The Arctic Storm

About a week before the storm’s arrival…it was getting into the thirties at night so the car would be iced in the mornings…an ominous foreshadowing of what was to come.

I had 10 full days notice that an arctic storm was coming and honestly thats the only reason we fared as well as we did through this one. I was covering a full time therapist’s caseload while she was out of the country visiting family for Christmas. It was a 50 minute drive there, a 50 minute drive back, and 8 to 8.5 hr shifts. Cashew, my australian shepherd, was going stir crazy in the house and acting out in all sorts of intolerable ways, including barking non-stop between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am. I was having to stop and take a nap in the middle of making supper, making breakfast, driving to and from work, and on lunch break. I was trying my best to hide how much of an issue my chronic fatigue was presenting in taking on a full-time caseload for two weeks. I needed the money to cover the home owners insurance in january. I also needed money for two dental visits in 2023 and to pay the fee to keep my blog running for one more year. So i tried my best to appear as if i was coping fine which meant hiding a lot of naps and pacing to stay awake in the patient rooms when it was nearing lunch time. I knew the storm was coming so i started doing little things each night after work.

The first thing to do was pull everything out of the shed and liberate the stock tank from the back, where’d i’d left it at the end of last winter. i put new wood shavings in it, grabbed the chick feeder and the water dish, and dragged it across the yard from the shed to the house.

Once it was inside the house i collected the wood framed crosshatched wire panels and zip tied them together to make a lid for the stock tank. I collected heavy cooking lids and pans, books, and boards of wood to use along with the lawn mower batteries to weight the lid down so the chickens couldnt become loose in the house. I filled the chick feeder with chicken feed and set the water basin flat on top of the shavings. It was ready for whenever the chickens needed to come inside. This was the largest task that had to be done in preparation for an arctic storm but far from the last.

The next thing that had to be readied was the well house. The temperature was forecasting 11 or 12 degrees on the coldest night followed by over 24 hours of below freezing temperatures. The well house was not meant to withstand prolonged cold, just nightly dips below 32. The forecast for my town referred to the flat part down near the river…the part closest to the main street. It could be anywhere from 2 to 9 degrees cooler than the river in the hills, where i was located, at a higher elevation. One heat lamp wouldnt do. I made sure the heat lamp screwed into the wall socket still worked, took the heat lamp out of the holder i had placed on the floor and screwed in a brand new one i had sitting in the house. If heavy winter weather was coming i always made sure that one of the two heat lamps in the well house was brand new. If the other burned out at some point during the weather, at least one would be on for sure. They do have a lifespan but theres no way to accurately guess when it will end. I made sure the outlet still worked and played around with it a bit to see what distance the floor heat lamp should be from the pump to keep it from freezing but not warm it so much that its hot to the touch. I made sure the cord wasnt touching anything conductive. Then i unplugged it. I went to the shed and grabbed an old dog towel. I used it to wrap the pipes where the pvc pipes met the metal above ground part of the pump. It was a messy and kind of slap dash job for the single digit temps i expected but it was all i could muster at the time. I was running on fumes. I just knew i needed to do it and keep doing it, because i needed the money and the patients had to be seen. My boss was covering his and my patients while i covered the cota out for holiday vacation’s patients. If i threw in the towel all three loads of patients would belong to my boss. I couldn’t let that happen. So the secret napping and maddening fatigue had to continue.

The storm was supposed to arrive on a thursday at 5 or 6 pm. On wednesday night i duct taped blankets around all the plants and fruit and nut trees. 40 mph gusts of wind were expected for a solid 6 hour stretch. That’s why i used duct tape. I duct taped the trees good but unfortunately the plants would not fare well with or without a covering. Not in single digit temps. i have hope for the trees but those plants are D E A D…dead. I watered them really good on wednesday night but my main downfall with the plants was that i was 50 minutes away during the only hours of the day where it got above freezing for four solid days. They needed watered again but by the time i got home each day it was in the teens or twenties.

