Surprise Winter

So, after we were visited by an arctic storm the weatherman actually said on television, “Folks it looks like that will be it for the winter weather. We’re going to have a very mild rest of the season with warm temperatures expected through to spring.” Winter having just begun, i thought their statement might have been a bit preemptive but hey, what do i know? They’re the experts right? They make a whole career out of studying these things.

Well, last week i looked at the forecast and saw that a couple of days had been forecasted to have highs in the low forties and lows in the thirties. I thought, “Okay, its going to be 31 at night for a couple of days. I need to turn the heat lamp on in the well house at night. I need to cover the plants.” Then as the days inched closer the forecast changed to a high of 39 degrees and a low of 31 degrees. At this point it started looking suss. I thought, if the high is not getting out of the thirties, that’s something right there. Something is coming thats going to suppress the temperature. That’s not just an overcast rainy day right there. Now, the forecast is still displaying a rain droplet at this point so i think its going to be above freezing during the day and maybe the rain that fell during the day will freeze at night, or maybe its all dried up by then. I start turning on the weather radio and i hear a bit of chatter about a winter storm coming. I scratch my head and flip back over to the weather app on my phone where it has literally two forecasted days with lows in the thirties: a tuesday and a wednesday. I scratched my head. A winter storm is not a two day event, especially when one of the two days has highs listed in the low forties. At this point its still saying its going to rain on both days but no mention of ice.

If you want to find a pair of mortal enemies go get a farmer and a weatherman and put them in the same room, and **** like this is why. I don’t have all those fancy gadgets and doo-dads. All i got is a radio, a cell phone app, and eventually the television at work in fredericksburg. Now, the television at work in fredericksburg told the truth. Give credit where credit is due, i always say. They had a rather dramatic cgi of what “could” happen made up and the super excitable weatherman on screen ran from imaginary cgi icicles falling from a radio tower, trees coming down, and a jackknifing semi. I thought it was a bit much but i have to hand it to them, at least they tried to prepare people. The guy on screen was waving his hands around wildly shouting, “People could die! People could die folks! Exercise extreme caution when dealing with this kind of weather.” At that point the first day with lows in the thirties was supposed to arrive the following morning. I checked my weather app. It was still saying the high was 39 and the low was 31. The following day the high would be 42 and the low 31. I shrugged. I did not prepare for this weather because the forecasted temperatures in my area did not spell out “hard freeze” despite what the tv in fredericksburg said. I turned on the heat lamp and covered the plants. That was about all i did. I didn’t expect the pipes to freeze so i didn’t collect water and i didn’t collect drinking water for the chickens because i didn’t expect they would need to come in the house. Around 2 pm that day they changed the forecast again. This time they said the high would be 36 on the first day with a low of 31 and during the second day the high would be 41 with a low of 31.

The night before the weather arrived i looked at the forecast and saw that the precipitation falling was now going to be falling during the hours that were forecasted to be 32 and 31 degrees. It would likely be ice slush. However, the temperature would rise to 33, 34, 35, and finally 36 around 3 pm. If i could make it to fredericksburg before the ground got cool enough for the ice to really stick i just had to wait until 3 pm to drive back. This was the plan for tuesday because wednesday was forecasted to be worse during the first half of the day. The weathermen were now saying that on wednesday the low would be 29 during the wee hours of the morning and in the afternoon the high would be 41. The problem….hours of snowflake icon listed for wednesday morning. The wintery mix would accumulate on the now cold asphalt for hours before it would begin burning off. Recognizing that wednesday would be worse i decided to go to work tuesday knowing i could only make up one weekday on saturday. My coworkers had the same thought. We all recognized wednesday would be worse and tried to come in on tuesday. The nurses and cnas either slept at the nursing homes or booked a hotel. This was a common practice during bad weather to make sure there was someone to care for the patients but i never do it because im single and have animals. All these people had a husband at home who was holding down the fort. For me, the one working and holding down the fort is the same person so i have to go back and forth. If i dont return home the animals suffer or die without water and protection. So, tuesday morning before dawn i go outside and see that where im at the ice is accumulating on the grass but not the road. The road is wet. I still believe at this point that the high is 36 so all im thinking about is making it to fredericksburg, not coming back. I get the animals ready and get myself ready and then i go to load the car. Well its been sleeting all night so the doors and windows are cemented shut and the car is coated in ice. I go inside and get some slightly warm water from the faucet in a pasta pot. I’d used all the warm water for my bath and so i had to put it on the stove for a few seconds to get the chill out of it. Then i splash the water on the outside of the car on the drivers side and free the door and window. Now i open the driver’s side door, start the car, and put on the defroster on level 3 heat and leave the window half way rolled down so if it auto locks im not locked out of the car with the only key inside. As the windshield defrosts i note the side mirrors and back window are caked in ice and not usable. I wipe the lens of the back up camera and shrug about the mirrors. If i pour water on they’ll be clear for a few minutes and then caked once again so what’s the point?

