It’s been another rough week in Central Texas. Tuesday’s freezing rain closed all the roads, schools, and businesses. An inch of ice accumulated on power lines, power went down, and no power to pump water means boil notices or no water at all, and the propane companies can’t get to any homes to fill tanks. So we stayed home Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. Cell towers stopped working. My son’s university lost power, and they are not allowed candles in their dorms. Students don’t keep a week’s worth of snacks in their rooms, nor piles of blankets. And with no way to travel, they were stuck.
Today makes day three with no power for over 150,000 Austinites, now tossing everything in their fridges today, due to spoilage. They still have no power. Each day passes, and they wait. It was still below freezing this morning. You can’t boil water if your stove is electric. You can’t nuke it in the microwave. Those of us with generators fare better, but that only goes so far.
All day yesterday, as temps inched above freezing, the sounds of huge oak and cottonwood branches falling filled the greater city area. Every couple of minutes, footlong icicles, sheets of ice on roofs, and tree limbs would crash to the ground. Limbs landed on cars and fences, blocking driveways. Everyone within an hour’s radius lost trees. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire Austin area lost half its trees. Everywhere you look, 8 and 10 foot limbs litter the yards and roads. They just weren’t made to support so much ice for three days.
Honestly, I don’t know why people keep moving here. My suburb town alone has grown 30% in 10 years. 30%. We have nowhere to put them. Hopefully, this ice storm scared them off. This is three challenging winters in a row. Of course, we’ll be in sundresses and sandals by Sunday. Nothing makes sense anymore.
Ever since last month’s ice storm, the surviving birds have been in search of food. Normally at this time of year, trees would be budding, flowers blooming in the sea of verdant spring to which we are accustomed. Not this year. Everything is dead or brown. Or both. Our palm tree lost all its dozen fronds. Our oaks remain frozen in time, covered in ugly brown leaves that will not fall. The earth itself doesn’t know what season it is. It’s the ugliest I’ve ever seen Texas in my life because it was the coldest and the iciest it had ever been.
However, the cottonwood tree has begun putting out these yellow pods, for which the birds have gone crazy.
I’ve never seen so many birds on the branches of our cottonwood before. They stay for several minutes, then fly off, just as another drove comes to feast.
I do hope things will soon return to normal, in every sense of the word.
Bird dynamics have been FUBAR during this frozen apocalypse. They appear to be much more sociable than in days of yore, flocking together and flying from icicle tree to icicle tree, wondering what in the name of the holy mother is going on. I know they are cedar waxwings because their little wingtips appear to have been dipped in red and yellow paint, and they wear that black mask which conveys a sense of outrage at Nature’s recent shenanigans. Here in central Texas, the old quote of “water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink” keeps popping up, as we continue yet more days sans water. Yup, it’s snowing, but we can’t drink that, although we’ve melted 14 gallons of it so far to use to flush toilets. Last week, we filled up some Arizona tea jugs with tap water, so we still have that. I suppose the birds can lick the icicles?
I braved my death by stepping onto our icy front porch to toss them handfuls of hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds out of an abundance of my own grace and mercy upon them. They flew away. Perhaps that’s why we call them bird brains.
We are not doing well. Last Thursday, the ice rained down on my car as I drove my dad to his oral surgery. I had not been near him since the pandemic began, nor had anyone in my car (or home), but anesthesia would not allow him to drive post-op. The frozen rain pelted us as we ran inside the center, which soon informed me that their lobby was closed, and I should sit in my car for the next 30 minutes. I told them I was not going to sit and freeze in my car, and no stores were open yet that morning, so I wasn’t budging. 30 minutes soon turned into an hour and a half. The drive home, stopping for a 30 min wait in the CVS drive-through for five prescriptions, was precarious at best. Friday, we were advised not to travel at all, due to ice.
We got down to zero degrees this weekend. That was a record. It snowed another round. Last night, it sleeted and added another layer of ice on our roads. Our grids have been overloaded, and electric cooperatives were told to begin rolling blackouts. Word on the street is that the federal government would not allow Texas to provide heat and water to its citizens, despite having more than enough energy, due to the amount of pollution that would exceed its environmental standards. If that is the case, they have blood on their hands.
No power means an inability to treat and pump water. This led to boil water notices. And now, nearly a week into this, we have zero water. No water to drip, to prevent our pipes from bursting. No water to rinse dishes or flush toilets or wash hands or give to the dogs. We have a case of bottled water in the pantry, but it won’t last long. I am literally receiving a text from the city as I type, telling us no water will be available before the weekend, if even. That means no showers, no bathing. My husband has filled buckets with dirty snow from the back yard and is melting them on the stove (we are blessed to still have power), so that we can flush toilets at some point. When the temperature increases this weekend, the newsmen have advised us that the water mains will all thaw and break, and to prepare again for no water.
