Rainy Thoughts: 78 Hours: A Texas Winter Storm Story
78 hours. That is how long it took for my house and my neighbors to regain power. 78 hours of the young and the old freezing in the middle of night and day through one of Texas' worst winter storms ever. But let me start from the beginning and I'll try to make this quick. And just for clarification, I'll be writing this blog post like a short story, because I want to remember this day and if anyone out there researches this years from now, well, here's my thoughts.
It all started the week before Monday, 2/15. The news let us know that San Antonio would be experiencing a winter storm. Now, when the news says winter storm, that usually means it's just going to be cold and, at most, we'll get snow flurries or "snow" that will last until 10 am when the sun is shining bright in the sky. Either way, I prepared my groceries and what not like any other week and any other "winter storm" week.
Monday 2/15. Texas residents woke up to a snow day as we had never seen before The white slush was beautiful, thick and somewhere between 3 - 6 inches depending on where you were at. San Antonio, and much of Texas, had never experienced this amount of snow before. We took pictures, we made snowmen, we made snow angels and we were all off from work. It was fun, it was magical and it was just a great miracle and start to a new year. But throughout the day, something funny was happening. Someone decided we needed "rolling blackouts." So we understood that as getting power in and out throughout the day. And that's what we experienced, 45 minutes of power and then about 10-15 minutes of no power, but it was fine. Then it wasn't fine.
As the day went on and we all got our photos in and were getting ready to make dinner, the roll outs started coming in longer and longer increments. Instead of 45 minutes of power, it went down to 30 minutes, then 20 minutes, 10 minutes, and by 7 PM we had our last 30-second increment of power before we went the next 78 hours with no power at all. That first night, I started making dinner early, and what should've only taken about 30-40 minutes, took me 2 hours to make. It was ridiculous. And when that power went off for the last time that night, I thought to myself that they wouldn't let us go without power in the coldest time of the year for too long. That night, we covered ourselves with a mountain of blankets and went to bed thinking it would hopefully be over the next day.
Tuesday 2/16. The snow was still there and the power was still off and I could not get my mobile hotspot to work. When I stepped out of bed, the room was freezing. I didn't even want to leave my bed. My husband and I stayed in bed a while that morning. Since we didn't have power or wi-fi, he wasn't able to work and I was actually supposed to start a new job Wednesday and something told me that, that wasn't going to happen. Eventually, we got up, and I wondered how we were going to make food. Then, with my in and out mobile data, I was able to pick up a signal and saw a good friend take out his cast iron pan and warm up food with the firewood. We had actually picked up firewood the weekend before because we knew it would be cold Valentine's weekend and we had never used our fireplace, so we thought it would be cute to have. And we had a cast iron pan that I wanted to give away because I thought I would never use it. We had one more log and with that log, I was able to toast up some sandwiches and that is what we ate.
Eventually, the log would fade, so my husband decided to weather the bad weather outside to try to get some supplies. I actually got in the car to go with him, but I was so nervous about the ice and the snow, that I panicked and decided to stay home while he went. He started at Family Dollar since it was right outside our neighborhood, and while he was waiting in line, the power turned off. He waited for 30 minutes for the power to come back on to pay, but no luck. He left to try to go to Wal-Mart down the street. The Family Dollar would not be open for another couple of days due to power.
When he got to the Wal-Mart, he waited outside in a huge line. When there got to be 30 groups in front of him and at least 100 people in back of him, the Wal-Mart lost its power and they had the entire line, that had been waiting patiently, go home. Meanwhile, I grabbed all our dairy and easily spoiled food and place it in a box to sit in the cold in our sunroom. Since the power had been out, the fridge was not cold, so I had to do what I had to do keep the food at bay. After that was done, I stayed by the fire. Sure I could've done other things, but when you're freezing and there's no power and you're feeling a little bit hopeless, staring at the flames, trying to keep warm seems like all you can really do.
When David got back, I got in his car and we sat in there to charge our phones and just feel some warmth. I then looked on the Nextdoor app to see if there was anything open near us. I was happy to find that the local Jalisco taqeria place was open right in front of our neighborhood. I went this time, because my want to stay warm became strong than my anxiety from driving on the slick roads with people not used to driving on slick roads.
After we got back and ate in our even colder home, David went back outside where our neighbor came outside and offered us a whole box of firewood. I had a little bit of hope again. After we got the fire going, David pushed our couches to either side of our fire place (double-sided fireplace), grabbed all the blankets we could, and we stared at the fire together, looking at our phones from time to time, trying to see if there were any answers as to when this nightmare would be over. Then we went back to the car where our neighbor gave us more logs and another gave us warm churros. And for a moment, I felt like I was connected in my little pocket of the world.
Eventually, I had to make food again. This time, frozen steak fingers with frozen asparagus. Not the most filling dinner, but it made do. With logs burning, food in our stomachs and no shower in 24 hours, we tried to sleep. That night though, as I slept on my mountain of blankets on the couch, next tot he fire with my cat on top of me, I couldn't help but feel helpless. I couldn't help but wonder why no one seemed to be helping us.
Wednesday 2/17. I was determined to make breakfast. I wanted to stay strong, but I also wanted warmth and a shower. When I texted my parents that day, their power was going on and off in hour intervals. I decided that some power was better than no power. I also decided that my hunger would have to wait, because my desire to keep warm was stronger. We packed up only the essentials, along with our cat and dog and their essentials, and off we went through the powerless city of broken street lights and idiot drivers.
When we got to my parents house, I was relieved. I was relieved, but I was also still anxious. I was worried about our house. I was worried about the pipes breaking, the roof caving in, just like so many other people had been experiencing during this storm. Those fears kept me up a majority of the night.
Thursday 2/18. As other neighborhoods power started to turn back on for good, my little pocket of the world still had no power. As I read through the Nextdoor threads, I had elderly neighbors in need, single mothers in need, so many people without power or water or both that were searching and pleading for help. It broke my heart and it still does.
That evening, there were reports all over Nextdoor that our little piece of neighborhood was one of the last places to get power back and that it would on sometime that night. While I was supposed to be sleeping, I couldn't help but look keep refreshing my page, checking to see if the power would come back on for my neighbors who were still staying put.
Friday 2/19. I woke up at 4am and immediately checked my phone. I was thrilled to find that at 2:30ish
AM, our power was back on for the entire neighborhood.
By noon, David and I packed up our stuff, our cat and dog and went back home. I was so anxious to find out what happened to our home and I felt relief when everything was just as un-orderly as we had left it. No water pipes broke, no roof caved in and the house felt warm again.
78 hours. I was blessed to still have water during this time. I was blessed to have a place to go. I was blessed to have nothing go completely wrong. But there were people who were not okay. 78 hours was too long. 78 hours of people starving, cold and wet. This shouldn't have happened, but it did. Now it's time to move forward and try to make things right.
End of rant.