My Winter Wonderland Adventure in Central Texas

 

Okay, I’ll fess up. It’s all my fault. Two years ago, I posted this snarky comment in the PIT:

Obviously, whomever is in charge of the weather saw that and said “Oh, yeah?! Well, I’ll show you!”

Kidding! I really don’t have the hubris to think that anything I say or do has such a major effect on the world. I also don’t think that God is that petty. You can put away the torches and pitchforks, tar and feathers, and iron maiden.

(As an aside, think how much trouble I just saved you. You’ll probably be able to find pitchforks at your local Tractor Supply, but torches? Where can you even get those anymore? I’ll also bet TS doesn’t accept returns on tools with blood-stained tines. Tar is only about $25/gallon, but feathers are a bit harder. Someone will need to rip open a down comforter, and who has those in Texas? Spending all the time and effort to build an iron maiden will just get you ratioed on Twitter: “DERP! Dude doesn’t know that wasn’t even a real thing!”

You’re welcome.)

On Thursday, the 11th, I drove to work in the afternoon. It was hovering around freezing, but the streets were still just wet. That all changed overnight. The temperature plunged and the streets became impassible, resulting in several crashes. After my shift, the hospital put me up in a nearby motel so I would be guaranteed to be at work the next day. Meanwhile, my house was without power for twenty-four hours. Saturday morning wasn’t that bad and I was able to drive home without difficulty.

Then the snow came. We woke up Monday morning to about six inches. I have been in Texas since 2004, and have never seen anything so bad. My wife was following the news and told me that there would be “rolling blackouts of three to four-hour duration during this weather emergency.” Sure enough, at noon the electricity went out.

And stayed out. Three o’clock, four o’clock and five came and went without power. A new update told us the power would now be out for “up to 24 hours.” We bundled up and went to bed early. Though the temperature in the house was in the 40’s, we were able to sleep under two light blankets and a bedspread. Plus long johns, a hooded sweatshirt, and a knitted woolen cap and socks.

Noon Tuesday. Still no power. In a bit of serendipity, we had booked a stay at a nearby resort weeks before this all happened. We drove to the facility about 4 pm when the temp topped out at a balmy 21 degrees. The streets were icy, but I was a professional driver for 22 years. I have lots of experience driving under extreme weather conditions and carefully planned the route to avoid bridges, underpasses, and hills. We had no problems getting to our accommodations.

When we checked in at 4:30, we were told that it would be a couple of hours to get to our room. Apparently, some of the housekeeping staff were unable to get to work, and guests slated to check out had been unable to leave due to the airport being shut down. That was fine. My wife and I just got our swimsuits and spent a couple of hours at the indoor water park. She then went to the bar and I drove back home to check on the dogs and chickens. Note that we’d planned to do it this way when we booked our little sojourn. The resort is only about fifteen minutes from our house in normal conditions. It took more than twice that to get back on Tuesday night, but traffic was light. I also observed that several traffic lights were now out, meaning the power outage had gotten worse.

When I got back to the resort, there was a mass of people at the front desk. Apparently, no one had been given a room since they had checked in. Then a manager came out and told us all that none of the reservations would be honored. He also said that the facility had been designated by the county as an emergency shelter, and we all needed to leave. This seems to be a contradiction, but maybe I’m misunderstanding the term “emergency shelter.” The rest of the people there were not in our position. Most were from out of town, quite a few were from out of state; they all had nowhere to go. Even the folks who lived nearby would have to drive home on treacherous roads, and did not have the training or experience with adverse driving conditions that I did.

A large group gathered around to argue with the manager; I didn’t bother. I went down to the bar, which was now closed, and gave my wife the bad news. Her response was “Oh well. Go get the beer out of the car.” (We’d brought our own beer from home to avoid paying for the overpriced beer-flavored water they had at the resort.)

So we were sitting there enjoying a beer or three and checking on the news of the world. At about 10 PM, two security guards approached us. The conversation went something like this:

Security Guard: “The bar is closed.”

My Wife: “Yes it is.”

SG: “Uh, so you need to leave.”

MW: “Why?”

SG: “The bar is closed.” (Note that the bar had been closed for about two hours at that point; the bar staff had been gone for over an hour.)

MW: “OK.”

SG: “So you need to leave.”

MW: “Why? There’s no place else to go.”

SG: “Um, they need to clean.”

MW: “Who needs to clean? The bartenders are gone and you don’t have any housekeepers.”

SG: “You need to leave.”

