For those wondering, it’s been a pretty ugly week here in Texas for just about everyone, which is going on a full week now. Last Friday the big freeze began, canceling school and the kids’ Valentine’s Day parties. Temps nosedived into the teens. By Sunday, freezing precip began and things were getting a little slick. Trees were covered in ice and branches were collapsing all over the place. We were on our way across the street to hang out with the neighbors for the evening, and were sliding down the driveway on foot. While at the neighbors’, it started to snow. By 12:30am it was basically a blizzard.
Monday was already a scheduled day off both school and my work for Presidents’ Day. When I woke up in the morning we were buried under 6.5″ of fresh powdery white snow, with temps in the single digits.
As you may recall, just a month ago we had a very rare snow day here in Austin on a Sunday, where snow started falling hard around 10am and lasted til 4pm. But temps were warm enough that day that it was snowball weather and basically was gone in 24 hours. It affected no one and everyone had a blast. This snow was much more crippling, as it fell onto thick ice, and the temps did not—and still have not—come back up.
And then on Tuesday there was more freezing precip which coated the snow with another thick sheet of ice. I’m no meteorologist, I don’t know how freezing rain can fall when temps are below 32º, but it did. Naturally, school was canceled Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday… and maybe Friday—TBD.
It knocked out power to like half the state, which for some reason has its own electrical grid and is not connected to the rest of the country. For many, pipes burst and left people without water. Others just had things like internet or cable go down. Virtually no businesses of any kind were open, complicating things even more. No restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, nothing! Everyone was left to fend with what they had stocked up going into this, which wound up being much worse than anyone predicted. There was no huge rush to stock up on groceries because it happened without much notice. Houses here mostly all have fireplaces, but firewood was also at a premium. I myself went to the firewood store a week ago and waited in a long line to throw some scraps into my van for an emergency situation. Not everyone had access to dry firewood throughout. Every hotel room in town was booked solid, from the new Kalahari Resort waterpark to Motel 6. If you were out of power, water, heat, food, etc. you had no choice but to rely on neighbors. Many neighbors here were opening their doors to strangers, offering up meals, etc. Lauren was making soup and giving it away to hungry neighbors.
Somehow we were extremely lucky. Aside from our shitty 80s aluminum windows allowing frigid air to blast through into the house, we were okay. We covered all doors and windows we could with blankets and tarps and clothes, which helped. But so far we haven’t had any other disruptions. No frozen pipes or electricity issues or anything at all. We are literally the only people I know of in Austin that has had nothing go out. Must be all that prayin’ payin’ off! (Just kidding, we haven’t stepped foot in a church in years.)
I have a distant friend who happened to be vacationing in Austin when this all hit, and the Airbnb she and her boyfriend were staying in lost power, heat, and water, and they were down to their last bit of food. Their luxurious getaway quickly turned into survivalist mode, as they were forced into some nearby woods to search for scraps of wood to burn in the fireplace to get them through the night. I of course invited them to stay here, but they were unable to travel 15 miles on the icy roads.
All of this would be business as usual and not remotely newsworthy back up home in SD or MN, but here in TX, it was a historic storm with dire consequences. I got my share of comments from friends saying things like “haha Texans don’t know how to drive!” and “you’ve gotten soft!” and the like. Well guess what, things in the south were built to deal with extreme heat, not cold! Everything from houses to pipes to roads have heat concerns in mind. They are not constructed to handle ice and cold. Austin doesn’t own so much as a single snow plow. Why would they? A storm like this hadn’t happened since 1949! People don’t own heavy coats and mittens and boots. Why would we? John had only three long-sleeve shirts and no hat, mittens, or boots of his own, let a lone actual snow pants because prior to 2021 we had never received any snow accumulation in nearly 10 years here. So it’s less about people freaking out and overreacting (though there was some of that) and more about simply living somewhere that is ill-equipped to deal with an extremely rare weather event. Texas’ government, of course, was shamefully unprepared to deal with this power issue, and Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott and the like were quick to cop out and try shifting blame to people like AOC and her green energy sources, which had no bearing on anything.
The biggest pain for us was having the kids home from school for what is likely to be at least 10 consecutive days, while having to try to still work, unable to really go anywhere, and the snow not the “fun” kind to play in. Of course, my office is based in Tulsa, and they were dealing with the exact same stuff, so everyone was very understanding. But still, it has been a challenge. I know, I won’t get much pity for that… we had all our other amenities. John has played plenty of Mario 3D World and Edie has had plenty of Cocomelon videos. I know, we are lucky, the school has mostly been open this winter during the pandemic with in-person learning. But we are fresh off a 20-day Christmas break, MLK holiday, various other closings and illnesses. It feels like there hasn’t been an uninterrupted week since pre-Thanksgiving.
So to recap. We have been here since 2011, and I can only remember temps dipping into the teens only once, and that was overnight in December 2016, and we weren’t even here for that as we had traveled up north for Christmas. It had only snowed a handful of times, and only once did it accumulate enough to play in. There hadn’t been any real icy road threats since our first year here when we were at the apartment. And then all at once everyone was left to deal with high temps in the 20s for an extended period of time.
As you know I had really grown to miss colder weather over the years here, but I have been quickly reminded it’s maybe not all that great? I really don’t mind cold weather, just not the ice and snow that come with it. But this isn’t fun. I also don’t love 100+ degree heat day after day. But crippling, debilitating ice storms might be worse. Of course up north things are built to deal with ice and snow and it’s more palatable.