I loaded the car and said goodbye to the dogs. I broke the ice in the chicken water up with a spent felt pen and checked that the heat lamp in the well house was still on. Then i set out for fredericksburg in the car. The drive was fine in center point. All i had to worry about was making sure the precip didn’t stick to the windshield with the defroster on full blast and the heat on level 2 at this point. When i drove through comfort it wasn’t even sleeting. It was raining. The streets were wet. However, i knew the worst of the weather was not yet to be seen. The problem would be going up in those hills between comfort and fredericksburg. It was a higher elevation and the temperatures would be cooler there. It was also not part of a city so i didn’t expect to see the city vehicles dumping gravel in those hills (but thank God both comfort and fredericksburg claimed the hills as part of their territory and dumped a lot of gravel there despite it not being technically within the city boundaries for either place). When i passed comfort and climbed up into the hills i noted that the road was covered in ice. I did not know this at the time but as poorly as my heavy heavy car does on water, the tires do fairly well on ice (with gravel in it). Many cars were driving forty miles an hour on the ice in a 75 mph zone. I was passing on the left and trying to stay at 60 or 70 the whole way…50 around dead man’s curve, and the reason for that was visibility. I now had the heat on level 3 with the defroster on full blast as it continued to rain ice steadily. I was more afraid of the now non functional wipers caked in ice worsening and the occasional times when i was up at the top of a hill and the water on the windshield froze rather than wiped, than i was afraid of flying off the road coming around the twists and turns in the hills. The defroster was defrosting the windshield but not the wipers and i didn’t have warm water with me. The wipers were becoming so caked with ice they were scraping the windshield but just smearing it rather than getting rid of it. I threw the wipers on at hyper speed and some of the ice came off. I decided to keep them going at hyperspeed even if it destroyed them and made an awful noise because the precip that would normally lubricate them as they slid across the glass was not wet. I had my first really scary encounter in the darkness at 5 am when a semi came around a turn and drifted a bit from his lane towards the edge of the middle dividing line. It did not come into my lane as it passed but i could tell it was much closer to my car than it meant to be. It was right on the line of the lane and the force as it passed by pushed wind against my car quickly. It was just all together too close. I realized i had been rather stupid because it wasnt whether i could maintain control of my vehicle but whether the trucks that used these roads could maintain control of their loads in these conditions that i should have been worried about. Over half way there, it was too late to turn back now. Besides, i had to go if i planned to call in wednesday. Then about five minutes after passing the truck i went up a tall hill and all the moisture on my windshield instantly froze. The wiper blade smeared it across the windshield and the effect was similar to those frosted glass windows in remodeled bathrooms. I couldnt see anything. My stomach dropped open and my heart skipped a beat. I put my hazards on and rolled down the drivers side window. Oh it was cold! I kept my head sticking out of the drivers side window to see where i was going to pull over in the next flat grassy area near the highway. I kept my hazards on hoping no one would skid into me. I quickly got out and scraped the windshield. I got back in and put the windshield wipers back on full blast and started out again.

