Survivor: Winter Edition

Well, I have to be honest, that was not really the way I pictured taking a whole week off from the blog or my first week’s vacation from work in 18 months.

May be an image of text that says 'Next time we get a week off of work, I do not want to spend it trying to stay alive.'

I’m sure everyone has heard about the shitshow that Texas became last week when the winter storm rolled through. There really is no other word for it, it was a massive clusterfuck shitshow of epic proportions. It ended up being considerably worse than forecasted, and of course no one really expected the entire state’s power grid to have a massive failure. The thing about Texas is that we are 0% prepared for anything like this. Our pipes aren’t buried as deep, they aren’t meant to withstand a week of sub-freezing temps, usually winter is our lightest season for power useage thus when more things are down for maintenance, and we don’t have equipment like plows and salt trucks to clear roadways. People don’t have appropriate clothes for this, or equipment for their vehicles. When we get frozen precipitation, things just shut down and everyone stays hunkered down at home for the duration (like… 6-12 hours). It rarely happens more than that, and it never gets super cold. 20’s maybe. Certainly never down into the single digits, and for sure not below freezing for an entire week. Winter weather is bad enough when you ARE prepared for it and used to it, but it’s a whole nother (very dangerous) ballgame when you aren’t. A winter weather event like this has literally NEVER happened before down here. Ever. In history. As long as they’ve been keep records. At all.

It started snowing on Sunday the 14th, and by the time dawn came on Monday we had about 6″ of snow. Never seen that before in my life. Our issues with the power started almost immediately… it started flipping on and off in the middle of the night, as ERCOT began doing rolling blackouts to conserve power.

this is a problem

Which – we were honestly lucky to be in a rolling blackout area and not in just a plain old blackout area. Lots of people lost power that night and didn’t get it back for DAYS. Our rolling blackout was enough, at least at first, to keep a little bit of heat in the house. But the constant on/off cycle of the power was not agreeing with my heating units in the t!ny house at all, and it kept flipping the breakers. For I while I could just go out and flip it back on, but soon my heating units just stopped working at all and wouldn’t even turn on anymore. I was hesitant to abandon the tiny. I had my faucets dripping but I only have a 300 gallon greywater tank, so I was keeping buckets under all my dripping faucets and dumping them outside every couple hours to keep my tank from filling up, since it was too cold to run the pump to empty it. Monday night was LONG, with sporadic power, no heaters, a rapidly plunging temperature in the house, and getting up every couple hours to dump buckets. Luckily I had a sleeping bag and lots of blankets, so me and the dogs were able to snuggle together and stay pretty warm. By the next morning, though, it was 38 degrees in my t!ny house, the heaters were still totally unresponsive, the rolling blackouts continued with no end in sight, there was a forecasted low of 5 degrees coming up, and it was clear that we had to wave the white flag. I shut off the water at the source, left all the taps open, flipped off the circuits for most of my appliances, packed all my and the dogs’ shit, said a little prayer to the goddess of pipes, and retreated to the main house. I absolutely hated abandoning the tiny.

I used to get kind of jealous of pretty snow pictures but not anymore, y’all can keep that shit

The main house was still holding steady around 58 degrees, and they have a wood burning stove, so out I went in search of firewood. Which, by that point most everything was wet or buried under snow or both. I wandered around a good portion of the property trying to gather up a couple good logs to burn and didn’t really find much that wasn’t super soaked. I ended up cutting up a bunch of old spare boards and gathering hay and shavings as kindling, and after one false start was able to get a good fire going that could maintain itself. The boards didn’t burn as long as a log would so it required a lot of tending, but it was a fire and it was warm. The power continued to cycle on and off, in a fairly predictable pattern. I logged the on/off times on my phone and we were getting about 15-20mins on and 40ish minutes off. That helped me at least plan when to do things. Of course, right around the time I felt like “ok, this is handled… we can deal with this” the water pressure started to drop off. Due to all the power issues, the water stations weren’t getting the water pumping like they usually do. At the same time, the power grid continued to be perilously close to complete failure. There is a little bit of OH FUCK that sets in when you’re staring down the distinct possibility of being without power or water for an extended period of time in the middle of the worst winter storm your area has ever seen. There’s a distinct apocalayptic feel to it.

The corgi rode out the storm parked in front of the fire. Rough life.

