Letter Re: Some Observations From a Texas Winter Storm


In late January-early February of 2011 Texas got hammered two weeks in a row by serious cold temperatures and dangerous ice. The cold was so severe that many power plants went offline and we had rolling blackouts that lasted up to 45 minutes in some places (not at the Super Bowl however!) Over 50 power plants in Texas shut down at some point because they could not take the record cold temps on Feb. 2. While my home seemed to have missed the rolling blackouts, the place where I work had to go to emergency generator power for a while, and many of my friends lost power. One friend lost power for only about 20 minutes and it was enough time to freeze the pump to his well [casing]!

Combine the power outages with the ice on the roads, and you get a dangerous mixture. There were a lot of accidents on the roads and a lot of cold people in homes and offices. I was prepared and took adequate precautions when I saw the forecast. Were you prepared?

I want to discuss some of the commonsense preparations I made for the cold weather and some of the actions I took that kept me safe. Being a Survivalist is about more than prepping for some kind of TEOTWAWKI event. It is about being prepared for as many types of likely disasters as possible. I have previously written about the various survival kits that I have in my car and on my person. They came in handy these past couple of weeks! I was prepared. The following describes the preparedness steps that I had taken:

Step 1: in my car I carry a bed roll, sleeping pad and, in cold weather, a sleeping bag. One reason I do this is that I live over thirty miles from work and in my line of work, Security, I cannot just abandon my post and my client if one of my officers fails to show up. If I end up working a double shift from 0600-2200 due to an officer who could not make it in due to road conditions, but then my third shift is able to make it in, I am not going to drive home 30+ miles on ice only to sleep about 4 hours and get up and drive back to work on icy roads another 30+ miles. The safe thing to do is spend the night at work! My client is so good that they have even provided cots, sleeping bags, pillows and food in their emergency kit for anyone who needs to stay. I think that there were about 5-6 of us who spent the night at work during the first ice storm and 3-4 of us for the second storm the following week. One of the guys spent 3 days and 2 nights at work.

Step 2: Pay attention to the weather forecast! I cannot tell you how many times that I have been at work and people got surprised by the weather and were not dressed appropriately or did not have what the weather called for. Part of your daily routine really should be checking the weather forecast for today and the next five days. Especially during the winter when an ice storm or sudden change in temperatures is possible, and during hurricane/tornado season. Know your weather forecast. Because I had checked the forecast I was able to pack a small suitcase with spare clothes for work and off work and a shaving/toiletries kit and bring that with me the morning I thought we might get a storm. I was already thinking and planning ahead. If you live in the bubble of the moment and don’t concern yourself with tomorrow or the next day, you can get caught ill prepared. Now while I am experienced and skilled at driving in icy conditions, most people in North Texas are not. It is a lot like driving the bumper cars at the carnival or State Fair on DFW highways in a winter storm. Skilled though you may be, you cannot depend on the next guy being skilled. You can get hit by somebody else who knows not what they are doing on ice and snow.

Step 3: Dress for the outside weather. There are some folks at work who never even bring a coat because their car is in a warm garage attached to their warm house. The only cold they experience is the few seconds or minutes it takes to walk from their car to the office. What happens if you slide off the road and get stuck? or if a less skilled driver slams into your car and you have to walk for help? It was 12 degrees with a strong wind the other day here in Fort Worth, and if you are wearing shorts and a T-shirt (as some of my co-workers do in winter) you can get frostbite or hypothermia pretty quick in those kinds of conditions. Dress in layers for the outside, and then you can take off what you don’t need on the inside. But if you don’t have it you can’t put it on when you need it. I had on some good quality thermal underwear, my uniform (which is worthless in the cold…but that’s another story) some heavy duty, ultra warm socks (which I had not worn since my days in the Army at Fort Lewis over 25 years ago), my uniform coat, and very warm watch cap and gloves. I could survive the cold with this kind of clothing. I know a lot of folks down here in the Sun Belt in Texas do not own any serious cold weather gear because it rarely gets dangerously cold. About once every 7-8 years or so it gets this kind of cold. This was the third serious cold spell I can remember in 25 years. If you have the money, you need to get at least one set of serious cold weather clothes including boots.

Step 4: Carry extra food,  water, and meds. I have a duffle bag that has enough MREs and canned food and canteens of water to survive on for about 4 days at least. Now, the down side to carrying this duffle bag is that on days when it is going to be below freezing, I have to bring it inside the building with me.  That’s attractive. “Who is the idiot carrying that dufflebag in every day?” Yeah well, when my co-worker and I spent the night at work with several others, guess who had food the next morning without having to go out to a restaurant?! Granted it was MREs and canned Chili Mac, but it was food. You really don’t want your canned fruit or your canteens of water freezing in your car, so bring it inside. I do leave it outside in the car in the blazing heat of the Texas summers and that does cut down the lifespan of your survival stash so you need to rotate your stock. So in this recent cold spell I had Cheese Tortellini and a Chicken Breast that tasted like, well, Army rations. Not the best, but it was food. I shared some of my canned goods with my partner who politely turned down the chance at eating an MRE. This is an important point about being a Prepper: plan on and prepare for sharing. I am a Christian and believe in trying to practice the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12 “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you,do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” This article is titled after Mark 12:28-31, which says: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Prepare in order to share! If you are medicine dependent be sure to include a few days supply of your meds in your emergency planning as well.

