A Winter Storm After Action Report, by Emily in North Texas

The ice storm that hit north Texas this past Thursday was forecast at least four days in advance, if not longer, but when it hit  apparently just about everyone was taken by surprise.  Drivers on I-35 north of Denton were stuck for so long they eventually abandoned their cars and sought refuge in local churches.  There was talk of sending in the National Guard to rescue them before that.  These people had days of advance warning about the weather but chose to drive anyway.  (Many of them apparently on their way to a rap concert in Dallas.)  Imagine the conditions if there had been a sudden emergency or disaster. 
 
The town we live in has one grocery store, and it was out of milk and bread by Saturday afternoon.  As of Monday afternoon, they still had no milk but had received a bread delivery.  When I say “no milk” I mean the liquid refrigerated stuff that is kept in dairy cases.  I walked over to the baking supplies aisle, and lo and behold, an entire stock of canned and boxed Tetra-Pak milk, untouched.  The shelves of powdered milk were well-stocked, too. Either things weren’t bad enough yet, or people just aren’t aware that there is more than one way to buy milk.  I already had a couple of liters of the Tetra-Pak milk at home, and plenty of canned milk, but I picked up a few extra just in case it takes longer than expected to get the highways clear and the trucks through. (Two of those cans of evaporated milk turned out to be expired.  Need to work on that can rotation!)
 
In addition to being stripped bare of milk and bread, the frozen pizza aisle was decimated, there was no chicken and no beef left in the meat section.  The store was completely sold out of Coca Cola, but there was plenty left of the other brands.  The canned soup aisle was pretty bare as well.  There was very little bottled water left. My husband and I made sure to note the items that sold out first so we’ll remember to stock up on any of those that we use regularly in our household.
 
The doughnut shop near our house had plenty of small bottles of milk, and there was milk available at the convenience stores we looked into during the few forays we made outside the house.  Those convenience stores were selling milk for four to five dollars per gallon.  In our area a gallon of non-organic milk is normally less than $2.50.
 
The groceries that were still in abundant supply as of yesterday afternoon were the things that take a little work to turn into food: flour, sugar, rice and pasta.  There were plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce section.  One takeaway for me- I need to become more proficient at making my own bread so that it becomes as easy as scrambling an egg is.
 
At one point in the weekend, there were over 250,000 people in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area without power.  We were lucky that our power never went out, but if it had we had plenty of firewood, oil lamps and candles on standby.  I would like to think that our neighbors had similar supplies laid in, but I would be surprised if they did. We lost power one night last summer and our house was the only one on the street with candle light flickering inside it.  (Some blackout curtains are on our list for future purchase.)  
 
I stayed home with our five year-old daughter because schools were closed and I was told to “use my best judgment” as far as driving in was concerned.  We made a fire and played with toys while listening to the audio book of “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  When my husband came home and said there was no  milk left at Kroger, our daughter said, “oh, no, now you’re gonna have to give me hot water to drink!”  We took this opportunity to explain to her that this is the reason why Mama buys boxes of milk and puts them away in the closet.  We do it because we love you, we told her, and because we don’t want you to go without milk just because there’s an ice storm.  We went on to explain that people had known this storm was coming for days, but that most people waited until the last minute to go to the store and get the things they would need.  We advised her to remember this when she’s older and act ahead of time so she doesn’t have to panic at the last minute.  Our little girl tends to listen and pay attention to us, so we hope she’ll remember this as she gets older and takes our advice about preparation and self-reliance to heart.
 
Everyone makes jokes about how Texans freak out when a quarter inch of snow falls and how no one around here knows how to drive on ice or snow.  That’s true because this hardly ever happens around here.  Weather like this has become more common in our area over the past few years, though (see Super Bowl XLV), but no one seems to have decided to anticipate or plan for it, especially TxDOT, who as of yesterday, still had crews stuck all over the state, rather than working on clearing roadways.  I saw crews sanding our local town streets for the first time this morning- six days after the storm first hit.
 
What I’m taking away from this six-day-and-counting inconvenience is that most people don’t plan and they won’t prepare. This would have been a relatively minor weather event if it had happened in another part of the country where municipalities are more prepared in general.  I’m sure readers in more northern parts of the country will be chuckling and shaking their heads at the site a big chunk of Texas brought to a standstill by a few inches of ice. This experience has driven home the need for us to be more prepared, to bring in more supplies, to be ready for whatever may come. This ice storm has also provided us a good opportunity to teach our daughter about being prepared and being self-reliant without scaring her.
 
It also showed where some holes in our planning and preparation lie.  While he was clearing ice from our driveway, my husband slipped and fell.  He landed on his side and luckily didn’t break anything.  If he had broken a rib or some other bone, we could have had quite a wait for an ambulance and/or faced a dicey trip to the hospital. This is one area where we need to make plans for the future.  What would we have done?  What other contingencies do we need to plan for? 
 
We cut down one old, dying tree just a week before the storm but there is still one tree that overhangs our roof.  This tree, too, may need to go for safety’s sake. Falling trees and now falling ice have done a lot of damage to buildings and cars in this area over the past couple of days.
 
As I noted, we never lost power (or haven’t yet), but if we did, can we be certain our fireplace would have kept at least part of the house warm enough?   We’re planning on adding additional insulation to one room in particular so we’ll have at least one room that we can keep snug and warm without electricity.  I’m certain we need to add more candles and oil lamps or lanterns to our stores, as well.  If our power had gone out Friday like it did for some, and was still not back on, as it isn’t for some, we would certainly burned through our supply right now.  I doubt, too, that the small supply of Sterno and Stoves in a Can see us through a five-day power outage.
 
We don’t let our daughter play on the computer much, so she’s not one of those kids who can’t function without electronic media to distract them, but she does enjoy listening to audiobooks and watching DVDs. We played “school at home” to keep her in school/learning mode.  Putting seed out for our wild birds and then watching them eat kept her entertained as well, but in an extended power outage, we might have had boredom and cabin fever to deal with on top of everything else.  We’ll need to stock up on more coloring books and puzzle books and look into a battery-operated CD player for her.
 
Our pipes did not freeze, but if they had, would the water we have stored lasted for six days?  I believe it would have, but we do need to store more water and purchase additional water BOBs or other means of water storage in case of long outages in the future.
 
The real problem in my mind though is what we’ll do if a summertime storm or other disaster, manmade or not, knocks out power for extended period of time while it’s 100F outside.  That would be a much more serious problem.  It’s always easier to get warm in Texas than it is to stay cool, and judging from TxDOT’s lackluster response to our icy highways and overpasses, and the fact that there are still people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area without power we’ll likely have no one to turn to for help except ourselves- as if we didn’t already know that. Thank you for considering this piece.

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