I made it to fredericksburg which wasn’t quite as bad as the hills directly before it. It was still icy over there though. I parked and took a 10 minute nap, then entered the building and saw my two patients. I borrowed a plastic serving bowl from the mock kitchen in the rehab gym at the first building, filled it with room temperature water, and used it to uncement the windshield wipers so i could drive over to building number two and see patients there. As i stepped out of the car at building number 2, the sky now gray instead of black, my foot nesrly slipped and i realized the curb and sidewalks were now caked with smooth ice. This was not good. It was accumulating.

As i entered the building someone said to one of the nurses, “yeah they changed the forecast. Its never going to get above freezing today. Did you see?” At this point my mind began spinning. I opened the app on my phone. Sure enough, day of, they had changed the high from 36 to 32. At 4 am the high was still 36 and now at 7 am they changed their minds and were listing it at 32. I looked out the window, panicking internally. All that had accumulated already would stick all day and all night, and everything to come would just pile on top of it. I stared at my sheet of patients to see. Instinct told me to cross some off the list so i handed a patient a theraband and had her do resistive exercises while she waited at the table for breakfast. After her, i brought somebody else 3 lb dumbbells and instructed her in one exercise after another at the breakfast table. I was there but not focused. She kept saying, “okay, are you going to give me the next one or what?” But i was distracted by the reality unfolding in my head. My boss was texting me “go when you need to go” and my thought was, don’t say that or i’d have gone 30 minutes ago. None of the patients would be seen. For i needed to go pronto if i had any hopes of making it home. I wasnt worried about whether the roads were drivable. I knew myself. I knew even if it meant driving on the grass beside the road at 5 mph for 8 hours i’d make my way home. What i was worried about was those hills. I knew at some point the authorities would start closing roads, and they’d start with those hills in between fredericksburg and comfort. My coworker and i discussed alternative routes but even going through kerrville meant traveling through hills and the hills were always colder and icier than the valleys and flat parts. The quickest way home was through comfort but if they did close that road, by the time i made my way towards kerrville they’d probably be getting ready to close that road as well. I went through phases of acceptance. First i told my boss i wasnt going to see the covid positive patients that were doing poorly with their symptoms because they were not up to participation anyways, they were miserable, and i needed to go so i’d just let them rest. My boss suggested i just see the nursing home patients and leave the retirement home patients be, as this was a weather emergency and in light of the changed forecast i should go. I agreed. Then when my coworker showed up he said, “oh wow, you made it. My truck was sliding all over the road. I didn’t know if you’d be here.” I told him about the drive in and we both agreed the reason we’d showed up was so we could call in wednesday because it was going to be worse. He looked at me with an earnest expression on his face and said, “You gotta get out of here. You gotta go now if you want to make it back.” I said, “i know but i can’t.” He said, “why cant you? I said, “i have to see all these patients first.” Even with the covid positive patients and retirement home patients crossed out i still had a long list of people to see. I said, “if im 100 percent productive i can leave at 10:54 and its supposed to start precipitating really bad again at 11:00. He shook his head, “it’s precipitating now.” I said, “i know.” He then showed me a text that came in on his phone. It was our boss. His car had slid off the road. He was going to work on going home. He wasnt coming in today or tomorrow. He gave us permission to drop what we were doing and go home. We could come in saturday. Our lives were more important than work and the patients would be okay without therapy for a day. I loved him for that text. He was a good boss. With the permission of both my coworker and my boss i decided to stop treating patients, type up my documentation, and go. I worked for 3 hours total, saw 5 patients, wrote notes, and then started to head out. I gathered my things and filled the plastic serving bowl with water again. My coworker said, “oh wow, you’re really doing this huh? You’re gonna go?” I said, “yeah, im gonna make a run for home before any more ice accumulates.” He said, “how will i know if you made it?” I said, “well it takes me 40 to 50 minutes at normal speed….if i go slower…if you havent heard from me in 3 hours i probably died.” I laughed a bit but his face was serious. I was trying to take the anxiety out of something i was worried about and joke a bit but he said, “well dont do that we need you here so don’t die.” He looked genuinely concerned and someone i hadn’t always gotten along with swimmingly was being nice to me so i asked if he wanted me to include him in the text i intended to send both of our bosses when i made it home, telling them i’d arrived. He said yes so i made a mental note to add him to that group text. He asked if i wanted him to carry anything out to the car. I’d brought anything glass or hand soap in so that it didnt freeze in the car. I told him i was fine, i got it in the building and i could get it out. I noted that i probably had an issue accepting help from others but that was a problem for another day.