And we are the lucky ones, stuck with roads not drivable, with no trucks to sand the roads, with grocery stores closed or emptied of food. Many of my friends have not had any power for days. DAYS. Dark apartment buildings and subdivisions can look out their windows and see the downtown buildings still lit up, emptied of people, yet warming the offices with heat and lighting the cubicles. Not cool. My friend, Jen, says her apartment has been without power for three days now. Her thermostat reads 48 in her living room. None of them can go warm up in their cars because the garages are solely automatic doors with no other entry. Trapped. Other folks with houses, able to warm up in cars in garages, have chosen not to open their garage doors and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
We have several unreachable windows 20 feet high, which is great until a historic, unprecedented event that makes you wish for blinds and curtains to block the sub-zero winds and cold. Note the blue garbage bin, which has been out for 7 days now, waiting for garbage men to empty them. Who knows when that will happen? Our trash cans are full.
Poor Houston has 600,000 folks without power. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church is a warming center, to shelter and feed many of them. But Austin is the hill country, and none of us can brave the icy roads and hills to gather our freezing friends, even if we could. No one has snow tires or chains. Few have 4WD. So they suffer. The millions of dollars worth of wind turbines that used to spew grease all over adjacent towns are frozen solid. Useless. So helicopters using fossil fuels are spraying chemicals made of fossil fuels onto wind turbines made of fossil fuels to de-ice them before tonight’s round of freezing rain hits. And carbon footprint trucks are pulling little hybrid cars out of ditches and saving lives. Green new deal, my ass. The folks who will be dead tonight would be happy for a handful of coal at this point.
This beautiful rye grass was our back yard six days ago. The oak tree was budding, and Roxie was free to spend hours in the sun. If you zoom in, you can see why she was agitated. A possum was hanging upside-down on the trellis. Can you see it?
Today, however, is a different story. Thursday’s ice storm bent the branches of that oak, and it will likely never recover. The cottonwood still stands tall, under a few feet of snow, the most we’ve ever had. My phone said 5 degrees when I awoke. Tonight we will reach a record-breaking one. We’ve dripped the faucets, but many of our friends and family have been without water for days and heat for hours. We are not allowed to travel until next weekend, due to layers of ice. Everything is closed all week. I will have to get creative with the one onion we have. Lentil soup? Tacos? We are down to one cup of milk. But we’ll be all right as long as we have heat and water and each other.
The weather keeps getting stranger and stranger. Last month, I saw more snow than had ever fallen in Austin in my life. This week will be the lowest temps we’ve ever weathered, dipping into single digits. We received a text from the county at lunch, urging folks not to travel for the next several days. The grocery stores are bare of meat, eggs, and milk.
Only days ago, spring had begun its first bloom, and now this.
Our oak tree, which had just begun to bud and stretched over 20 feet into the air, is now bowed down to the grass, branches breaking off every few hours.
Every home in our city has broken branches in its yard.
And our holly bush appears frozen in time, if not weeping from the sudden frost. Strange days indeed.
Indoor furniture belongs indoor. Couches don’t belong on porches or in front yards, as the fabric is not designed to repel moisture or the sun’s rays. They are breeding grounds for filth. And yet, I see them on the daily as I pass the nearby trailer homes. That’s a fact. It’s nasty, especially when the rare and brief rains come. But who knew there was ever a possibility in Austin, Texas of snow falling down from the heavens to blanket these cesspools of cushion? Not I. I’ve lived here nearly half a decade, and the most snow we’ve ever seen was back in 1985, at 3-7 inches, depending on your locale. I know that’s pathetic to you Yankees, but I verily say it unto you.
However, Mother Nature surprised us 48 hours ago with a snowfall, the likes of which no one under 60 years old has ever seen in central Texas. First it was sleet, that sound of clinking against the window, which I heard pre-dawn. Then a few hours later, tiny flakes. We all peered outside to see if it could truly be. Then flurries, then bigger flakes, steady as she goes. Then the green rye grass in our yard began disappearing.
We rarely get an hour solid of RAIN down here, much less snow. Yet hour after hour, it snowed, not letting up until the entire area was blanketed in glorious white powder, as you can see below, on proper outdoor furniture.
The cacti were taken by surprise. They knew not what fell upon them.
Neighbors dug through the backs of their closets to find gloves and winter caps not worn in eons. We made our way outside. It was SO QUIET, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Just soft snow falling upon snow. MAGICAL! And bit by bit, the children appeared. Snow Day! No school! The hoops and hollers began. Children who had never seen a flake were now able to make snowmen–actual human-sized snowmen, with a bit of effort and collaboration. And for one brief moment, we forgot about politics and the purge of free speech, the division and violence, the pandemic of nearly a year, and we exhaled. We remember what it felt like to be excited, giddy even. Our brains had recall on this feeling of joy.
It’s gone now. The slant of north-facing roofs still hosts slushy white patches, but it’s melting in the sun. The scenes that inspired us to suddenly spout Robert Frost poems have disappeared. But for a moment, it was magic. It was the best Monday in years. And though I may be in my grave before I ever see more than “trace amounts,” I am ever so grateful for the experience.
Brothers Fred and Amos Vieira cut ice on their farm pond in Jacksonville, Illinois exactly 100 years ago in 1921. One hopes they never fell through the ice in those heavy jackets, but I imagine, as they were the only two of six sons assigned to this chore, that their competence was high. Ice was stored in sawdust (yes, that’s a thing) for later use. Can you imagine dusty ice cubes in your cocktail? I can’t even imagine a frozen river.