A diary kept during 72 hours without power in the Texas Winter Snowstorm 2021
February 14 Sunday
I discovered that while I spent the evening of Valentine’s Day stranded on a mysterious desert island with a merry band of misfits, a winter wonderland had formed in my yard. San Antonio hasn’t seen snowfall like this since the blizzard of January 1985, so seeing my yard covered with snow shocked me. Snow landed all across town unbeknownst to me as I binge-watched the TV show Lost on Amazon Prime. When I spied the chilly white blanket in my yard, I gasped and thought to myself this must be a lovely portent of good things to come. What a Pollyanna idiot I turned out to be.
February 15 Monday
Still awake, while I watched Finding Your Roots reruns on my laptop in bed, my power shut down. Fearing this might happen, I had kept my phone charged up. Ha, winter storm, take that! I am so prepared! My electricity came back on after about 15 minutes, and I foolishly believed everything to be back in order.
Instead, City Public Service, the electric company heretofore know as Satan, began a series of rolling blackouts. Oh, I’m sorry… ‘managed outages’, they termed them. Their announcement claimed they were designed to give everyone in the area some time with and without power. Instead of some areas bearing the brunt of consistently having no power, all areas of town would share the pain.
Only Satan clearly assigned the outage task to a minion who I like to believe has the math skills of Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Sling Blade. Over the last several hours, my house has had juice for bursts of time ranging from five to ten minutes, followed by no power for half an hour or so. I feel this is a bit of a mindfuck, because I want to believe each time it comes back on that the ordeal is over. When it shuts back down, it takes hope with it.
I have settled into a cycle of sleeping as much as I can. My bed offers me the only option for not freezing. Even with multiple blankets piled on me, my teeth still chatter sometimes. I curse every time I have to leave my safe spot to use the bathroom or scrounge together a snack. I am overdue for a grocery store run, which means supplies are low. Hopefully, this will be over soon.
As miserable as this new habit of trying to achieve unconsciousness in order to pass the time has become, I worry a great deal about someone else. Sawyer, my Siamese cat, is elderly and in poor health. The cold house affects him harder than my other two cats. Sawyer and I have established a pattern in which he paws the blankets so I can lift them up, allowing him to climb under and settle on top of me. Our shared body heat helps warm us both up, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who appreciates feeling less alone for a bit. As angry as I am that my own health and comfort are being affected by the loss of power, it pains me that my poor kitty crew has no idea why they’re freezing and Mom won’t turn on the heat.
As of late this afternoon, the rolling blackout pattern is power off for approximately twenty minutes, then on for a whopping two minutes. Am I supposed to channel Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched and crinkle my nose in order to heat an entire house and make a hot meal in 120 seconds? Checking in with friends and monitoring the news in quick bursts on my phone shows an inequitable split around town. Some of us are getting these piecemeal snippets of power, while huge pockets of the city are experiencing no interruptions in service.
As the last of the daylight sinks behind my backyard, I despair at the thought of another stretch of dark hours ahead of me. My financial situation does not allow for me to seek shelter in a hotel, nor do I know how easily one could be procured when so many in the city are in need of shelter. Even if I could find a room at the inn or a friend whose home has power, I cannot leave my cats behind. They need me to be the company to their misery.
As of 10:06 p.m., the power has gone off without any sign of returning. It is nine degrees outside and flakes still gently fall from the sky.
February 16 Tuesday
Satan has blessed my friend Stormy’s part of town with no lapse in electricity. She knows my predicament and drove through the ice and snow to see if she could get me some groceries and bring me a phone charger. Stormy found herself turned away at the grocery store due to their limited hours and hundreds of people already standing in line. Walmart, Target, and just about every restaurant shut down due to inclement weather or loss of power.
Stormy managed to snag a place in line at a Dollar General store, but their food aisles were mostly cleaned out. Still, I feel victorious to be the proud new owner of a jar of peanut butter and two boxes of Triscuits. I phoned in an order to Domino’s, but they were only offering carry-out service. When Stormy picked up my pizza, the cashier told her they had stopped taking any more orders. Demand for hot food proved so high that the store ran out of ingredients by mid-afternoon. The pizza crust was paper thin and the pie barely warm by the time it got here, but I loved that lunch so much that I want to marry it and have its black olive and mushroom babies.
I have lost hope that the crisis will be over soon. The local news reported that those of us without power should prepare to hunker down for the possibility of two or three more days sans electricity.