I threw the water over the windshield wipers, freeing them from where they were cemented. I almost slipped on the curb twice trying to load and get into the car. Everything was covered in ice at this point; the roads, the sidewalks, the curbs, the grass. It was all solid smooth ice and it continued to rain down steadily. I turned the heat on level 3 and removed my jackets as it was about to be uncomfortably hot in the car. I turned the defroster on and set the windshield wipers to hyper speed. They made an awful noise but it kept the ice from sticking.

My coworker told me to just drive slow. Something in my brain said that was not a good idea. I booked it 75 mph through those hills on the icy roads all the way to comfort, white knuckling the steering wheel and thanking God that i could. For whatever reason the tires did horribly on water but really good on ice. I didn’t slide once. I attribute that to God and the gravel trucks, because it looked like i had driven into a different world. I had to do a double take and make sure i hadn’t teleported to Norway. The fields were white. There was no snow. It was all ice. The fields and hills were white. The road was white. The sky was a weird heavy gray that seemed to block out more of the light than it should. The cedars and oaks all resembled weeping willows. Every branch and every blade of grass was encased in a thick tube of ice and the trees were bowing towards the ground in a dramatic and forlorn way. I wasn’t sure where i was anymore. I may as well have been on a different planet. Everything was white. You couldn’t even see a hint of the tan or green or brown beneath it. It was all just ice and sky.

This is the last picture i took in fredericksburg. I did not photograph driving through the hills because i felt driving with both hands was the way to go on ice and i was racing a road closure so i didnt fancy stopping.

Right before i made it to comfort i saw a procession of city vehicles and cop cars driving in the opposite direction. I remember i got angry because they kicked a rock up into my windshield and i was pissed about it. When i made it to comfort i had time to breathe all of a sudden. I had time to stop and think. In comfort it was still just raining. It was 33 degrees. No ice. People stopped to admire my car, caked with ice, and asked where i had driven from. I gave them news of the weather in the hills and in fredericksburg.

I stopped at Lowe’s market in comfort to pick up some groceries, anticipating i wouldn’t be making it to red barn on wednesday. I picked up a few produce items for 25 dollars. It wasnt as much as i could have gotten for 22 dollars at red barn but it was something and i felt lucky to have it. For financial reasons i did not pick up water. We would use what we had and filter more when the weather passed. The cashier took one look at my car and asked where i’d come from. I told her fredericksburg. Her eyes went all wide and she said, “Honey you got so lucky. They’re just about to close that road from comfort to fredericksburg. You JUST made it.” Honestly it was the closest i had ever in my life cut it to a road closure. According to the cashier, if i had driven slowly i wouldnt have made it back before they put up the barricade. I had no desire to live that dangerously again. I did what i thought i had to do to get back in time to save my dogs and my chickens. The key was with me. There was a spare hidden on my property somewhere but i couldnt convince anyone to drive in the weather to get to it, even from down the street. I had to get back to water and potty them and put the chickens up. I knew that. That’s why i did what i did. But had i lost traction driving 75 mph on the ice it would have been a much worse than losing traction driving 20 mph on the ice. I could have gone off the edge of one of the hills or careened into a tree. So i had had enough of this high anxiety decision making and was not keen to put myself in another such situation anytime soon. I learned that day there’s a difference between what you physically can do and what you’re going to have an opportunity to do. I should have worried more about road closures than whether i could find a way to make it to work.

