Tag Archives: winter

By The Firelight

The wind howled as night fell and the cold grew even more frigid. Ice had long formed into icicles hanging from gutters and tree branches as the cold had been gripping the city for days. There were cars filling the streets as dusk turned from amber to indigo. A line of headlights stretched down the street as vehicles idled while waiting to enter the parking lot. In the lot, cars lined up against curbs in front of a giant pile of split firewood with their trucks and hatchbacks open as an older man tossed 20 pieces of wood inside each one in exchange for 20 dollars. Business was brisk today.

By The Firelight

I was in this line waiting for my share of wood. My wife had called while I was still at the office to tell me that the power was out at the house. As I drove home, I noticed that traffic lights were out more than 10 miles away as traffic was at a standstill at every major intersection. When I walked in the house, it felt only mildly less cold that the air outside. My wife was cuddled up in our fur blanket trying to keep warm. The power had been out for two hours and we anticipated it would come on at any time as Centerpoint rarely took that long to restore an outage—hurricanes notwithstanding. I was wrong. The power came back on for 15 minutes then went out again—and stayed out. I knew we needed something to keep us warm. It looked like it was going to be an uncomfortable night.

We have a fireplace but have only used it a total of eight or ten times in the four years we have lived here. Because of this, we had no firewood. Also, the stores that sell bundles of wood for 5 or 7 dollars had already closed because of the power outage. Also, with no power, there was no access to banks or ATMs to get cash to pay for it. Fortunately, I keep cash around for just such an emergency. Occasionally, there will be a person selling firewood for cash roadside out of the back of a truck, but none were to be found. Fortunately, I knew of one place that would have some. Evidently many people knew of it, since the line was so long.

It took 20 minutes and 20 bucks to get my 22 pieces of wood home. With the fire roaring and supper cooked by lantern light, we sat down to a nice candlelit dinner in front of the fire followed by a nice game of chess. The rest of the house was still quite cold, but the den was comfortable. We were debating the merits of sleeping in bed with extra blankets or camping in front of the fireplace for the night when the power finally came back on to stay. It had been seven hours in the dark.

No TV, no internet, no computers for seven hours. Many who know me would probably think I was pulling my hair out from digital withdrawal. Cell service was even out for a while. We were living like it was the 1900s for seven hours. But contrary to the assumption, I was just fine without power, although it was disconcerting to be so disconnected in that there was no way to know why we had no power. Suppose the outage was because of a terrorist attack! Suppose world war three had started! Suppose there was a coup d’état! What other disasters could have caused the outage that was lasting so long? Turns out that a main distribution line was down somewhere in the grid that affected Katy, Brookshire and some of west Houston.

I was fine without power. No withdrawals and no fits. I didn’t even once go catatonic. Michelle and I enjoyed each other’s company and talked and played chess and cuddled for warmth. It was a very comfortable evening after all.

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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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When Houston freezes over…

And the snow fell. The news had been predicting it all week, but their record being what it is, no one really believed it would. It was too early in the season and it was too warm. Even if it did manage to produce a flake or two, it would melt immediately, because it was not cold enough to accumulate. But snow it did.

The morning saw nothing but the cold air as I drove to work. I had to go in early, so the traffic was lighter than usual for my commute. After I left my meeting, I passed a window and noticed the parking lot was wet, but there were no flakes falling. I went to my cubicle and started working and heard others entering the office and mentioning how it was snowing. Well, not wanting to miss the first snow since 2004, I ran outside and saw…nothing but rain. Are people so enamored with the idea of snow that they confuse old fashioned rain as a snow?

Back at my desk, I ignored the next few comments I heard, but then, after I had been there for about 20 minutes I heard someone mention that it was coming down pretty good. So I checked again. This time I did see snow. One snowflake fell amid the rain. I even stood there for a couple of minutes just to see if it would crank up a little, but nothing. On Facebook, my friends were all commenting on how much it was snowing in the part of the city they were in. I was jealous.

Later, about 10 or so, I saw someone walk in with obvious snow all over their jacket so I looked outside and there it was. Real snow falling in big flakes. As I worked I kept looking out the window to see if it had stopped, and it did for a while. But then it started up again with a vengeance. I tried to take a picture of it. Did you know it is almost impossible to get a good picture of falling snow with a camera phone? When lunchtime came around, a coworker and I decided to go to eat and the snow was falling heavy then. It was snowing so hard, that the grass was actually catching and holding the snow. It accumulated on cars and trucks and pretty much everything but the road (which is a good thing since no one in Houston knows how to drive in snow).

After lunch I even enjoyed a snowball fight and saw a miniature snowman sitting on a bench. Sadly, the snow stopped falling around 3:00 and the sun eveThe Snowmann came out which pretty much finished off the snow that had managed to stick. On the way home, I noticed several people sledding down a hill—an activity alien to this city—on the remnants of the snow. The traffic was non-existent. Rush hour looked like late night as far as traffic was concerned. I suppose a lot of people took off work early to avoid driving in the snow during rush hour. I’ll wager my commute was better than theirs. My wife, a school teacher, did not get to take a snow day much to her kid’s dismay. The first snow in 5 years and the students all were trapped in class.

So the snow is gone now. The cold is still here, though, and there is a freeze warning in place for the area tonight. The heater is on and the blankets are on the bed, so we are prepared to snuggle down and enjoy the early taste of winter. It helps get us in the Christmas mood. The sad thing is that it is unlikely in the extreme to snow again this year (or the next 4 or 5 for that matter) but at least we did get to have some to kick off the Christmas season.

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