Now there were a lot of little things that had to happen besides the big 3. I filled the igloo cooler on wheels with water from the faucet, for bathing and tooth brushing. It was salt water. I put that in the back of the house. I dug out the down comforter and put that in the back of the house. It smelled like the shed so i promised myself i’d only use it if the power went out and the dogs and i needed it for survival, but that down comforter is more important than any other prep if the power company does rolling blackouts where they cut it off for four hours and turn it on for thirty minutes. (They promised they fixed this issue…the issue of having more customers than energy producing measures, but couldnt detail a single thing they’d done to render the issue irrelevant. And of course they did go back on their word and do blackouts again during the storm…it was just in surrounding towns this time and not including my property). The problem was that because employees were off for christmas there was no one to take calls at the electric company help desk number. So, if you were away from home you couldn’t call and ask if your address was one of the ones affected by the outages they had going at the time. I knew they’d likely be gone for Christmas and so i asked my neighbor ahead of time if she’d be home on the coldest day and asked her to call or text me if at any time her power went out. If hers was out mine would be out and i’d race back to flip the switch in the box on the pole outside to cut power to the well house. If there was no power the well house pipes would crack but there was a difference between crack and bust. If the pump suddenly received power after having it cut for four hours it would try to draw up water from 250 feet in the ground and that water would come up to hit ice which it would press against cracking pipes and then things would be busted. Thats how i ended up with a geyser in the yard last time. I learned. If the well house loses power, turn it off. You dont want anything trying to run until after the damage is repaired. The wealthy readied their generators but people like me cant afford them, so, we pray the electricity stays on. If it were in the twenties i’d throw the chickens in there and they’d generate enough heat to keep the pipes warm in that small space in the event of an outage but at single digits it’d just kill the chickens along with the pipes. They had to be in the house.

I dragged the dog and chicken food bags into the house because at single digits i wasnt walking to the shed to get them daily and if there did end up being ice i’d never get the shed door open. I filled the 3 gallon containers with filtered drinking water (from the well) for myself and the dogs and dragged those containers into the house. I filled a bathroom trash can from dollar general that i used for the chickens with chicken drinking water (a mix of rain and filtered well water). I put that on the floor in the kitchen. It would need to be used to fill the water basin for the chickens. I needed a lot as i remembered they had a tendency to stand in the dish and flip it more than they drank it. I googled how long chickens could survive without water. Hurting at 24 hours. Dying at 48 hours. Good, they could make it 10 while i was at work. I brought an extra towel and a couple wash cloths in from the shed. This was so i could use them to bathe my underarms with the water in the igloo cooler when the pipes froze. The ones under the house were made of pex which would expand and contract around ice. I just had to worry about the ones inside the well house. Those were metal and pvc. I made sure the bungee cord for the dog run was inside the house as well as the shovel and the windshield scraper. Fat chance of getting the ice scraped from the window and door if the scraper was inside the car when the ice formed. I grabbed the winter toilet bucket from the shed. It was an orange home depot bucket with a lid and it was filled with sawdust. I placed it in the bathroom. When the pipes froze i put urine and feces in the bucket and toilet paper in a trash bag. Sure beats an outhouse. The bucket is indoors where the heat is. A coworker at the facility i was helping at for two weeks had an argument that my pipes wouldnt freeze if i dripped the faucet. I told him they would still freeze as my house was on pier and beam, there was no foundation, and the pex went into the house through the floor which meant a thin sheet of tin skirting separated the pex from whatever temperature existed outside. He told me i was wrong. Tired of hearing all week how i didnt know what i was doing with my own property and he knew how to do everything better from distilling my water instead of using clearly filter to digging a well straight to the aquifer regardless of expense vs the 250 ft well in a pocket of water that refilled quickly when i drained it but would not allow me to ask to pump up an excessive amount of water steadily for hours without producing air instead, to owning an american made car instead of a foreign one i’ve already paid off, to prove a point i dripped my faucets. They froze. I then turned them off, not wanting to create a stressor on the system where it tried to pump up all the water i was asking for two days ago when the ice finally began to thaw a bit. Finally i cooked a bunch of food in case the power went out. If the power went out everything would be a refrigerator…the car…the house…take your pick. However, there would be no cooking anything without a fire place or a stove/oven. So i precooked it all.