Pro Tip #1: I stuck on a Breathe Right strip. Not because I was stuffed up, but because it keeps part of my nose warm.
I drifted off under four blankets, only to be woken up by the sound of knocking on my door. I was overjoyed, thinking it was the electric company here to save me! I made my way to the front door, a frightful mess of bedhead, wrapped in a thick, grey fleece blanket. At my door stood not the utility cavalry but a man and woman who identified themselves as my neighbors from down the street. They had heard I lived alone and am having health issues and took it upon themselves to see if I needed anything. A Hispanic couple I guessed to be in their late 40’s, in my two years of living in this house, I had yet to meet them.
As I stood in the doorway, I shivered from the freezing temperature while we exchanged contact information and news of the storm. As much as I longed to end the conversation, close the door, and hightail it back to my blankie fortress, I also wanted to tell them that their arrival proved to be another gift of humanity delivered to me from an unexpected source. I thought I knew all the names of my angels shepherding me through a rough patch the past few months, but apparently, whatever you want to call it – fate, kindness, serendipity, or God/dess – had a couple of surprise guests for me.
After I bid my visitors adieu, I hurried back to settle into my two-inch-thick fleece cocoon. Lying in my bed, I fought the invitation to lose my mind. My neighbors confirmed the news that we may be days away from power. I had to fight not to lapse into a full-blown panic attack. I already have born inhumane living conditions for going on two days. How on earth could I survive several more? I knew that dwelling on that would likely jumpstart an anxiety attack. If I had one of those, things were going to get really ugly. I felt like I was in hell and it had, indeed, frozen over.
I forced myself to concentrate on the fact that others have it worse than I do. People rely on oxygen equipment and home dialysis machines. They try to soothe their small children who can’t comprehend what’s wrong. They lie in sick beds, their bodies unprepared to do battle with the cruel burden of a days-long blackout. Some of them have coronavirus. How can there be such cruelty to then take away their heat, light, and cooking resources? I told myself I was going to have to suck it up and appreciate that as bad as I have it, there are those who would trade places with me. I nodded off with that mantra in my head.
Pro Tip #2: If you shove your hands inside your underwear and rub them over your stomach and hips, your hands warm up quickly. Plus you can pretend the hands belong to singer Eric Church, should that particular idea blow your skirt up.
I awoke and began the arduous task of arranging blankets around myself so I can make the trip to the bathroom. If you want to know what that’s like, try rubbing a block of ice on the toilet seat for several minutes, then take a seat.
Then it was time to begin another round of Passing the Time In the Dark. The challenge of putting new batteries in my small camping lantern by candlelight proved frustrating, but I told myself I would complete this mundane task without bursting into another crying jag. I failed. A grown-ass woman now reduced to tears because I am so exhausted from groveling in the dark for basic human comforts.
Tears dried, lantern burning brightly now, and a mystery-scented votive burning on an old dessert plate, the night’s activities begin. Staying warm-ish and semi-fed are both huge challenges, but boredom is a formidable foe, especially after the sun goes down. I had placed a TV tray stand next to my bed and established a few choices for self-entertainment. I cycle through updating my blackout diary and using a deck of cards to play Solitaire and a version of Gin Rummy for one I invented (spoiler: I always win).
As those events got old quickly, I knew I had to get more creative. My plethora of partially empty spiral notebooks offered the opportunity to use pen and paper to occupy my time. So far, I have used one notebook to record these busy-work gems:
- A detailed budget for exactly how much money I would need for various vacations. These include a month in London, a train trip to California, and a theatre binge week in Manhattan.
- A list of all the main characters from Lost by memory (there are 27 before the end of season two).
- A list of the bestest TV shows ever
- A chart of the evening and overnight hours. I check off each hour I survive.
- A six-page summary of an imagined reboot of the TV show Northern Exposure detailing what each character is up to now and what event caused those who left the small Alaskan town to return
Sweet baby Jesus, the boredom messes with my mind. My hands ice up if they stay outside of a blanket for too long. I have some jigsaw puzzles but I don’t think I’d get far piecing one together while wearing the purple socks I sometimes put on my hands because I can’t find my fucking gloves. It occurs to me I could use my socks to put on a puppet show. If I had some banjo music, I could perform a dueling Grimace act. If I don’t have power by Friday, I’m sticking googly eyes on the socks, videoing the performance, and sending it to America’s Got Talent: The Lunatic Snowbound Edition.
