Record-breaking temperatures in Texas and elsewhere have strained power grids and forced millions of people to reconsider how to stay warm. Now, days after the arctic explosion cooled parts of the central and southern United States, a new problem arises: finding water.
Harris County officials, including the City of Houston, said residents should boil water from their faucets before drinking it safely. And the town of Kyle, south of Austin, on Wednesday asked residents to suspend their water use until further notice due to a shortage.
“Water should only be used to sustain life at this point,” officials from the city of 48,000 said in an advisory. “We’re about to run out of water in Kyle.”
Today, some in Texas have turned to a once unthinkable source for their water needs: snow.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said melting snow for drinking water was “an emergency measure, if no other water is available,” it was also cited as an emergency option. by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service.
The science of measuring how much water can be obtained by melting snow has been studied by NASA.
But melting snow – for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, or flushing the toilet – safely and effectively can be more difficult than many realize.
If you “just take some snow, put it in your pot and turn on the heat,” said Wes Siler, columnist for Outside magazine, “it’s going to take forever and waste a lot of fuel.” Mr. Siler, who was demonstrating his technique on a small outdoor stove, said it was more efficient to melt a small amount of snow first. Then once it boils add more snow.
This step “will speed up the process of melting snow tenfold,” said Marty Morissette, an outdoor enthusiast. (He said maybe it was because water transfers heat more efficiently.)
Also, as water expands when it freezes, a pot full of snow can turn into a pot with very little boiling water, so be prepared to work with it. a lot of snow.
This arduous process will produce usable water, but may not be the type of water many are used to receiving from a turn of the faucet.
If you melt snow on an outdoor fire, the CBC warns, “smoke from the fire can affect the taste of water.”
CDC urges people to bring water to “a boil” for at least a minute to “kill most germs”, but also politely reminds it will not get rid of “other chemicals sometimes found in snow” .