MW: “I thought this was an emergency shelter. I’m sheltering.”

SG: “You need to leave.”

MW: “I’m staying. Call the police.” (She put her feet on the table.)

The security guards looked at each other and walked off. A lady with a newborn baby who had been in a group the next table over came over and thanked my wife. In the next couple of minutes, several more people came and sat down in the bar area; none of them were hassled.

At about 10:30, my wife told me to go up to the front desk and get some blankets and pillows. I went up and waited in line at the front desk. I noticed that the person in front of me had gotten a room key. So instead of asking for a blanket, I asked “Do you have my room yet?” The clerk pulled up my file and said “I’m sorry, I can’t put you in the King Suite you reserved.” I replied “I understand. Just give us a room with a bed and a shower.” The clerk activated the key I already had used to get in the water park and told me “The room is not made up yet.” I answered, “Just give me the linens; I’ll do it myself.” I was told to find the housekeepers on my floor.

I told my wife “We have a room!” and we went up. There were clean towels in the bathroom and the beds were made. There was no coffee maker, ice bucket, or furniture besides the beds, but we didn’t care. We were warm and dry and able to take a shower for the first time in two days.

So, our romantic getaway turned out a little different than we’d anticipated. Instead of a suite, we had a bare-bones basic room. There was no water park or spa; we sat in the room and watched tributes to Rush Limbaugh. Most of the restaurants were closed so instead of steak and wine we had pizza and beer. (At least, being that it was ours, the beer was good.) All the employees were great save the idiot manager on the first day. When we left on Thursday afternoon, the lifeguards from the water park were doing the housekeeping on our floor.

As we drove home, we stopped by a large H.E.B. grocery store on the way. There was a queue wrapped around the building and a two-hour wait to just get in the door. The temperature was in the mid-20s. We decided that Soviet cosplay was not our thing and checked out the Sprouts a little closer to home. There was no line but almost nothing on the shelves: No milk, no eggs, no fresh meat, almost no fruits or vegetables.

So we went home empty-handed except for some red onions. And the power was on when we got there! Altogether, we had been without electricity for three days.

I had to work that night, and this sight greeted me at the front door of the ER:

I won’t show you the interiors so as not to violate the Ricochet COC.

Yes, the entire hospital had no water. The port-a-potties were for both staff and visitors; the staff also had another option:

I went to my boss and requested to stay overnight again. I told him I could stay in a patient room instead of a motel, if necessary. He gave me a strange look, then replied “That’s good, because motel rooms are not a thing anymore.” I got assigned to a treatment room in a med-surg unit.

Treatment rooms are where nurses do procedures on patients; We want patient rooms to be places of respite and safety. The treatment room had a stretcher and supplies for wound care, splints, IV starts, and catheterizations. Unfortunately, the room also becomes a repository for “stuff we don’t know where else to store,” so it also contained a bedside table, a chair, a stool, three procedure trays on wheels, a portable ultrasound machine, a rolling vital signs monitor, two manual blood pressure cuffs, an iPad on a wheeled stand (called the “Rolley Españole” because it is used to access the remote translator program), a linen hamper, a portable DVD player and a stack of DVDs, a doll the size of a small child with a splint on a leg and an IV in an arm, and, for some reason, a giant curly brown wig. After a 12-hour shift in the ER, I didn’t care. I put a sheet on the stretcher, rolled up another sheet to use as a pillow, and slept for six hours.

When I woke up, the ultrasound machine was gone. I emerged from the room and a nurse at the nearby station said “I’m so sorry. Nobody told us you were in there.” I told her no apology was necessary; I definitely didn’t hear her come in.

There were no showers, of course, but a children’s hospital has lots of baby wipes. It was now 3 PM on Friday, February 19th, and the temperature was a blistering 39˚F. This was the first time we had been above freezing since the previous Thursday. According to the UT Football News, the last time Texas had experienced even four days in a row of sub-freezing weather was in 1951. I worked in the ER that night and drove home in the morning. The streets were completely clear.

Right now, 4 PM on Sunday, February 21, it is 75˚and sunny here. This is what it looked like on Monday morning compared to now:

I can make light of this because I came through it pretty easily. We didn’t have power for four days total, but were in a hotel two of those days. We never lost water and our pipes didn’t freeze. We had plenty of food, had canned and dried supplies in case we ran out, and it was cold enough in the garage to keep the stuff in my chest freezer from thawing. We were understaffed at work because a lot of people could not make it in, but our patient census was low for the same reason.

