought the last week was the end of the nightmare, think again.
Both years Texas had record winter cold — 1899 and 1949 — they were followed by deadly floods.
In 1899, the coldest winter on record was followed by 12 straight days of rain that June, inundating Waco, Belton and much of central Texas along the Brazos and Colorado rivers.
In Fort Worth, the low temperature last week was 2 below zero. That matched a chilly low Jan. 31, 1949.
Three months later — barely time to recover — more than 10 inches of rain turned the Trinity River into a sea 14 blocks wide.
The 1949 flood killed 10 people and pushed 13,000 people out of their waterlogged homes.
I didn’t think of that. The official Texas state climatologist did.
The 1949 storm was the only cold snap that brought as much snow and ice statewide as this one, according to John Nielsen-Gammon of the Texas Center For Climate at Texas A&M University.
“This combination of extreme cold and heavy winter precipitation is a lot more rare than just cold temperatures alone,” he said.
Think about it. Usually when it’s bitterly cold, it’s also dry.
“This whole storm was so unusual,” he said.
He’s sticking with his prediction for warmer temperatures over the next two decades, including winters where temperatures will rise by an average of 1.6 degrees.
A former state lawmaker, Ron Simmons of Carrollton, cited Nielsen-Gammon’s study of “extreme weather” as a reason past Texas Legislatures didn’t require power plants to winterize.
Climate change makes events like last week less likely, not more likely, Nielson-Gammon said.
Yes, we get more hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and drought. But there’s no indication that we are getting more extreme cold or winter storms.
Jennifer Francis, an Arctic climate-change scientist at the Massachusetts-based Woodwell Climate Research Center, agreed that we can expect fewer record cold spells.
But she didn’t let Texas leaders off the hook.
She wrote by email: “Lawmakers chose to ignore the chorus of scientists who warned that extreme events like this one will still happen, thus leaving millions of people and basic infrastructure vulnerable to damaging impacts of severe weather like this.”
They ignored us right up to the storm.
We knew this storm was coming more than a week ahead. Yet nobody in state or local government even warned anyone not to run their car inside a garage, or not to bring a grill inside, or how to turn off city water or prepare for utility outages.
“It’s very disappointing that decision-makers in government and utility companies, as well as individuals, did not take the warnings more seriously,” Francis wrote.
Our lawmakers and leaders left us all in the dark.