Winter Storm, a horror film in Burnet County
BURNET COUNTY – Somewhere the sun is shining on the green grass and budding trees.
In most of Texas, however, there isn’t much to see except plumber trucks and broken limbs as Texans dig through the coldest weather any of us can. remember, truly a storm of a lifetime.
We spent seven days locked in the house, with only brief periods of driving on icy roads to get to the ranch to feed our cows. As always, when the weather is worse in winter, cows drop their calves at night.
One of the little guys we named Yeti because he got to the coldest point of the freezing event. We were able to keep him and all of his cousins alive throughout the process, despite the lack of cattle cubes and the need to switch to hay bales to give the cows something to keep them warm when the temperature dropped to zero degrees Fahrenheit and the highs for some days were in the teenage years.
Everything froze as well, including the ranch well, which meant we couldn’t get water for the cows, although I broke the ice in the tanks for several days to keep them hydrated. But everyone survived and we went to the other side.
The house was another matter, however. We lost water on the third night of the storm and went 10 days without running water. I dipped 5 gallon buckets of water out of the pool to refill the toilet and keep the house from becoming a sump.
When we finally managed to convince our friend and neighbor Trey Carpenter to come and help us, he quickly turned the water back on by finding a cracked fitting from the well’s pressure tank. The tank itself was frozen inside so we had to wait for it to thaw and let the pump run fine.
At some point during all of this I came back from the ranch to find water flowing from a well, but it turned out to be a pressure relief valve that was bleeding the pressure. tank while the pump continued to run. I called Trey in a panic, and he suggested shutting off the power to the well and waiting a while for things to settle down.
Trey came over one afternoon and worked for a while to bring the water back into the house. When it did, the system loaded quickly, but Rana and I could hear a weird vibrating noise coming from behind the bathroom vanity, so we shut it down again and started doing plans to fix it.
A neighbor down the street, Modesto Jaimes, is restoring and remodeling the house, and I called him to come and have a look. We would have to pull the vanity away from the wall to find the leak, and when we did, his guys discovered that a flexible hose leading to one of the water outlets under the tub was broken, due to the expanding ice that had formed there. at the height of the storm.
We fixed that and replaced the vanity, which was a monumental job in a small space, and put the water back into the house. Everything seemed to be working and Rana and I were able to take showers in the house for the first time in 10 days. I had been to Trey’s house several times to shower and clean after feeding the cows with snow and ice and the mud that came with them.
We went to bed that night feeling like we had won the lottery and expected to return to semi-normal life, but around midnight I came back to the hallway from the front of the house to the house. kitchen and heard the sound of running water. I turned on the light and found the kitchen flooded and water was flowing from the light fixtures, cabinets, stove and refrigerator.
It was a horror show that still hadn’t reached its scariest part. I woke Rana up, thinking she should be woken up for this too, and she arrived just in time for the fridge to start spitting ice cubes out of the gap in the door.
Rana thought it sounded like a horror movie, but I thought it was more of a Three Stooges short. Horror won, however, when part of the ceiling gave way and fell into the kitchen. By that time, I had turned off the power and spread some towels to shut off some of the water.
They didn’t help though, as within minutes the entire kitchen ceiling collapsed and fell, throwing insulation and Sheetrock all over the place. Water was still flowing through the beams.
The demon turned out to be another flexible hose in an upstairs bathroom, under the toilet, that had thawed and started to leak as soon as we turned the water back on.
I’m still baffled by these breaks because both were inside the house and in protected places where they shouldn’t have frozen, except that we were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime arctic event of almost biblical proportions. Except it wasn’t, especially for anyone who was alive around Christmas 1983.
How does that compare to December 1983?
This was the time when Texas was hit from the north by an incredible cold front that left the state in shock with broken pipes, flooded rooms and homes, and damage to wildlife and fish that would have been reported. still impacting the state almost 40 years later. .
Here’s what happened on December 18 of the same year: A massive cold front blew and pushed temperatures well below zero, where they stayed until December 30, 12 consecutive days that caused damage. incredible to homes and unprepared people, animals and water and heating systems.
The cold air came so quickly that the speckled trout and the red drum were trapped in shallow water, where they could not escape the misery. Millions of fish died, forcing Parks and Wildlife to change the daily bag limits for both species. The limits have been reduced from 10 fish per day on trout to five fish per day, with an increase in the minimum size from 12 to 14 inches.
The redfish limits went from five fish a day to three, and then we waited several years until the fish started to show signs of recovery. But that was just the tip of the iceberg, no pun intended. I remember going to the Galveston Yacht Basin, one of the few places with deep enough water, to fish for trout. We slowly got around the boat holds and dropped heavy plugs all the way to the bottom.
There were so many trout there that I could feel the cork bouncing off their bodies when it hit them. Every now and then someone would knock and we would pick up a trout for the cooler, which we didn’t need.
Before that, however, there were stories that Parks and Wildlife had removed daily catch limits to allow anglers to legally collect and keep stunned fish they found floating around Galveston Bays and Bay. the Trinity.
I had a unique opportunity to dive into the cold phenomenon during this frost. The local Coast Guard station called me and invited me to participate in one of their rescue drills and test how cold the water was then.
I went to the station and was fitted with a wetsuit and neoprene booties to protect myself. We got into a helicopter and flew through the Houston Sea Channel. The water was 38 degrees when a helicopter crew member opened the door and told me to jump.
I have often wondered what causes some people to jump out of a perfect plane with nothing but a parachute to bring them down. But I jumped out of that helicopter with nothing but a wetsuit between me and almost frozen salt water.
The guys had told me I should give them a sign when I was ready to go out, so I looked at my watch to mark the time I entered the water. My digital watch had exploded when it hit the water, so I had to wait for my fingers and toes and wet head to tell me it was time to surrender.
I remember getting a little scared every time the helicopter pulled away directly from me, even though the propeller made me a lot more miserable than I needed to be.
I stayed in the water for 13 long minutes before stopping. The helicopter pilot turned back to where I was, and they lowered one of those little floating harnesses and pulled me back into the passenger area of the plane.
I was very cold too. Two hours later, I was still struggling with the effects of the near hypothermia that swimming had inflicted on me. But it was a great adventure which was a lot more fun when I could say I did and survived, much like when I lived with a grizzly bear take control of my moose hunt in Alaska. I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t, and it made for a good story in the end.
We don’t know all of the effects this latest weather event will have on fish and wildlife, although we already do know that cold-stunned green sea turtles have been showing up all along the Texas coast. Rescue teams picked them up and kept them warm until the weather returned to something more normal.
Most wildlife, especially white-tailed deer, probably passed without too much damage. Their tendency is to slow down whatever they do to save energy and keep them hotter than they otherwise would be.
Rabbits and other small game seemed to be doing well, moving across snow and ice to catch the warming rays of the sun. I checked with different landowners to see what they found, but there were very few cases of massive loss of life. One ranch lost a ton of axis deer, I know, all crammed together and then died from the extreme cold.
Black Buck antelopes typically struggle in extreme cold weather, and there have been a few casualties in the Hill Country, but nothing too terrible. But the smaller the animal, the faster it loses body heat, and some must have succumbed to the cold.
It will take a little while to know the effects on the fish of the cold, and I know that there has already been some loss, but probably nothing on the scale of the giant frost of 1983.
Parcs et Faune has decided to close fishing in certain places where fish congregate in large numbers to escape the terrible cold. Hope this works.