There was rain in comfort and sleet in center point but the norway looking landscape was behind me towards fredericksburg. It was way smoother sailing past comfort and i knew i was out of the woods. I texted my bosses and coworker when i arrived home and gave them the report of conditions in towns i had driven through on the way back. I called in wednesday. Wednesday brought a lot of ice. It precipitated for hours. Now, i was still angry at the weathermen that changed their minds morning of, about the low and the high on tuesday. That was not cool. On wednesday the weathermen decided to admit that two days was not quite enough time for an ice storm to blow through so this thing was going to extend through thursday evening as well. Now, if they had said that in the first place i would have taken the situation seriously and prepared. Who ever heard of a two day ice storm? Oh surprise, its actually going to be 3 or maybe 4 days…depending on what town you’re in. Tuesday night i plugged the second lamp in at the well house and their low of 31 turned to 28. I just have absolutely zero respect for weathermen at this moment. How do you announce night of, hours before it happens, that you’ve changed your mind from 31 to 28? It was too late to filter any more water so i just used reserves i already had in storage jugs in the house. I was happy that i was able to be with the dogs and chickens. If the road had closed before i left, I would have walked from fredericksburg to comfort and then hitchhiked the rest of the way before i accepted they would just die of dehydration or cold without me. It would have taken me all day and i might have gotten hit by sliding cars or trucks, but i would have done it.

I broke the chicken water up every few hours. I had wondered if they would be smart enough to peck it in my absence and the answer was no. When i arrived home they were all standing in front of it looking at me, waiting for me to make it liquid again. Chickens. I gave the dogs water and put them in the house all day where it was warm and they had heat. I laid on the floor and held them in a cuddle as they slept and i browsed the internet, realizing 18 wheelers had jackknifed, highways had been shut down, and in boerne a cop was taken to the ER after a car careened into his patrol vehicle and smashed it.

The following photos are courtesy of the boerne police department, the kerrville police department, the comfort police department, the kerrville volunteer fire fighters, the center point volunteer fire fighters, and the mountain home volunteer fire fighters.

The alternative highway i was going to use if they closed my first choice before i could make it through…
One of the two bridges on the way home

I was relieved to be home. After that drive, when thursday morning came and the hills were still frozen, i expressed that i wouldn’t leave until they cleared those hills. The road block was removed but they were still listed as icy and represented with a gray line on the map. My boss said he was debating about whether to try to drive in after lunch. At 12:00 pm everything was pretty much melted where i was but the hills were still frozen. My boss told me to give it another day to thaw and come in friday. I agreed. Hours earlier i had noted the dogs cowering by the back of the house and realized they were afraid of the noise of huge icicles falling from the edge of the roof and smashing on the ground or the window unit. I grabbed a shovel and a bucket and went out to kill two birds with one stone. I batted the icicles from where they hung with the shovel and then gathered them from the ground to put them in the bucket. I filled the bucket 1/3 of the way full of icicles. This would be water for the chickens when it melted and it would mean the dogs could stop cowering in the back of the house.

When the temperature hit 41 i let the dogs out and filtered some more well water. It would freeze again overnight but the weather was done precipitating. And i was done with weathermen.

When the electric company had fixed our small outages in the hill country they headed to central texas to help them. Apparently the big cities got hit worse than the hill country this time. Ice accumulation had downed trees all over power lines. One of my relatives in austin had been without power for two days with no estimated end in sight. I hoped our crew could help get things moving.

The following photos are courtesy of the Kerr County electric company KPUB.

Next time there’s an ice storm coming just print the words “ice storm” on the weather app. That’s all you have to do. I’ll gather everything else from there. Even if you get the temps and duration of days way off. I should have listened to the crazy man interacting with the cgi’s of giant icicles and semi trucks in fredericksburg. At least they were properly warned.

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