I had to spend very little time outside. At work, I was in a nice warm hospital; I was not a lineman, windmill deicer, fireman, paramedic, or police officer. And it was a children’s hospital. All of the adult hospitals were packed. One even had to be evacuated. A colleague told me he had to do a blood transfusion in a hallway. Another worked in a warming center with over 500 people where the entire medical staff was two doctors, two nurses, and a paramedic.

But we largely came through it alright. We had a once-in-a-century occurrence that affected more people for a longer period of time than most other natural disasters, and we survived.

Published in Humor
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  1. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Jose, I enjoyed reading about your travails. (That didn’t sound right.)

    BTW, what do you do at the hospital?

    • #1
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Usually, losing power in Texas means keeping the fridge shut so food doesn’t spoil. Then you cook everything on the grill or stash it in coolers. 

    But this time it was colder outside the fridge than in. I felt well preserved, if a little difficult to thaw.

    • #2
  3. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    In Brazos County we had the on/off cycle, but no long power outages. It averaged 1/2 to 1 hour each half of the cycle. With our gas fireplace operating continuously, it was possible to keep the temperature reasonable all week. The electricity supply was 3rd world, but our main problems were entirely 1st world: (1) boredom during the power out cycles, though I did burn through a big backlog of e-books, and (2) tv/internet cable modem outage for several days. I was able to keep up text/email/rss via a hotspot on my iPad, but video was not possible. I did hook up an antenna, but we live in a location where that only gives you CBS and PBS, so there is more objectionable than entertaining programming via those channels and sub channels.

    This thing was well forecasted so we were able to add emergency insulation to water pipes (Texas contractors build houses on the assumption that the temperature will never go below freezing). We even insulated the in-yard water meter and shutoff box with bags of mulch on top of the iron covers. 

    We did our best with the yard sprinkler system, but it will be interesting to see what happens the first time we turn the system on.

    • #3
  4. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Jose, I enjoyed reading about your travails. (That didn’t sound right.)

    BTW, what do you do at the hospital?

    ER RN. 

    • #4
  5. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    In Galveston County we had rolling blackouts Monday through Wednesday – 1-1/2 to 2 hours on, 22-1/2 to 22 hours off. Pipes froze and at least two cracked. I turned off water at the main. Still waiting for a plumber. At least we have heat and electricity now.

    • #5
  6. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    JosePluma: You’ll probably be able to find pitchforks at your local Tractor Supply, but torches? Where can you even get those anymore?

    My local Lowe’s usually has plenty of pitchforks. We have lots of horses in the area, so pitchforks are in wide use. Even in winter when most of the “gardening” tools are out of stock, there are pitchforks. 

    As of a couple of months ago, both Lowe’s and the local Do It Best had substantial supplies of (tiki) torches and fuel for them. On nice long poles, too. 

    • #6
  7. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Interesting. For all the talk of rolling blackouts, my neighborhood near Houston just had one sustained blackout for maybe 20 hours. It would have been nice to know there wouldn’t be another blackout, but I can understand the limited communication. I slept in my jacket and many, many layers but survived. 

    God bless Mattress Mack who again opened his stores to house the homeless.

    • #7
  8. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    JosePluma: You’ll probably be able to find pitchforks at your local Tractor Supply, but torches? Where can you even get those anymore?

    My local Lowe’s usually has plenty of pitchforks. We have lots of horses in the area, so pitchforks are in wide use. Even in winter when most of the “gardening” tools are out of stock, there are pitchforks.

    As of a couple of months ago, both Lowe’s and the local Do It Best had substantial supplies of (tiki) torches and fuel for them. On nice long poles, too.

    Tiki torches, eh? You really want to get ratioed on Twitter. 

    • #8
  9. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    In Brazos County we had the on/off cycle, but no long power outages. 

    I used to get a seat at a bar at the “T” intersection of Texas Avenue and Harvey Road on the rare icy day in College Station. Great fun to watch drivers sliding around and through the intersection.

     

    • #9
  10. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner
    • #10
  11. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Here’s what our back yard in Everett, Washington looked like a week ago today.

    All the snow is gone today, but there was snow there as recently as Thursday.

    • #11
  12. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    A decade from now you’ll be remembering the winter storm of 2021. 

    Great telling of your travails. Thanks!

