Snow in South Texas 2021: a look back

Esteban Serrano, Lead Editor

As the rare Texas blizzard from the last week continues to boil over for many as an event for the history books, many are looking back to wonder when another batch of cold weather as such could hit, and what to do better next time. This comes as ERCOT, most of Texas’ independent power supply, (excluding West Texas) came under fire for failure during the storm, CPS Energy locally in San Antonio, and the San Antonio Water System, (SAWS) for water and pipe failure during the storm. This left hundreds without power, and water for days. Some taking advantage of the ten minute grace periods that came with the controversial rolling blackouts.

As the Pep continues it’s coverage of the storm and it’s aftermath, we are hearing first-hand accounts from members of the community.

James Bendele, Teacher and Science Department Chair, who has corresponded for the Pep on numerous occasions including Coronavirus analysis, shares his account of the dastardly week and personal experience with the snow storm.

“We lost power from Monday through Thursday,” he says. “I have a very ill daughter, so I gladly accepted an invitation to spend Thursday evening at my brother-in-law’s house. On Monday the power came on a few times for a couple of minutes, but after that there was nothing until late Thursday evening around 3:00 AM (according to my neighbors).”

Starting Friday, cold weather was to affect his daughter who lives in a dorm. “Because there was a high probability of inclement weather, we picked up our oldest daughter, Adele, from her dorm on Friday before all heck broke loose. That ended up being a smart decision because her dorm also lost power and the cafeteria on her campus was closed!”

Next, came out the window covers and more. “My wife was really good at putting blankets and towels along our windows and doors.” He continues, ” I tried making one of those terra cotta heaters with candles. That helped a tad.”

The water, he says, was also a huge problem. “We were collecting snow so that we could melt it and use it to flush the toilet. We were also “heads up” enough to fill up two large coolers with water from our tap before it got to a drip. That lasted us the entire week! (Fortunately, we didn’t have to boil our water because we already had plenty. But, we couldn’t have boiled it anyway because we didn’t have power!)” He continues, “The one thing we could have done differently was have more food ahead of time. By Thursday we were down to eating Pop Tarts and chips, which wasn’t all that bad!!!”

Bendele even explains a neighborly encounter and heart-warming experience with his own neighbors. “I had absolutely no internet. I had to walk down the street in the snow to post material on Google Classroom with my phone and to keep in touch with my colleagues in the science department. I was constantly going out to my car to charge up my phone. We had a slow dribble of water, but my neighbor (Ms. Hanson) did not have any. So, I was able to bring over a couple of pitchers of water to her. My other next door neighbor was also planning on using his car to charge up his phone, but the cold weather killed his car battery. I was able to help him charge up his car battery. That was definitely memorable, and that’s what neighbors do for each other!”
However, on that President’s Day Monday, Bendele explains that he was blown away by the rare moment, away from the disasters occurring. He says, “I decided to bundle up and walk all around my subdivision. I really wanted to take it all in. It was crazy! I saw cars swirling and sliding all over Vance Jackson! The street was so full of snow you couldn’t separate the street from the sidewalk. In fact, one car completely drove onto the sidewalk!”
Bendele goes on to explain how he is grateful that his brother-in-law was there to the rescue for him and his family. Bendele also was astonished the next day by HEB’s scarcity of items in the store. He described it like “an amusement park,” and explains how he had to wait in line to get milk and eggs. With one word, he describes the experience as “surreal.”
Next is Velma Uriegas, who is an English teacher at Central, but her story involving the storm of the past week is some of what like many have experienced. Likewise, she shares the story of satisfaction, worry, and positivity. The whole rollercoaster of emotions, which is exactly how Uriegas described it. “The weather reports were actually accurate, and we were looking forward to playing in the snow the next day,” she says. “Little did we know how Mother Nature was about to wreak havoc on, not only us, but also on our entire state.”

Uriegas says she lost power around 1AM Monday night. “Honestly, I wasn’t concerned,” she said. “I thought the power would return shortly.”