I had filled the bathtub with water before any of this started, so I did have some potable water. But if it completely went off, and the pipes froze or burst… it could easily be a week or more before we had restored service. So the next day I spent 6 hours putting bowls and pots and containers under every trickling water source, transferring it to buckets, and carting it outside to fill every single trough and canister I could find. I also had plastic containers under spots where the snow was melting a little bit off the roof, to gather that water too. Bucket by bucket I was able to fill 2 100gallon troughs, 14 buckets, and 3 big water jugs. It was a full time job, with quick stops to throw another piece of wood on the fire. By the time I was done I don’t think I could have lifted another bucket if I tried, my arms were just useless noodles. There is nothing fun about carrying dozens of buckets through the snow and ice from the house to the barn for hours on end. Nothing fun. Especially when you slip on some ice, fall down in the slushy mud, and spill the buckets you were carrying. That shit wore on my mental state. Bad. Mostly because there was just no telling how long it would go on and how much worse it would get. That was the bad part.

don’t mind me, just melting snow on the wood stove… #pioneerlife

The water did go completely off for a while, then slowly came back to a trickle of gross brownish water. We were under a boil water notice for the forseeable future, but I was so happy to have it anyway. As long as a little bit of water still came out, all didn’t seem lost. And we were still getting a little bit of power every once in a while at least, and I was able to get the house back up to 70 with the wood burning stove (that thing is amazing, I need one). For all of about 5 minutes, things didn’t look so bad. We were warm, and I had enough water stored to get us through at least a week, probably two. I was completely exhausted and worn down mentally and physically, but there was a plan and the horses were still ok, and that’s what mattered most. Once again, right around the time I felt like “ok, this is handled… we can deal with this”… another problem. Because every freaking day there was a new problem.

what the actual f

Henry lost his everloving shit because coyotes were chasing the neighbors cows in the distance (which, to be fair, was not normal or good). He stopped eating and drinking, and just stood there staring off into the distance with his eyes wide and his heart pounding. For hours. And hours. Then all night long. Into the next morning. He didn’t touch his water or his hay or his breakfast. By mid morning I was starting to panic because he hadn’t had anything to drink since the afternoon the day before. I had been giving them mashes of hay pellets, salt, and their regular food all along as soon as this started, and he’d eaten it really well. Now he wouldn’t eat shit. He’d just stand there and stare off into the void, punctuated by periods of spinning.

I started thinking about wtf I would do if this turned into an impaction. The roads were impassable, how was I going to haul him anywhere? What vet was going to be able to come out? I was texting with my vet about all the things I could try when the second wave of snow and ice came. That’s when I officially felt totally defeated. Power issues, I can handle. Water issues, worse, but I can still handle. But something happening to one of the horses and being totally helpless? That I can’t handle. Watching the snow pour down from the sky again was feeling a lot like a breaking point.

Me: PLEASE EAT THIS Henry: No thanks

I made another mash, added some extra fun stuff like brown sugar and peppermints and oats and flax, and went and stood in Henry’s stall. Finally – FINALLY – he started to pick at it a little bit, but only if I stood there and held it up to his mouth. I got about a third of it into him that way, and that seemed to finally get him jump-started a bit. He was still super worried about the cows, but he did start to pick a tiny bit at his alfalfa and regular hay. By the afternoon (so, 24 hours after this first started) he had drank a little bit of water too. Not enough to ease my concern, but something at least. When the snow finally ended in the late afternoon and the sun peeked out, which was enough to melt a teeny patch near the barn, I took Henry out to let him graze on that patch. That REALLY seemed to finally do the trick, and while he still didn’t relax, he grazed for a while, then went back in his stall and started eating his hay more enthusiastically, and drank half a bucket of water. Huge relief. Major. God I was terrified. None of the days were good but that day was the worst.

By yesterday it was back up near 75 again. From 5 to 75 within a matter of days. Luckily we seem to have escaped major damage. We had a tree fall over a fenceline into the jump field, but it’s not a perimeter fence and it didn’t hit anything else on the way down. The pipes in both houses and the barn seem to be intact, and we got my heaters restarted. We remain under a boil water notice but the pressure has pretty much returned to normal, and the power has stayed on for the past few days. Now all the snow is melted and it’s as if nothing ever happened. Well… grocery stores are completely stripped bare, because no one was expecting to need food for 10 days and the restocking trucks are just now able to start getting back in. Gas and food were in short supply by the time the roads cleared. Starting to think maybe there’s some legitimacy to hoarding. Luckily I have enough to not need to go to the store for another week or so, and a full tank of gas, but some of my friends and coworkers were having to scrape together whatever they could find.

that is an EMPTY grocery store

The whole experience was just… bizarre. It was like life was totally normal, and then in the blink of an eye we went into straight up Survivor mode for 5 days, and then in another blink of an eye life was pretty much back to normal again. It feels like two entirely different lifetimes. I did learn a lot though. Like… apparently south central Texas is not far enough south. Also, I hate winter. Also, I’m good with never seeing snow again. Also, if the power goes out while your incinerating toilet is in the middle of a burn cycle, your t!ny h0use WILL fill up with pee smoke. Also, WTF IS UP WITH THE TEXAS POWER GRID. People freezing to death in their homes or on the street, people not having food or water for days on end… this was absolutely terrible and inexcusable. While it sucked big time for me, I’m extremely thankful that we at least had what we did and the human and all animals made it through unscathed. Sure puts things in perspective and makes you think about just how tenuous all of this really is.