I slept for about ninety minutes. Hunger got me out of bed to grab my next semblance of a meal. I’m here to tell you that lighting a match and running it back and forth under a leftover piece of pizza in hopes of having a half-ass warm meal does not work.
February 17 Wednesday
I got out the jar of peanut butter from the Dollar General bag, expecting to find my preferred brand of Jif. Instead, I found myself clutching some off-brand I’ve never heard of before. Dollar Store peanut butter. Oh, the humanity.
I put a new battery in the fancy desk clock inherited from my mom and put it on my nightstand. Now I can see the time without burning precious phone battery seconds. The clock makes a loud ticking noise, which in turn has sounded either soothing or ominous. How many ticks and tocks until this is all over?
I awoke and reluctantly sat up in bed. Another day in a frozen hell. I really don’t know how I can get through another one. I checked the news. The roads are so bad that everyone is urged to stay home. The traffic authorities issued a black ice warning and ordered all highways closed. The minuscule amount of grocery stores willing to open are only operating for limited hours. The lines outside wrap around the building. This weather event has my state harkening back to last spring when COVID-19 panic had taken over. Now people were again standing in line for hours to fight over bottled water, bread, and toilet paper.
I know Stormy won’t be able to get here today. I can find no discernible news about when the power will be back on. Satan offers video updates on Twitter, but they are almost an hour long and precious few of us can spare that much phone battery power. I choked down some cold pizza and room temperature Diet Dr. Pepper. How many more days and nights of this are ahead of me? How many people out there are already dead or dying?
I’ve been thinking about this. I know once this is all over and we become a city filled with heated homes and burning light bulbs, CPS and ERCOT (the other electric company bearing a lot of the blame for refusing to prep for this disaster) will be bombarded with questions. The excuses offered so far include how these are unprecedented weather conditions for Texas. The statewide system is not equipped to handle this. Don’t blame us! Blah blah blah. Right now I am so angry I could shriek to the rafters of my snow-covered roof.
The rolling blackouts proved to be a fallacy. I can buy the idea of power outages for hours or even a couple of days, but the timeline so many of us are now experiencing remains inexcusable. I haven’t had power in 56 hours. The temperature hovers in the 20’s with snow and ice on the ground. No justification for these living conditions for hundreds of thousands of people exists. Even though I expect to see CPS and ERCOT told to explain their enormous failure, I don’t hold out hope for change. After being subjected to four years of a Trumpian world, I am now trained to anticipate that powerful groups and people often get away with murder.
February 18 Thursday
For days now, my life primarily consists of huddling in bed under my mountain of blankets, nodding off for periods of time. When I wake up, I quickly check for news and try to pass more time while the energy company wonks play with the lives of millions of Texans. The water company has now issued a “boil your water before using it” order. I’ll get right on that as soon as you power up my stove, Einstein. I count myself lucky to have two cases of bottled water on the floor in my office. Thanks to the low temperature in the house, the water is actually chilly. I wish the peanut butter sandwich and banana I’m eating right now weren’t also cold, but I remind myself that cold food beats no food.
Pro Tip #3: After I ate, I put my COVID mask on. It keeps part of my face warm. I wish I had thought of this three days ago.
I don’t want to jinx it, but Satan turned the power back on and it has remained on for exactly an hour now. I emerged from my cloak of blankets. Dare I say I am actually only mildly chilly? I quickly heated a can of soup and relished each spoonful of hot Progresso minestrone goodness. I’m exhausted but too excited to sleep. Part of me is afraid to fall back asleep in case I wake up to a house darkened and frigid once again. I’m charging my phone, updating Facebook, and hoping for the best.
The electricity remains on. Satan’s website reports that all power is restored to my area of town. I survived it. I kept myself and my cats alive. That counts for something. The house is so toasty, I actually have to turn down the heat a bit. That thought causes me to smile as I prepare to extinguish the lamplight and attempt to sleep the rest of the salvaged
Addendum: The Texas Tribune reports that at least 111 people died in Texas due to the storm. That number was expected to grow. The non-partisan media organization reports that “The majority of people died from hypothermia, but health officials also attributed deaths to motor vehicle wrecks, carbon monoxide poisoning, medical equipment failure, exacerbation of chronic illness, lack of home oxygen, falls and fire.”