She then noticed that her home’s water supply had also taken the fall. “My husband was going to make some coffee (we couldn’t go back to sleep), when he realized that the kitchen faucet was not working.  We ran around the house trying to open other faucets to no avail.  We came to the realization that the power probably wasn’t coming back and now, we had lost our precious water,” she said.

To also prevent food from spoiling, Uriegas says she and her husband threw food in some ice chests to try and preserve it. On top of that, the next day wasn’t so pleasant, as she says her husband and daughter, along with herself were using the drinking water fast.

After about 13 hours, Uriegas says she had enough. “…we decided to go to a hotel near our home. However, the roads were so treacherous that we had to drive almost 10 miles to get to the hotel which is actually only about 3 miles from our home. Thankfully, we got a great room and we were safe. In spite of having all we needed, I was quite anxious because my 75 year-old sister did not have power or water in her home, but she lives 25 miles away and the roads were hazardous at that time.  My worry for her did not allow me to relax despite being warm with my daughter, her dog, and my husband in the hotel. Thankfully, one of my nieces was able to go get her and take her to her home.  Once I was aware of this, I was able to relax a little.  Other family members were having the same issues, but they were sure that the power outage would be brief so they stayed put in their homes.”

She continues, “We were quite comfy the first night, but finding food was a problem.”

She then says, “We had a ton of snacks that didn’t require refrigeration or cooking. Our plan was to stay one night; however, after calling our neighbors the next day, we decided to stay one more night at the hotel despite the price hike on the room. Our first night, the room was $159; the second night, it jumped to $219. Our neighbors reported that the power had not come back, and they had already left to stay with other family members.”

This even despite many reports of some hotels having to evacuate guests due to food scarcity and lack of clear, running water. Some reports even claim that price gouging from hotels was an issue for the few days of the last storm.

“The second night around 9 PM, the hotel started to lose water pressure and we were unable to shower or use the restroom. We had to go down to the first floor to use the restrooms there since they were the only ones that worked.  Everyone at the hotel was obviously stressed, but nice. During our two night stay, we saw many families with their pets (cats, dogs, gerbils or hamsters, and a turtle). Everyone was making the best of it.  Everyone I came across was masked up.  Tuesday night, a lady on our floor lost her cat and set off all of the dogs to barking, including my daughter’s dog,  while the poor cat lady traipsed back and forth in the hallway calling for her cat.  It was both hilarious and annoying to hear all of different sized dogs barking.  We recognized there were some ‘yappy’ small dogs next door and some robust scary dogs across the hall. We hadn’t realized how many dogs were in the hotel.”

The next day, Uriegas and her family decide to pack up and head back home. “The house was still cold, but we were encouraged by the sun and the rising temperature to a “warm” 39 degrees. The snow was starting to melt, so my daughter started collecting water running out of the gutter with a pail.  We started filling our bathtub with the melted snow water so that we could use it to flush toilets.  My husband busied himself with checking the pipes inside and out for signs of breaks or leaks.  Thankfully, all was good.  They were “just” frozen.  We spent the day preparing for the night as we knew the temperature was going to drop.  A very good friend gave us firewood which was a big relief.  Our plan was to sleep in front of the fireplace to keep warm.  We put batteries in flashlights and flameless candles to have as light sources in the dark. At around 5:30, my nephew who lives half a mile away offered us a hot meal, so we drove there to pick it up.  As we were leaving their home, they lost power. It felt as if we had jinxed them; it was awful.”

She concludes, “Thankfully, my daughter took her dog and went to stay with a co-worker who had not lost power or water at all.  It was terrible to watch her black lab, Ned, shiver. Out of boredom, my husband and I decided to play cards and try to forget about the cold. We played Uno and Dominoes for a couple of hours, then my husband started the fire at around 8:30 because we were starting to get really cold despite our layers of clothes. The fire had just gotten going when a “miracle” happened!  The power came back on!  My husband and I were high-fiving, cheering, and jumping about excitedly. We quickly made coffee and hot chocolate, and started to try to get the internet going since we could not watch TV, talk to Alexa, or check social media. It was short-lived. An hour later it went out again. Although it was infuriating, we had the fire, and we were relatively warm.”

