Chilled to the Bone

Frozen evergreens in Bavaria

The temperature here is approaching record lows for the day and the media is stirring up the panic about freezing pipes and school closings and traffic snarls. Makes one miss the days when the weather report said “it’s going to snow tomorrow and temps will stay below freezing throughout the week. When we come back from the break, Joe Smith will have the latest sports scores.” Instead, we get sensationalized reports designed to evoke fear. Ah the good old days. It doesn’t help matters when the power company does rolling blackouts because they say the power drain is too great (which is a complete fabrication since Texas has the most robust power grid in the country).

I have lived in Houston since 1977 (aside from 9 years in the army and 6 years in Arkansas) and I have seen all kinds of weather from hot to hotter. I have always said that Houston has a 9-month summer, a 2-month spring, a 3-week autumn and a 5-day winter. Even in that 5-day winter, it has gotten bitter cold at times; there has even been snowfall. Usually once every seven years, about a half-inch of snow might accumulate—not enough for a snowman, but good enough for a short snowball fight.

Perhaps that is why I love travelling where snow falls. Last month, I spent four days in Philadelphia where I got to enjoy snow and, a few years ago, I was in Chicago for the first snowfall of the season and on occasion, I can manage to be in Little Rock when its annual snow fall happens. This is not to say I can’t handle the heat, quite the contrary, I have been a Houstonian long enough to acclimate to almost any climate. I went to Las Vegas in the heat of July (and it’s a dry heat that will suck the moisture out of you real quick) and I have been buried in the snow in sub-zero temperatures in Germany.

When I was in the army, I was a medic in an infantry battalion and my job was to provide medical coverage for training exercises. One time I was covering a night fire exercise in my two-and-a-half-ton (deuce-n-half) truck after installing a cab heater. Only medical trucks got to have cab heaters so our IV fluids (and our butts) wouldn’t freeze. It was scheduled to get to 20 below that night and the platoon leader had taken the necessary precautions with a warm up tent for the troops and other steps to prevent cold-weather injuries (except, of course the most obvious one which was to cancel the fool exercise and go home). After I had been sitting in the cab with the heater going and reading my book (there wasn’t much else for the medic to do if no one was hurt) someone came up to the truck. I opened the door and stepped down to the running board. In just that amount of time, the moisture in the fabric of my trousers froze so that they frosted and crackled as I stepped down to the ground. It was so cold that a cup of water thrown into the air would freeze before hitting the ground.

Another time, I was covering a field training exercise and I was in a squad tent with 6 soldiers when the snow began. As a medic, I had a thermal blanket in my medical kit that I wrapped up in inside of my sleeping bag which kept me toasty warm that night. It was so cold that night that the diesel fuel in the stove froze. The next morning, we literally had to dig our way out of the snow. Only the very tip of our tent was visible sticking out of this huge mound of white powder.

I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I would probably get tired of snow if I lived somewhere that dealt with large amounts of the stuff on a regular basis, but speaking as a Houstonian, I just love snow. Give me more snow. Bring it on! But please don’t turn off the power when it happens. It’s just cold weather. It happens every year. There is no need to panic about it so just chill out.

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