I’ve lived in San Antonio for over half of my life. I’ve experienced snow here several times, and ice storm or two, and some hard-freezes where temps got into the low-20s. But I’ve never experienced anything (here) like what San Antonio went through this week. The event ranged from the amazing to the horrific.
As last weekend approached, we watched the weather forecast with amazement. Temps as low as 4 degrees were predicted. I looked it up, and it turns out that San Antonio has only dipped into single digits five times since 1899 before this week. So we were in for some insanity! The cold weather began to roll in on Friday, and the snow/ice was predicted to start Sunday morning. Hikes got canceled for safety’s sake, and my family ran to the grocery store early on Saturday to stock up on some basic supplies for the week (milk, eggs, etc). The temps went below freezing on Saturday evening and didn’t get above freezing again until Wednesday.
The snow/ice didn’t start on Sunday morning as expected, but instead came in around 10:30pm. It started with some graupel fall, then switched to full on snow over the next six hours. Altogether, we got about 4-5 inches at our house. (San Antonio once had a heavy snow – 13 inches – in 1985, but otherwise has never gotten above about 2-3 inches before this week. The most I’ve personally seen was ~1 inch or less.) The power went out briefly in the middle of the night. We’d already anticipated this, and had set out extra blankets (for humans and cats), covered all the plants and pipes, had the water running throughout the house, cabinet doors open, etc. We’ve lived up north enough to know 1) how to deal with this kind of weather, and 2) how different San Antonio is structured from northern areas used to these kinds of temps. For example, the pipes run through concrete slab foundations, so are really susceptible to freezing/bursting!
Thankfully, we had no major energy or water issues on Monday, when the temps were as low as 7 degrees and as high as 28 degrees. Many of my friends were without electricity, and quite a few lost water. We were informed that there would be rotating power outages because TX is stupid and they privatized and deregulated their energy grid, so it was mismanaged and power was being spread throughout the state. (Really, why wouldn’t you winterize your power stations?? WTF??) My sisters, who live up in the Dallas area, experienced different levels of power outage. My mom has been off and on all week, and my dad’s house was out for all of Monday (then off and on afterwards). Jason and I ventured out at mid-day (when the roads were slushy) because we couldn’t resist a snowy hike at the trails just four miles away. Some of the stoplights were completely out. !!! We were SUPER careful driving, and also out on the trails.
Monday was our best day, despite it also being the coldest day. Other than our short power outage overnight, we had power and water all of Monday. Over the next night, the temps got back down to around 10 degrees, re-freezing all the semi-melted slush into ice sheets on the roads. The city closed all highways. Tuesday morning, our power went out…for the next six hours. About four hours into that time, the water pressure suddenly got very, very low. We quickly filled up tubs, sinks, pitchers, and large pots with both drinking water and water that could be used for toilets. We prepped food so that we could start cooking the second our power came on. When we’d grabbed food supplies at the store, we didn’t expect massive rolling blackouts, so we hadn’t grabbed the right supplies! Long story short, the power came back on around 5pm, and we ran to cook breakfast tacos, cornbread muffins, cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee, plus charge all our electronics and batteries. We had a couple hours of power before it dropped off again.
After that, we seemed to go on a three-hours-on, five-hours-off power schedule. During our time in the dark, I caught up on my favorite podcast, read more of my photography instruction books, and attempted some really simple macrame (it didn’t come out so well, haha!). During our power-on times, we cooked, warmed the house, and charged electronics. Because we have plenty of heavy-duty clothes/blankets from our time up north, we managed pretty well. Unfortunately, Tuesday overnight brought a secondary ice storm, and by noon on Wednesday, we lost water completely. (The water system said the pumps were being put out by the power outages, and couldn’t get enough water pressure to reach the houses. Thankfully, our pipes didn’t freeze!) Wednesday did see above-freezing temps, thawing some of the ice and snow, plus allowing Jason to run to the grocery store again for a few scant supplies (not much was available!). Why a grocery run this late in the game? Because a third storm front was set to come through on Thursday with another load of sleet, freezing rain, and snow.