    • #12
  13. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Your work stories sound similar to mine from 1996 Hurricane Fran and then the 20 inches of snow in 2000. There was a broken water main during Fran so that was the first time anybody ever remembered surgeries being cancelled. They were cancelled again for the snow event because they didn’t think people could get there. It was the first and last time I ever stayed at work like that. Since we were already there, we worked our 3 days and then went home. By then, all the snow was pretty much gone. I never volunteered to stay again. I made it in that morning, somebody else could make it the next day. Patients weren’t going home even after they could be discharged cause they couldn’t get home, in both events. I don’t remember power outages from the snow (it was mainly a snow event) but the hurricane was a different story. It was weeks before some people got power back. Patients were begging to stay at the hospital so they would have heat, water and food. 

     

    • #13
  14. ape2ag Member
    ape2ag
    @ape2ag

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    In Galveston County we had rolling blackouts Monday through Wednesday – 1-1/2 to 2 hours on, 22-1/2 to 22 hours off. Pipes froze and at least two cracked. I turned off water at the main. Still waiting for a plumber. At least we have heat and electricity now.

    We never lost power at our home in Galveston County. I feel a bit guilty about that.

    • #14
  15. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    ape2ag (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    In Galveston County we had rolling blackouts Monday through Wednesday – 1-1/2 to 2 hours on, 22-1/2 to 22 hours off. Pipes froze and at least two cracked. I turned off water at the main. Still waiting for a plumber. At least we have heat and electricity now.

    We never lost power at our home in Galveston County. I feel a bit guilty about that.

    Why? You got lucky and others didn’t.

    • #15
  16. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Wow. Friends of ours in the greater Travis/Williamson/Bastrop County area are still without water. 

    But…dang! Running a modern hospital without water? Man is that rough. Even for a short while. 

    • #16
  17. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Oh, and I meant to ask: Was that Dell Children’s?

    • #17
  18. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Wow. Friends of ours in the greater Travis/Williamson/Bastrop County area are still without water.

    But…dang! Running a modern hospital without water? Man is that rough. Even for a short while.

    Fortunately hospitals should have on-site backup power. Hopefully they’ve kept the equipment maintained, and a good supply of fuel.

    • #18
  19. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Good story Jose. We are in Buffalo, TX and had sub-freezing temperatures for a week with the low of 1dF. We lost grid power for two days but I have a 20kW B&S generator that runs off a 250 gallon propane tank so we always had power. However, the outlet from my 30K gallon rain water tank froze Sunday night when it dipped to 1dF and it took me a day to thaw it. The hardest thing for us was keeping water thawed for our chickens and horses. I have a large wood burning stove in the barn attached to our home (a large barndominium) and must have burned at least 2 cords of wood over the week to keep it warm so that our dogs and cat and water filtration system could survive. What a crazy week. It was 72 yesterday, 68 today, and I’ll be golfing in 72 degree weather tomorrow. God bless Texas.

    • #19
  20. Living High and Wide Member
    Living High and Wide
    @OldDanRhody

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    ape2ag (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    In Galveston County we had rolling blackouts Monday through Wednesday – 1-1/2 to 2 hours on, 22-1/2 to 22 hours off. Pipes froze and at least two cracked. I turned off water at the main. Still waiting for a plumber. At least we have heat and electricity now.

    We never lost power at our home in Galveston County. I feel a bit guilty about that.

    Why? You got lucky and others didn’t.

    No, the right thing to do is to lament your privilege and repent with sackcloth and ashes. Of course, that won’t be enough, but at least you’d be making a show of it – and that’s what counts anyway.

    • #20
  21. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Living High and Wide (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    ape2ag (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    In Galveston County we had rolling blackouts Monday through Wednesday – 1-1/2 to 2 hours on, 22-1/2 to 22 hours off. Pipes froze and at least two cracked. I turned off water at the main. Still waiting for a plumber. At least we have heat and electricity now.

    We never lost power at our home in Galveston County. I feel a bit guilty about that.

    Why? You got lucky and others didn’t.

    No, the right thing to do is to lament your privilege and repent with sackcloth and ashes. Of course, that won’t be enough, but at least you’d be making a show of it – and that’s what counts anyway.

    But if you’re actually on the left, while lamenting your privilege etc, you also make sure you continue to enjoy your privilege while ensuring the masses don’t share in it.

    • #21
  22. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Wow. Friends of ours in the greater Travis/Williamson/Bastrop County area are still without water.

    But…dang! Running a modern hospital without water? Man is that rough. Even for a short while.

    Fortunately hospitals should have on-site backup power. Hopefully they’ve kept the equipment maintained, and a good supply of fuel.

