Texas storm stories

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, February 24th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re so glad to have you along today. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A Southern snowpocalypse. 

Arctic air blew into the Southern United States last week, knocking out power in portions of several states. But Texas bore the brunt. Millions lost power and dozens of municipalities issued boil notices, meaning water needs to be boiled before using.

EICHER: Of course, that was for those whose pipes didn’t freeze or burst. Many didn’t have any water at all. Some still don’t. 

But, the human spirit endures. Today, three Texans—WORLD’s Leigh Jones, Bonnie Pritchett, and Katie Gaultney—offer us a glimpse into what they experienced.

KEZIAH: Ready for the real sledding, mama?

LEIGH JONES, MANAGING EDITOR: My 7-year-old daughter had looked forward to this winter storm for an entire week. She had big plans to pile up snowmen, spread snow angels on our front lawn, and throw snowballs at her unsuspecting Mimi.

We woke up Monday morning to a quasi winter wonderland, and nearly all her dreams were realized.

AUDIO: [Squealing, laughing]

We piled on our layers and headed outside for some fun. But it didn’t last that long. Turns out, snow is cold. And we didn’t have enough of it to build a snowman. Also, it was too icy to form snowballs.

But our neighbor loaned us a sled, and we dug a water skiing rope out of the garage. That gave us everything we needed for a few hours of fun.

AUDIO: [Sounds of scraping and sliding]
LEIGH: Uh oh! [laughing]
KEZIAH: [Squeal!] Awww!!

Picture me running down the road, trying not to tow her into a curb.

Eventually our fingers and toes succumbed to icy numbness. So, we retreated inside to warm up. Only the power had gone out overnight and still hadn’t come back on. 

No matter. We have a gas fireplace, and it did a pretty good job of keeping the living room warm. For a while, anyway.

But as the day dragged on, it got colder and colder inside. 

AUDIO: [Sound of lighter and stove]

We have a gas stove, so we weren’t consigned to eating cold sandwiches for dinner. But shivering kinda spoils the ambiance of meals by candlelight. 

The next day, our church opened for anyone who needed to thaw out and charge up phones and computers. Talk about a godsend! Volunteers made coffee and hot chocolate and set out snacks. The kids watched Superbook on the big screens in the sanctuary.

SONG: “Salvation Song,” Superbook

The adults hung out all afternoon in the fellowship hall. My husband played a board game with friends while I tried to catch up on work. All around us, people took comfort in swapping stories of common hardships.

We’ve never had to weather a winter storm before, but we have survived our share of hurricanes. And the same thread runs through them all: It’s the fellowship of our church family that pulls us through.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leigh Jones in Pearland, Texas.

BONNIE PRITCHETT, CORRESPONDENT: Roughing it, whether post-hurricane or during a winter storm is all about learning to live without and making due with what you do have.

No electricity? No problem.

The outlet in the cab of your F- 150 pickup will power your coffee bean grinder.

AUDIO: [Truck starting, plugging in grinder, grinding coffee]

Hey. Roughing it doesn’t mean we have to live like barbarians.

And did you know meat thermometers aren’t just for pot roasts anymore? That stroke of genius I stole from colleague Katie Gaultney who used her “is-dinner-ready?” device to measure the arctic chill in her house.

My husband and I just wanted to know if the food in the fridge was going bad.

Temperature in the house? 51 degrees.

Fridge: 43.

AUDIO: [Door opening, placing therm inside, closing door]

Garage 46.

Front porch 36. We relocated the perishables outside.

AUDIO: [Unlock door, open, chest outside, close door, lock it]

When not repurposing kitchen accessories, we checked on our neighbors. And, because misery loves company, I invited one over for hot, fresh-ground, coffee and warm snickerdoodles.

No oven? No problem. Like camping, I could bake dessert outside in the Dutch oven. But taking one look at the sheen of ice covering the patio my husband poured cold water on that idea.

And to all those who asked me: Yes, living in your house without electricity for days is roughing it. But it is NOT camping.

But there is at least one similarity – a sense of community.

Campers often enjoy chatting with their fireside neighbors.

And city neighbors—who speak too infrequently when life is normal—open up when disaster strikes. “Are you guys ok?”

“Do you need extra blankets?”

“Water’s pouring through your bathroom ceiling? Yes, we can show you where to shut off the water to your house!”

And, “I’ll bring you water from my house so you can flush your toilets.”

Remember, we’re not barbarians.

Roughing it is also about sharing what you have.

AUDIO: [Timer sounding]

Which reminds me. Now that the power is back on, I owe a friend a batch of snickerdoodles.

AUDIO: [Oven door opening, removing cookie tray]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in League City, Texas.

AUDIO: [Brad and Gaultney kids roughhousing]

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Brad Gaultney is the king of making lemonade out of life’s lemons. So when the power switched off, my husband—like our neighbors’ generators—switched on. Our house dipped below freezing more than once—as evidenced by the aforementioned meat thermometer experiment and a thin sheen of ice floating on the top of the bathtub—but that didn’t stop Brad from initiating a game of musical chairs with our four kiddos. 

AUDIO: [Musical chairs game, laughing]

We set up a tent in the living room so we could trap body heat and huddle for warmth. The kids loved it. We had child-led read-alouds…. 

AUDIO: [Little House on the Prairie, read by Vivi Gaultney]

And even some creative cooking.

AUDIO: … a cup of milk, Ford do you want to add the milk?/ Sure.

No, I’m not talking about the meals of pantry staples I had to throw together. We mostly stayed inside to focus on preserving warmth, but we did venture out—briefly—to make snow candy out of maple syrup, and to gather fresh snow for snow ice cream. 

AUDIO: That looks great!/ Are we gonna eat it?/ Yeah!  

It wasn’t all so sweet, of course. 

AUDIO: [Water leaking]

A pipe burst in our attic, pouring through a light fixture. And I had to do “minor surgery,” removing surgical staples from my 9-year-old’s scalp. Ford had a backyard injury a couple of weeks before, and with ice on the roads and the city more or less shut down, we wouldn’t be able to get them out by a professional as planned. 

AUDIO: Mom, are you gonna yank it?/ It’s out!/ Oh! That didn’t hurt.

But, the days without power or water passed. We fixed the pipe. The power came back on—for good. Brad packed up the tent, much to the kids’ sadness. We’re down a few packages of pasta and cans of chicken—and we’ll have to patch and paint our ceiling. The drone of so many gas generators in our neighborhood may haunt my dreams. 

AUDIO: [Gas generator]

But we really did make lasting memories as a family. That said, after a year of an unprecedented virus, unprecedented elections, and unprecedented winter weather, I’m not the first to quip that it will be nice when we get back to precedented events again. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Katie Gaultney in Dallas, Texas.

(Photo/Katie Gaultney)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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