Anyway, hopefully I’m back now, and able to get back into normal life and normal routine. And here I thought 2020 was bad…

22 thoughts on “Survivor: Winter Edition

  1. We were lucky on all fronts as far as we maintained power and since we have a well, our water was never an issue. One broken pipe in the garage that the hubs easily repaired. BUT of COURSE Jaguar had to colic right smack in the middle of all this. He colicked violently in January from a hay impaction and spent 3 days at the vet. I was a similar hot mess for about 24 hours, but this was much milder, we pretty much know why he colicked and he seemed fine within about 12 hours. WHY DO OUR HORSES TRY TO KILL US WHEN LIFE IS ALREADY HARD!

    I’m so glad you weathered this as well as you did. But damn, I hate that you had to go through it by yourself.

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  2. That sounds so stressful, I’m glad you were able to get through it with everyone on the other side. We had to bundle up a lot more up here in Minnesota, but it was way less harrowing than what you all went through. Glad Henry is ok, and I’m sure he’ll be overjoyed to be naked and eating grass again.

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  3. I hope you’re not one of the people saddled with thousands of dollars in electricity bills as a result of all this! Reading about that and imagining that financial trauma compounding the physical trauma and hearing that elected officials are “considering” whether to do something and what they should do makes me immeasurably angry at the US (because let’s be real there are plenty of states other than Texas who would be acting the same) all over again.

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  4. It IS scary to experience these types of unexpected events. Can’t say that I know exactly what you went through as each event is different. But I do know some years ago I was in tears by the third day of a Midwestern Winter ice-storm with no power, heat or water (and still having to figure out how to care for my horses at home). Roads were impassable so I could not leave for supplies. It was an awful experience, even pre-COVID19. So glad to hear you and yours got through the worst of the immediate situation. I am sorry you had to go through what you experienced.

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  5. My arms are still kinda sore from the buckets. We had the same bucket experience. It was exhausting and never ending to keep all the horses and cows hydrated. I kept ice broken on the troughs, but keeping them and the barn water full…I am just glad they all kept drinking and eating. I can not imagine going through what you did with Henry. One of my friends had to haul to the vet in the ice and snow and whatever where they had no power or water at the clinic. Another friend had an older horse that tied up and could get to a vet or have one out. She kept him full of banamine and ace while she cried in the snow. They both made it through luckily.

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  6. Good to hear from you! Houston’s not far enough south either it turns out. It’s amazing how a mostly cold house and no water can be ‘fine’ as long as I could get to the barn and spend the time to make sure my horse was warm and comfortable in the shelter that he wouldn’t step one foot out of. Poor guy’s never been a fan of the cold, but the snow really put him in a state, with a thousand yard stare similar to what you described from Henry. Fortunately, he was reasonably willing to eat and drink as long as I brought his food, hay and warm water buckets over to him in his shelter all the way across the frozen tundra of his paddock.

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  7. I’m so glad this is all over for you! What an absolute nightmare. I hate the winter too, even being set up for it here sometimes it is still just absolute pure hell. So scary about the coyotes and Henry. Really relieved everyone is fine.

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  8. 90 miles east of you, similar story.
    And the weather went back to serene sunny 50’s & 60’s as if the cold front had never happened.

    Today last week the 5″-6″ of snowfall was beginning and the temp was plunging downward past the 20’s, past the 10’s, to the unheard-of single digits. In all recorded history since the 1800’s my county has had maybe 5 scattered days recording (briefly) a temp in the 10’s. Heck, we have frozen pipes with a couple of days of 25F, which is a once-every-10-years event.

    It’s almost like — did it really happen?

    One of the weirdest parts even in rolling blackout areas with some intermittent power, there not enough commercial-level power for the internet & cable – here, it was all down the entire 4 days. Part of the time I could get info on the cell phone, but otherwise no computer internet, no television. No 24/7 news following the storm. No Weather Channel. Just a 4-day vacuum of very little information. Figured out that we were on rolling blackout, not complete loss of power, thankfully. After a day or two, learned that the grid was failing massively. Other than that, was the world still out there? What was it doing?

    As far as government assistance to distressed people in the moment, there was no plan. No anticipation of the scale of the humanitarian disaster. In spite of days of advance warning that this freeze was coming. We had at least 5 days to prepare, but this was outside the life experience of most people living here and there was little, if any, guidance on what to do. Once the unprecedented blackout situation occurred there was little in the way of heating shelters, little humanitarian aid, all scrambled together on the fly with no transportation across untreated roads to haul in supplies that hadn’t been pre-ordered. And no power to help assemble it all. Because everywhere was in the same crisis.