The good news: First, the power situation improved Wednesday and we began to have power more often than not. It was back completely by Thursday. (Other than taking showers and running the dishwasher, we continued to conserve heavily!) Second, the water – which was down to a dripping in the bathroom sink and gone completely in the kitchen – returned to normal pressure overnight into Thursday. (Hence showers and dishwasher!) (Unfortunately, the return of water came with a boil water notice for the foreseeable future.) Third, the last storm that was set to come through grew milder in the forecast (from sleet/ice and snow to just snow, and from 4+ inches to maybe 1 inch). In the end, there was definitely closer to 3-4 inches of snow, but it was all snow, no more ice. Whew! It was the prettiest kind of snow, too, fat lazy flakes that lasted for hours! Once again, I couldn’t help myself, and I went out on another snow hike, ha!
Overnight Thursday into Friday was another hard freeze (about 17 degrees, which was much lower than expected!), but it got above freezing in the afternoon. The snow started to melt except in places of deep shadow. I took the sodden, heavy sheets off our plants. The tall dianthus were mostly snapped in half, so they’re going to take some pampering and might not survive. I guess we’ll see what happens. Especially since Friday into Saturday saw another hard freeze (this time only down to about 25 degrees at least!). I have to admit, by Friday afternoon, I was going stir-crazy. I’m used to being in my house all the time, but able to leave to take walks and such. Sure, I took those hikes, but I wanted to really go out. Didn’t matter if it was to the nursery for flower pots, or the craft store for macrame supplies, or the gym to renew a membership I haven’t used in ages anyway. I just wanted OUT. I was happy when my hiking leadership group decided to get together for a walk Saturday afternoon when it was in the 50s and the snow was mostly melted away completely.
Across San Antonio, things were crazy all week. Highways closed. Streetlights out. Power and water outages. Giant warmth shelters set up to hold hundreds of people despite the covid threat. City services (mail, recycling/organics pickup, new briefs, covid data, etc) were all canceled. Covid testing sites were closed and vaccines delayed. Schools closed or went async, and there are possible closures next week as well as school deal with burst pipes. The water system put in place a policy where customers will pay whichever is lower of this month’s and last month’s bills, because of burst pipes. Electricity bills aren’t so kind across much of Texas – we don’t know what ours will look like yet. Sigh.
We aren’t out of the woods yet. We still have to boil all our water for drinking, giving to the cats, and cooking. For the dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher, we’ve had to add a bit of bleach to the wash water. One of our sinks got overwhelmed holding full of water and began to leak out of the drain, so we have to fix that now (nothing to do with the cold, it was just old). Gas stations are out of gas and the oil refineries are apparently offline, so we may not be able to fill our cars up for another week. Major fires have broken out in areas where there is no water pressure, causing widespread damage (far more than normal) because firefighters couldn’t get them out in a timely manner. Etc. But it got into the 50s yesterday, and is supposed to remain above freezing all week, so hopefully soon we can get to the work of fixing, rebuilding, and (of course) changing the energy grid system here in Texas!
Things I learned this week of the snowpocalypse:
- Hiking in snow uses weird muscles that will be really sore the next day.
- Cold brew is a lifesaver when you have no power. Also I’m glad I learned about 20 ways to make it this past year.
- Have the kettle filled so that you can run and hit “heat” the second the power comes on. Have a coffee thermos that will keep it hot for you.
- Cook when you have power. Better to have real food that’s room temperature than snacks for dinner.
- Texas is stupid. A privatized, de-regulated energy grid for the entire state is stupid.
- Eating healthy is no longer a priority when you only have power a few hours per day. Neither is exercise when you don’t have heat or running water.
- Cell towers also go out when the electricity goes out, and we rely too much on the internet for things like emergency updates.
- Breakfast tacos only take 5 mins to cook. Five-min meals are excellent when you don’t know how long the power will stay on.
- Boiling all your water sucks. We don’t keep bottled water around but I do wish we’d stocked up before this started.
- Boiled water also tastes awful. You wouldn’t think so, but it really does change the taste of the water.
- HEB is the best store that ever existed.
- Ted Cruz is an a$$hole. I mean, I didn’t really learn that – I already knew it – but he really proved it well this week!
- WhatsApp is an awesome tool for keeping in contact when the cell towers go mostly down and you only have the tiniest bar of data, because it’s primarily text-based and no frills. My text support group on there was the very best.
- Nothing makes you feel more human than being able to take a shower for the first time in three days. (Also, clean dishes and clothes.)
- Snow days make for really awesome photos and great photography practice!!
As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve never experienced anything like this in SA. Hell, I lived in Wisconsin for five years and I lived in Boston in The Year of Blizzards, and still have never experienced anything like what we went through this week. I’m just glad we’ve made it through safe and healthy and without any major damage.