Even though it wasnt supposed to be freezing until 6 pm on Thursday evening and i expected to be home around 5, even though the chickens were supposed to be cold hardy to 17 degrees, something told me to put them in a day early, in case the storm arrived faster than they thought it would. If it did, i’d be fifty minutes away and powerless to prepare anything. I captured the 3 friendliest chickens as soon as i came home on wednesday evening. I placed them in the stock tank one by one and filled their water dish. I didnt catch the other three until dark. When they went in to roost i pounced on them and carried them inside one by one. Once i got all 6 chickens in the stock tank i could quit worrying about how hard it was going to be to catch them by hand in a pen i only had access to the front half of and start worrying about whether they were going to figure out they could lift the lid off the stock tank if they all flew upwards at once. Their inability to work in unison sort of saved me here, and probably the loads of prayers i was sending up to keep them safely and securely inside the stock tank and not loose around my house shitting everywhere and trying to eat the electric cord “snakes”. I took in their water dispenser and stored it in my shower. It was too big for the stock tank but i didnt want it cracking when the water in it froze outside and i wouldnt waste the water. On wednesday night and thursday morning they were having none of the stock tank. They wanted out and were not going to take this captivity thing lying down. However, when that wretched howling wind started up on thursday morning and continued all through friday as if we were living in Canada or Alaska or something and a full day of blizzard type wind was a thing that happened rather than a few gusty hours…those chickens changed their tune. They all nestled down into the wood shavings and sat quietly with their beaks tucked in their feathers. No one made a peep. The dogs were behaving similarly. The australian shepherd was the worst of the two but both were being rowdy and super vocal wednesday night and thursday morning before dawn. Once that howling wind started they were pretty quiet and no one asked to go outside. They were afraid of the creaking walls and battered windows. They stayed away from the walls and tried to become one with my skin as i sat in the rocking chair. I kept telling them to get off of me because anywhere i sat or walked there was a dog clinging to me, literally. Cashew put a paw around my leg like she was holding me and tried to make her head one with my jeans. I kept saying, “you’re fine. There’s water in your bowl, food for you in the house, the heat is keeping it at 70, and the electricity is on. Nothing to worry about. Lay down and chew your santa (cashew’s favorite crinkle toy…she likes to chew his beard).”

The storm was set to arrive at 6 pm on thursday evening. At 5 am on thursday morning i left the property with both heat lamps on in the well house, all the plants and spigots wrapped, and the dogs and chickens in the house along with a stock of various types of water. At 9:45 on thursday morning the storm arrived. The blue sky with rays of sun and not a cloud in sight disappeared as a wall of gray descended upon us like a swift and endless blanket. This foggy type of mist obstructed one’s view of everything. I wondered how it could hang with the winds that were hitting us but hang it did. The wind tore through the hill country like an angry banshee, screaming and howling as it whipped between the buildings and rattled windows. I had to walk between buildings as the storm was announcing its arrival as it was time to conduct the twice weekly exercise group at the retirement home across from the nursing home. I yelled to a colleague as i was holding my hoodie on my head and clinging to the exercise equipment, “i think it’s here!” To my surprise my colleague agreed with me, “yep, no the weathermen were definitely wrong on this one. This thing’s not coming this evening. It’s here now.” As i sat in the rearranged dining hall conducting the exercise group with my director i tried to speak all the instructions to give her voice a rest. I knew she was feeling under the weather. I loaded her up with vitamin c and colloidal silver and it seemed to give her immune system the boost she needed because whatever she was fighting didnt take hold over the next week. I looked out the windows. On one side of the building was pale blue sky and on the other side was a dismal gray scene. Some of the patients noticed as well. My director had us all pray at the end of the exercise group for everyone to stay well, for everyone’s electricity to stay on, pipes not to freeze, and for people like me who lived remotely to stay safe and warm and not have any trouble on the drive in. The wind rattled the windows as we prayed. It seemed we were all trying to carry on with life as if there were not an arctic monster rampaging about stomping its feet and throwing an epic tantrum outside. It was supposed to be 32 degrees at 6 pm thursday evening. When i made it home at 4 pm it was already 23 degrees. They were wrong. It came way early, and everyone who does not suffer from major anxiety and do everything early like me was caught with their pants down. By the time many of my patients children made it to their parents properties to wrap pipes and cover plants it was already in the low twenties. The outdoor thermometer was slapping the house violently when i arrived home and jumped out the car so i took it down. I threw it into the house and went to check the plants and trees. Everything was still duct taped and the blankets were on. At 23 i didnt guess i was watering anything. I left the well house and the box on the pole unlocked in case a water geyser required a neighbor access it to turn it off in my absence. I made sure the lights were on by peeking through a crack in the tin and assessing that there was still red light inside. I then thought of something. There was a hole in the back of the well house where a drainage pipe fed through to the outside. It was bigger than the tube. At single digits it would undo the work of the heat lamps. I ran to the car and grabbed the foil sheet that had wrapped my spoon in my lunch bag. I crumpled it into a little circular mound and pushed it up against the hole around the tube. I ran to the house and grabbed the duct tape. The wind chill was later reported to be -5 degrees that night. As i ran about the yard my legs went immediately numb in my thin scrub pants and i couldnt feel my fingers. I could see that they were holding a roll of duct tape but they were operating clumsily as if i was a toddler without fine motor control and i couldn’t govern them to do what i needed them to do. I tore frantically again and again at the duct tape and mashed it in place in various directions over the mound of foil i had placed against the hole in the back of the well house that the drainage tube was protruding from. It looked like a mess but the duct tape was sticking and the mound of foil was pressed up against the opening. When the duct tape was fraying with long random strings hanging from the roll and attaching themselves to my clothing i swiped at my face trying to figure out if my nose was running or just cold. I grabbed the tape and ran towards the house. I climbed the stairs, opened the door, and ducked inside. It was very cold and very windy outside. But, the dogs had to be pottied and the car still had to be unloaded. I took the dogs out and flung the dog run door open. I said, “hurry hurry hurry, go potty!” But my voice was kind of lost in the wind. The dogs squinted their eyes as they squatted against the wind, doing their business. I unloaded the car. when i was finished i retrieved the dogs and we all ran inside the house. I gave the dogs their food and water. I gave the chickens their food and water. Then i drank water and warmed up my food. We sat and listened to the howling wind as i eyed the accordion blind on either side of the window unit and realized that little engine that could was the only thing keeping this little box warm when outside it was already in the teens and dropping steadily. The window unit did its job and it stayed a cozy 70 degrees in the tiny house as outside those thin walls it dropped to 9 degrees. What a window unit is all i have to say. At 1 am i dutifully rose and prepared for work even though every molecule in my body wanted to stay and look after my homestead. I knew my neighbor would text or call if the power went out.