    It all looks more normal now, even though there are tons of lingering issues that people are trying to clear away. It’s like recovering from a long, horrible head cold. While technically the illness has past, still can’t get past the cough and weakness — sort of like that.

    We will be finding people who passed away in their homes from the cold for a few weeks, I think. That won’t be in the news. Even neighbors helping neighbors couldn’t save people when everyone had the same frigid conditions.

    It was only 4-5 days, really – had it been longer, the humanitarian crisis would have rapidly become staggering, and many more dead. This failure was the result of decades of terrible decisions that will be hard to correct. I have a feeling that “no plan” is going to be a hard fix going forward.

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  9. We were on the rolling blackouts and then no water end of it too, I will never take a hot shower – or flushable toilet – for granted again. The saddest part for me (all the critters were fine, we melted A LOT of snow to keep the troughs full) were all the dead song birds we kept finding. Poor things never stood a chance. We’re still on a boil water notice, but at least it’s flowing and hot when I need it. Now for the mud to dry up.

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    1. Yes, definitely a sad fallout of this is the die-off of wild birds and animals. Many survived, but many did not. We had robins migrating through so much earlier this year, probably due to the several weeks of mild weather before the freeze. Hopefully most of them survived.

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  10. So glad you and the critters made it through! I grew up on a small farm in Maine, so everything you’ve shared we’ve done before but as you said we were prepared and used to it but it’s definitely not fun. My heart goes out to everyone struggling in Texas and the south from this storm system. I mean really, who would ever have thought? Thought I’d share this stove site – I think it’s suitable for a tiny. We may add one to our 3 season sunroom project someday. https://www.unforgettablefirellc.com/

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  11. As a cold climate resident I can honestly say you did every single thing I would have recommended if you hadn’t already thought of it. Most people also wait till disaster is upon them before searching for food and necessities. I take care of that with a personal habit—I’m an advocate of hoarding but with a twist. So as not to inconvenience anyone else I “hoard” non-perishables when there’s absolutely no need to. Then when the need comes I can feel good about not competing at the grocery store…and really, there’s probably no place in the country that this would be a bad idea. What with fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, it’s always something, somewhere.

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    1. I had about a week and a half to two weeks worth of food beforehand, purely because I knew the stores would be flooded with people afterward and I didn’t want to be part of the crowd. Definitely glad I did though, many people only had enough for a few days and were seriously in a bind by the weekend!

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      1. Exactly. Covid hoardings lasted a lot longer but at least I never got desperate. Thought I would do the home made bread thing not knowing that everyone else in town had the same thought. Got lucky one day and scored 2 pounds of instant dry yeast in 1-pound packages. Froze half of it. Can’t imagine when will be the next time I will buy yeast. Doesn’t expire for another year and mfr says it doesn’t even need refrigeration let alone a freezer 🤣

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  12. Whew, I’m so sorry. What an absolute nightmare. I echo what was said above – winter sucks even when you’re ready and prepared for it, but it’s unimaginably awful to get hit out of nowhere. I’m so, so, so glad that Henry pulled through with no problems. Colic with impassable roads is my personal winter nightmare.

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  13. I have many, many friends in various parts of Texas. Most of them own livestock, and several of them reached out to their cold-weather-climate friends for advice. As far as I know, they and their animals all made it.

    What made it real for me was a friend of mine from high school, who now lives in Austin, posting updates. He grew up in Colorado and is outdoorsy and loves camping, so he has quite a bit of his winter clothing from CO and camping supplies (sleeping bag, etc). He lost power and heat almost immediately, but kept posting periodic updates on Facebook to keep his friends and family posted. He doesn’t have a car and bikes everywhere, so couldn’t leave. On day 3, he posted that he had been relocated somewhere safe and warm because he woke up with a high heart rate, high blood pressure, and a rapidly dropping body temperature. If a healthy, fit 30YO male who knows how to layer and deal with cold had the beginnings of hypothermia setting in, it was a Big Deal and many less-prepared Texans were going to be even worse off. (Friend is fine now and is home with power/heat/water again).

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  14. Total shit show. Glad you all made it to the other side. We lost power after a hurricane for 9 days which was miserable, but it was at least not that cold out. I have well water so without power there is no water. I had filled enough stuff ahead of time to make it through the first week and then was able to get water from work where they had a generator. But still, none of that compares to what you just went through with the cold on top of all that. Miserable.

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  15. Glad you and the animals are ok! I have a friend in Texas who boards her horse at a huge 100+ boarding barn and she posted pictures of the fire department having to truck in water for all of them. I can’t even imagine how scary and stressful that must have been for you guys!! The closest we get in Florida is when a Hurricane is approaching, the stores are emptied and there is that feeling of uncertainly as to what is going to happen next… but at least we don’t have to deal with freezing and cold at the same time!

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