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Our Opinion: Wintry wonderland is a beauty and a beast

Our Opinion: Wintry wonderland is a beauty and a beast

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It’s so pretty when it coats the spindly branches of trees — the ice that continues to fall as we write — but so dangerous and possibly deadly when it’s cracking the trunks of those trees, or coating the streets, or freezing water pipes and downing power lines.

Weren't we in this same cold, wet place only a few days ago? And aren't we still cleaning up the mess?

As if you need reminding, freezing rain wreaked havoc in Guilford County just last weekend. Fallen trees and power lines that couldn't bear the weight of their icy glazing left more than 50,000 residences here without power.

So please take care as we brace for a sequel.

The winter’s most severe (at least so far) ice storm stretches from the Mexican border in southern Texas to Maryland. As we write, power outages in Guilford thus far have been minimal. But more rain and ice were expected into the night. Stay at home if you can. 

Unfortunately, the bad weather and a shortage of vaccine supplies forced both Cone Health and the Guilford County Health Department to postpone COVID-19 vaccination clinics scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

On the brighter side, most of us by now are well-practiced in hunkering down with family, pets and hot chocolate. And crews were standing by to address damage and outages.

In fact, even before the cold rain began to fall, local and state transportation crews were prepping the roads with salt and sand. And when the power went out in parts of the city and state — as it inevitably does — Duke Energy employees were standing by, ready to roll.

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, authorizing repair crews from out-of-state utility companies and activating 40 National Guard personnel to help remove fallen trees and other debris.

We were about as prepared as a state could be.

And we can’t help but say: Thank goodness we weren’t in Texas.

We don’t typically think of the mighty Lone Star State as a bitter wasteland of snow and ice — and historically, it’s not — but the uncharacteristic storm and record-low temperatures hit Texas without mercy on Monday and Tuesday. Millions suffered power outages that have now stretched for days as that state's power grid failed, leaving them struggling to stay warm and safe.

Some Texans spoke about the mental strain of dealing with a harsh winter storm on top of the stress of COVID. It inevitably caused some delays in vaccine delivery there, as it has here.

And some have died. As of Thursday afternoon, almost two dozen storm-related deaths had been reported.

Our hearts go out to our Texan neighbors and others across the country who are struggling against this massive storm.

It appears now that most of Texas was not prepared — at least, its power grid wasn’t.

As the storm gained power, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appeared on cable TV — not to comfort his state’s struggling residents, but to point the finger. To him, the culprits were ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the electric grid for 90% of the state, and the state’s wind turbines, which, to him, represent the liberal Green New Deal.

Critics were quick to note that ERCOT was conceived so Texas could avoid the federal power grid and its accompanying oversight and regulation, which might have helped. ERCOT’s independence allowed it to ignore recommendations to winterize that were made some 10 years ago.

They also pointed out that wind power represents less than 13% of the red state’s energy portfolio, with natural gas representing 40% — and that properly treated wind turbines can work in cold weather — as they do in Antarctica.

Incidentally, Texas’s independent spirit hasn’t kept it from requesting and receiving federal assistance to deal with the storm.

On Wednesday, Abbott walked some of his comments back. Less concerning than his dubious claims was his seeming knee-jerk attempt to politicize a natural disaster. There’s too much of that these days.

We tend to think of our local and state government officials as being less partisan during such emergencies. They are more prone to work for the people during a crisis, not their party’s political agenda. At least most of the time.

But we'll hope for the best. And we'll be grateful for the local officials who took necessary preparatory steps and even now are working to keep North Carolinians safe.

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