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Published March 2, 2021

It got very cold, and the lights went out

By John Toth / The Bulletin

I woke up to an unusually cold room.

“What’s that blue flashing light,” asked Sharon. That’s the light that comes on when the power goes out, I replied.

That’s how our adventure with the cold weather and lack of power began.

It will come back in a few minutes, I thought. A transformer must have frozen up somewhere in the city. If it were just that simple.

I didn’t realize how extensive and dangerous conditions would become. Our power has never gone out in the winter since we moved here in 1989. It went out a few times during hurricanes or tropical storms, but it didn’t take all that long to get it back.

I figured that if the Texas grid can withstand scorching summers with months of 90F-plus temperatures, it can withstand a much shorter period of freezing weather.

We have heard various explanations as to why the Texas deep- freeze power failure happened, but to the average Joe, what matters is that his house is warm and his family is safe. The details to accomplish that are up to the experts who control the power supply and grid.

I’m assuming that they get paid well to solve these problems and make decisions with the public safety in mind, not profits - or should, anyway.

The power came back a few hours later, afterward we ate cold cereal in a very cold house. We couldn’t imagine that it was going to get much colder. But the show was just beginning.

When the power came back, we relaxed. It was just some equipment failure, we thought. It was a time to return to what we usually do on a Monday. The paper was distributed earlier to play it safe, which we do each time there is a major weather event forecast.

Thirty minutes later, we were in the cold again. The house thermostat started inching its way down. We prepared to ride out a cold day and a very cold night.

I went around the house in four layers of warm clothing. I don’t have that many. I think I wore all of them. At night, I sat by the gas fireplace that hasn’t been used for decades and read a book by flashlight while listening to my transistor radio.

If you don’t have a battery-operated radio in the house, you need one for situations like this. I bought all my kids transistor radios, although I doubt they know what they did with them. I think my generation is the last one to value this very important information source and great entertainer when power is out. I listened to KUHT (88.7-FM) all night to help pass the time.

I put four blankets on the bed and slept in my clothes. That was a good idea. Our three cats sought warmth on top of me, which also kept me warmer. A face mask kept my face warm. I slept like a log.
I could hardly move and hoped that no one would come to embalm me, like they did mummies, because I probably resembled one laying there.

It was 12F outside the next morning, 54F in the house. I felt like staying under the blankets, but there was work to be done, and I started mapping my way out from under the blankets. This winter freezing weather is for the birds, who don’t seem to mind. The cardinals who were born in a nest by our house last spring were out chirping away like there was nothing wrong. I was shaking.

I made a good decision that morning after I found that several faucets quit working. I filled the bathtub up with water, just in case. A short time later, I heard a weird sound coming from the attic.

I scrambled outside to turn off the water to the house. By then, water was dripping from the ceiling. It flooded the bedroom and filled up the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. Good thing our power was out, or those wires would have put on quite a show.

It would have been just my luck had the power come back on at that time, but it didn’t.

The fact that we were home and I heard the pipe burst helped a lot. Now, when the problem is fixed, and everything gets patched up, I’ll be paranoid each time I hear an unusual sound or leave the house - at least for a while.

Time for lunch - cold sandwiches, chips and water - not from the bathtub. I used to really like Doritos chips, but I think it’s time for a break.

“I can see much better with the light on,” I said nonchalantly as we ate.

Sharon didn’t realize until I said something that power had been restored. Miracles do happen. But for how long?

“Let’s cook some of this food in the refrigerator before it goes out again,” she said, as she sprung into action.

It was the best-tasting hot food I have ever had.

(Next week: Trying to get a plumber is not easy after a freeze.)

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)