Somebody at work forgot to turn the fountain off. It made an ice sculpture and then died.
It took multiple days of above freezing weather to melt the ice sculpture in the end.
This was the night it was 9 degrees outside. Thankfully the electricity stayed on in my town the whole time. Although on friday morning i remember seeing so many stars driving into work. I knew the power was out in kerrville because there was no light pollution coming from its direction. It was not due to ice, just not enough supply to meet demand. Texas is a happening place. It made me nervous to see the sky so black. I wondered if we were next. I learned upon arrival they were doing blackouts in fredericksburg as well. I knew my neighbor didnt wake till 8 or 9 and until i heard from her i worried terribly that the power may be out to the animals and to the well house. Finally my neighbor texted “it’s on. All good over here.” And i breathed a sigh of relief. I think i jumped up from my chair and shouted, “yes! The power is on!” I informed my coworker that he could resume his usual joshing now as i wasnt quite as off as i was while i was worried about my property.
The chickens laid two eggs while they were in the house. Its just the one hen that is laying right now coming out of their ill timed winter molt.
This was after i came back from fredericksburg on saturday. I drove over to my boss’ house to get a shower and wash my hair before Christmas. I felt clean and it was 36 degrees so i was a bit more relaxed about the animals, plants, and pipes. A couple more days and then we’d be in the clear and have water again.

Sunday right before noon i released the chickens outside into their pen again, placed their water back in it, and let the dogs out to run for an hour. The storm was over. All the plants died. The trees bent rather than snapped when i tested them so maybe they’ve survived but all the plants are dead. The important thing is the pipes and the well are fine.

The dogs and the chickens were happy to be outside in the sun.

41 degrees felt super warm. I was walking around in a t-shirt. It was practically summer compared to a -5 degree wind chill. A sunny windless day and a 42 degree high. I put the stock tank back in the shed, rearranged the furniture, put the dogs in the house, and drove to Cindy’s house to attend Christmas.

Well that was a doozy. As i type this its 74 degrees outside. That’s Texas for ya.

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  1. Could you install a “low point drain valve” so that when the power to the pump is off, the valve can be opened to drain the water from the pipes?

    1. I’m not sure. Most of what i know about the well pump and the pex under the house is simply from having to learn it when it all went wrong and had to be put back together during icepocalypse or as some around here call it “snowmageddon”. I think if the task were to involve adding or altering something it should probably include someone a bit more skilled and knowledgeable than me. I forgot about the hole for the drain pipe initially and then i remembered the guy from the water softener company making me choose a spot to place it where i didnt care if grass wouldnt grow. He explained that the pipe would discharge water around once a week but the water would be salt water and so wherever i put it nothing would grow, ever. I wasnt happy about that. I figured salting the soil wasnt probably a great idea if i ever wanted to grow something but its a very small patch where the grass doesnt grow and the grasshoppers soon made it clear that i wasnt going to grow anything anyway.

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