“It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives”

We’ve had a big winter storm here in Dallas. I got an email from a friend in Hawaii asking how we’re doing, and found myself typing up a long newsy letter – so I’m pasting it here so everyone can know how we’re doing, and I can have the memory tucked into my blog timeline.

We have been snowed in, and power has been off and on. Over the course of two nights of snow, we got about six inches of accumulation. The first batch came down as pure powder; it was like walking on cornstarch. The second round, after some sunshine had melted the first batch, was a little more wet and formed an icy crust that crunches underfoot. We’ve had significantly colder temperatures than I’ve ever experienced living in Texas; we were down to -1’F overnight one of the nights, and many hours in the single digits and teens. Texas has been racked by power problems, mostly tied to poor winterization and high demand, so power has been up and down. They were supposed to be doing “rolling blackouts” where everybody got 45 minutes of power and then 15 minutes without. This did not happen. We were getting mostly 4 to 8 hours without power, and then a couple of hours of power being on, and then it would go off again. It hasn’t gone off again since yesterday afternoon, so hopefully we’re done for now. We’re not planning to reset all the clocks on appliances and such until it’s sunny and warm, though. 

We’re both fairly resourceful, so being snowed in and without power hasn’t been a big problem. It’s mostly a matter of staying bundled up and figuring out how to keep one room in the house warm with the intermittent power, and trying to keep things from freezing. Our heater is gas, but requires electricity for the fan portion, and won’t heat up anything without the fan running. Our hot water heater has been working hard the whole time, and hot water has been a boon. We just (like 2 weeks ago) got a brand new stove, and it’s gas – but apparently this line of double-fronted oven ranges from Whirlpool has a cut-off solenoid for the gas that makes it not run without electricity. The old one which we just replaced, you could light a burner with a match if the power was off, but you couldn’t light the oven; this one, the whole appliance shuts down. The old oven was failing, but I think we might have chosen to repair it rather than replace it, or picked a different brand of new stove, if we’d known.  Ironically, we had to move food out of the freezer and refrigerator because with the power out, they weren’t keeping enough cold in the intermittently-heated house. The kitchen got down to 48’F, but mostly we were able to keep it in the low fifties. However, the garage was below thirty, so we were able to put frozen food in tubs and just sit them on the floor, and put refrigerated perishables in coolers so they wouldn’t freeze. We’ll probably move them back this afternoon since the power cycles seem to be over. Upside: this is a good chance to scrub all the refrigerator shelves and drawers. 

Our street is aptly named Deep Hill Circle, and it’s literally uphill, both ways, to get to a main street. They finally sanded the lower of the two hills yesterday morning, so I may try to venture out to check on my office building this afternoon. It’s 27’F here now, but sunny off and on, which is helping to melt the snow and ice. We will probably have some patches of snow in the shaded areas for a few more days, just because it takes time to melt off. It’s forecast to be significantly warmer after the weekend, and we’ll probably be sun-tanning in the backyard by next Wednesday, when we’re supposed to have temps in the mid seventies. We got dressed warm and hiked over to the grocery day before yesterday, mostly for something to do – they were open but running on emergency generators, and had 1 out of 10 lights running, and the registers. It was dark and kind of creepy, but cool. We got the things we needed, packed up our backpacks, and hiked home. 

I am expecting to lose a lot of plants. The potted plants like citrus and other tropical things get brought into the garage for dormancy over the winter – they are used to getting cold, but usually don’t actually get frozen. The garage has been 25’F even with efforts to keep it warmer. The supply lines for the clothes washer run in the garage wall, and they are frozen; it’s the only place we’ve got frozen pipes aside from the outdoor spigots, which are heavily mulched and should be OK after they thaw. We were down to -1 degree F, and a lot of the plants in the garden, despite being relatively hardy and established, just aren’t rated for that much cold. I’m hoping the fig tree, bay tree, pomegranate all survive, and I’m expecting to lose most if not all of my passionflower collection. Dallas hasn’t seen cold this bad since the eighties. I have friends who have hardy citrus varieties planted in the ground in their gardens; I’m betting they will die, as well as a lot of landscape palms and other semi-hardy plants. We have an outdoor cat in addition to the indoor cat and three dogs; we trapped the outdoor cat in the garage attic, and have been feeding her there and changing out her water twice a day as it freezes. It’s not warm, but I think she is nesting up in the area above the water heater’s closet, which stays warmer than the rest. I feel bad for the wild animals; this is hard on them as well. We normally see a parade of opossums, raccoons, and neighborhood feral cats at our front-door feeding bowl for the outside cat, but I bet they are mostly snug in their nests. We’ve been feeding huge flocks of birds with sunflower seed on the patio table and on top of the snow, and they have been constantly busy. We’ve had the usual cardinals, chickadees, titmice, doves, and woodpeckers, but also flocks of juncos and some new-to-me ones like a pine siskin and a yellow-rumped warbler. We’re going through a two-quart scoop of seed twice a day or so. We had been having such an unseasonably warm season that the robins had migrated early, and the waxwings have too, and now they’re scavenging for berries all over, flying from bush to bush. 

There’s a lot of frustration with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the Public Utilities Commission, and the Texas Railroad Commission. They got a big fine a few years ago for failing to properly winterize the power systems, but the fine was less expensive than the cost to winterize, so they just paid it and did nothing. Most of the power issues have been tied to frozen gas lines which could have been easily prevented with appropriate care. The Governor went on Fox News lying about how things were going and claiming it was related to windmills and showed how horrible the “Green New Deal” would be for Texas. I’m hoping the groundswell of public feeling about this will lead to some improvements in the system, and possibly some change-ups in our money-hoarding Republican state government. A big chunk of money that was allocated to winter precautions after Dallas had a spectacularly iced-out Superbowl a few years ago was instead diverted to the Governor’s “Rainy Day Fund” where it has just sat waiting for them to figure out how to give it away to petrochemical companies in subsidies or something. 

On the good side – we’ve had lots of real quiet. With a minor freeway about a mile from us, and a small executive airport just a few blocks away, we’ve always had a lot of atmospheric sounds. With both of those closed due to ice and snow, you could hear every rustle in the bushes and every bird’s call. We’ve gotten some quality cuddle time with the dogs, and we’ve learned to layer up well to deal resiliently with the off-and-on power. We’ve had a little break from our usual daily concerns (can’t work from home with no electricity!) and we’ve gotten plenty of rest. And walking the dogs around the block, crunching footsteps in the snow, has been contemplative and beautiful. Our house has a steep-pitched roof, and looks lovely in the snow.

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