Step 5: Learn how to drive on the ice and snow! One of my crew called off for two days during the first ice storm. We split the OT and got it covered, no problem. But when he finally made it in I talked with him a little bit about learning to drive on ice. Down here in Texas you just don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to drive in the stuff, so everybody goes nuts or stays home scared. I told the young man to find an empty parking lot and practice. Practice accelerating, turning, skidding and recovering, and stopping. Figure out how your car reacts to the ice. Practice in a safe, empty parking lot or a street with not obstacles.

Step 6: Learn the differences between snow, sleet and ice. Freezing fog, drizzle or rain is the worst. Clear ice is the most dangerous regardless of your skill level. People up north like to brag about all the ways they can handle the deep snow they get. Snow is bad for driving (more about snow later) but we Texans get more ice than snow. Our weather patterns are such that we tend to get ice or sleet more than snow. Freezing rain is extremely dangerous. Bridges and overpasses will tend to freeze first with the freezing rain. So you are driving along in the rain and the road is fine, until you hit that bridge and you lose it. Even if you are highly skilled in winter driving, clear, glazed ice will get you if a slope or turn is involved. Momentum, gravity, speed and ice are merciless, even if you know what you are doing. Here is where paying attention to the weather is crucial, as well as knowing your route (more about that soon). If you do not realize that it has been 32 or 31 degrees for a little while and you do not slow down at the bridges your are in the danger zone. Without even turning the wheel or stepping on the brakes your car can begin to slide in a wrong direction on ice. Slowing down before you cross the bridge is crucial, but don’t stomp on the brakes! Drive at least 10-15 mph slower than the speed limit on the road if you suspect icing, and as you approach the bridge or overpass, let off the gas, tap your brakes BEFORE getting on the bridge, and stay as straight as you can. Sleet is easier to drive on than glazed ice. Sleet is like tiny hail, little balls of ice. They make the road surface slick but crunchy. It is still very dangerous, and the whole momentum+gravity+speed thing can still take over your car, but it is much better than glazed ice. Sleet on highways and roads will be able to form grooves as it is traveled on. Being the first guy to drive down a sleet covered road can be difficult, but if a few others have gone ahead of you, there should be some nice tire ruts that actually help keep you safer. Snow is easier still. The tire tracks can really help keep you safe.

The problem with snow is if you get a lot of it and if you have blizzard conditions where you get whited out and cannot see. I saw a picture of a highway up by Chicago after their blizzard a few weeks ago, and hundreds of cars were stuck on the highway in the snow, going nowhere. Now you are stranded, perhaps far from home or work either one. That is one of the most dangerous situations ever. I read a sad story of a man that was stranded somewhere in a snowdrift for a week or so, and he finally shot himself dead. He made no effort to get himself out of the bad situation, he was simply waiting for someone else to rescue himself until he lost hope. That is pitiful. Being stranded in snow requires most of what I have already talked about: food, water, clothing, warm blankets. Let me add that your cell phone is an important asset at a time like this too. Band together with other drivers, don’t go it alone. Get somewhere safe that is near, don’t try to get home unless it is very close and you are certain you can get there.

Step 7: Know your route and recon alternative routes. I have four routes out of my neighborhood plus one other route but it goes in a direction I just would never take. I have three ways to get to downtown Ft. Worth and then two ways to get to Hurst, three if you count taking the access road. From Hurst I have two ways to get to Grapevine (other side routes are also available but do not make sense in most situations). In good weather I go one set of ways, in icy weather I go a couple of different ways. Many people are just in a little bubble on their way to an from work. My wife likes to explore different ways and she knows a lot of side streets to take if construction or weather block he path to work. Listen to the radio for traffic reports if you live in the city. My shortest route home from work is 27.5 miles. It is also the slowest. My quickest route is 32.5 miles. That’s a five mile difference. Know the different routes to and from your normal places that you travel. Ask yourself hard questions about your routes. Are there danger areas that would potentially cause you a problem if your car breaks down? Is one route prone to flash flooding? Is there an overpass you can park under if a hailstorm happens on your way to work? Is there a steep hill and a stop sign at the bottom that would be impossible to stop at in icy conditions?

Step 8: Communicate! Let someone know when you leave, where you are headed, which route you are taking, and when you are expected to arrive. Have that cell phone handy, and a car charger. If you have trouble, get stuck, call someone and tell them where you are and what your plan of action is. I usually leave home before my work partner. I will sometimes call and give a weather or road conditions report to her before she leaves. If I am running late I can call my desk officer and advise him of the situation. Communicate!

Conclusion: Winter storms are nothing to take lightly, there are serious dangers that you should take under consideration. Plan ahead, watch the weather, dress appropriately for the outside, practice driving, communicate. Here are a couple of stories about the power problems in Texas. Hmmm, what would happen if all the power went away, for months? or years?

May the Lord bless you and your family, – B.E.W.