She continues, “A little before midnight, the power came back on, and we were surprised, but not excited.  We were wary, for we didn’t believe that it would stay on.  Thanks be to God, it did.  We did not have to sleep in a cold house again.  Thursday, we woke up early again thankful that the house was warm.  We had left the faucets open to drip, but still no water. I cooked breakfast, and we were happy to feel a little “normal.” Then, I started to transfer the food from the ice chests back to the refrigerator.  I swept the floors and tried to pick up as best as possible. But, the dishes were piling up, so I started boiling the snow water to be able to wash the dishes.  I added a teaspoon of Clorox to the water to disinfect it.”

She goes on to say, “I had just decided to take a nap around 3 PM when my husband ran into our bedroom to tell me that there was water trickling out of the bathroom faucet. All hope was restored at that point. I can’t explain how wonderful it was to see water flowing out of the faucets at about 4 PM.”

Uriegas describes the week as her family not “suffering” at all,  but rather that she will definitely be prepared in the future. She claims they were just stressed with the duration and events of the week, and says she was more worried for those such as the homeless, who were also suffering during the storm.

She looks back on it with positivity and better preparedness for future abnormal forecasts, saying, “Thanks be to God for this wonderful, adventurous life.”

Fabiola Mendez, Foreign Language Dept. Chair and Spanish Teacher, describes her entire story of the storm.
She first describes Sunday night, saying, “I guess it was about eleven o’clock, and I was outside… and I saw the flurries. That’s when I woke everyone up to come outside,” she says.
She then describes Monday morning, saying, “In the morning, we got up, we played in the snow… and then, that same night around midnight… we thought we had everything settled and done, so we had four generators and gasoline, so we were ready to go. Because we have a lot of tropical plants and we had an iguana and we had some special lizards that are in a cage. We had them all with heat lamps.”
She continues, “So when we got excited about the snow, we came inside, and the first time the power went off, we panicked.”
What does that mean?- the generators, the heat lamps, everything was shut off. Mendez says there was no obvious reason why anything would be wrong at the power source. “I called the energy company,” she said. “We tried the first generator, but it was so cold that there was already two inches of snow… The generators where the gas feeds into the motor, it broke. We went through the same generators and broke the same parts on all three.”
Another problem that caught Mendez and her family by surprise, was the water. “This is from eleven o’clock the night before to the first day of the real snow.” She continues, “We’re walking around, and he (her husband) tells me I don’t see a leak anywhere… So I go to the patio to let the dogs out to play in the snow and to feed them and stuff, and I hear this gushing sound.”
She continues on, “I was like, ‘is that the swimming pool?’ which was iced over too. We have the little spritzer thing… So he went and turned that off, and we thought that fixed the problem, but it didn’t because the tank filled up again, a little bit but not much. So Diego (her son) discovered that our sprinkler system was still on. So they shut off the sprinkler system, and then we were able to get some water but not a lot.”
She continues, “And then, it happened again. The water pressure went down.”
It wasn’t due to the sprinkler system this time, but it was due to something else. “We went and saw that one of our cows, which by the way had snow on them, had busted one of the pipes…” Mendez says eventually they got their water working perfectly normal again.
Mendez also elaborated on the “frustrating” rolling blackouts that occurred the rest of the week. She said they were lucky enough to have gas stoves, but says she cooked a lot of food due to the appliances not working from time to time. Other than that, she called the experience an “adventure,” and who could blame her?

Fabiola Mendez
Fabiola Mendez
Fabiola Mendez
Fabiola Mendez
Fabiola Mendez
Mr. Cassler
Mr. Cassler
Mr. Cassler