    The power isn’t the problem (most of the time), it’s the water supply. That’s the only reason we canceled surgeries after Fran. We had power, but didn’t have running water because of the break in the city water main. Same here in Texas when their treatment plants couldn’t provide fresh water to the cities and towns. Also about the power, it has been our policy to only do emergency surgery under generator power. 

    • #22
  23. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    ape2ag (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    In Galveston County we had rolling blackouts Monday through Wednesday – 1-1/2 to 2 hours on, 22-1/2 to 22 hours off. Pipes froze and at least two cracked. I turned off water at the main. Still waiting for a plumber. At least we have heat and electricity now.

    We never lost power at our home in Galveston County. I feel a bit guilty about that.

    There’s no reason to feel guilty, or you’ll have to be guilty about everything where, by random chance, your life turned out better than someone else. 

    • #23
  24. ape2ag Member
    ape2ag
    @ape2ag

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    ape2ag (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    In Galveston County we had rolling blackouts Monday through Wednesday – 1-1/2 to 2 hours on, 22-1/2 to 22 hours off. Pipes froze and at least two cracked. I turned off water at the main. Still waiting for a plumber. At least we have heat and electricity now.

    We never lost power at our home in Galveston County. I feel a bit guilty about that.

    Why? You got lucky and others didn’t.

    I enjoy privilege beyond that of US Senators.

    • #24
  25. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Was there any water damage in your house from frozen pipes? I assume that without heat for 24 hours the house would eventually drop to the outside temperature.

    When I lost heat in my house last winter for a night, I left a tap running a little so that the water would keep moving in the pipes and not freeze.

    • #25
  26. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Was there any water damage in your house from frozen pipes? I assume that without heat for 24 hours the house would eventually drop to the outside temperature.

    When I lost heat in my house last winter for a night, I left a tap running a little so that the water would keep moving in the pipes and not freeze.

    So did I – but the pipes froze anyway. Possibly the pressure dropped due to other pipes bursting elsewhere and it stopped flowing. Or the pipes that froze were not attached to those that had water running. (I’m thinking those leading to the washing machine and the commode in the master bathroom.)

    • #26
  27. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Was there any water damage in your house from frozen pipes? I assume that without heat for 24 hours the house would eventually drop to the outside temperature.

    When I lost heat in my house last winter for a night, I left a tap running a little so that the water would keep moving in the pipes and not freeze.

    I did the same thing and we had no frozen pipes. Oddly, my sister-in-law, who lives three doors down from us, had power the whole time but her pipes froze (probably because she didn’t keep a tap running). So we got to trade water for heat a couple of days. 

    According to the (battery powered) thermometer on my thermostat, the coldest it got in the house was 43˚. Three dogs must generate a lot of heat.

    • #27
  28. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    Scott Wilmot (View Comment):

    Good story Jose. We are in Buffalo, TX and had sub-freezing temperatures for a week with the low of 1dF. We lost grid power for two days but I have a 20kW B&S generator that runs off a 250 gallon propane tank so we always had power. However, the outlet from my 30K gallon rain water tank froze Sunday night when it dipped to 1dF and it took me a day to thaw it. The hardest thing for us was keeping water thawed for our chickens and horses. I have a large wood burning stove in the barn attached to our home (a large barndominium) and must have burned at least 2 cords of wood over the week to keep it warm so that our dogs and cat and water filtration system could survive. What a crazy week. It was 72 yesterday, 68 today, and I’ll be golfing in 72 degree weather tomorrow. God bless Texas.

    The lowest it got for us was 5˚. I was going to bring the chickens into the garage, but they did fine in their coop. I have a gas stove and just used a match to light it and boil water for them.

    • #28
  29. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Wow. Friends of ours in the greater Travis/Williamson/Bastrop County area are still without water.

    But…dang! Running a modern hospital without water? Man is that rough. Even for a short while.

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Oh, and I meant to ask: Was that Dell Children’s?

    You are correct, sir.

    The water is flowing now but we can’t drink it. They’ve provided us with bottled water. 

    Our problem is nothing compared to the places that have to do dialysis. That’s one of the reasons the adult hospitals are so crowded.

    • #29
  30. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Fortunately hospitals should have on-site backup power. Hopefully they’ve kept the equipment maintained, and a good supply of fuel.

    Our backup is pretty good, plus hospitals are a priority for electricity (for obvious reasons). The hospital that shut down apparently had to use water boilers for heat.

    • #30