I lived through Snowmageddon in Atlanta in 2014, and now seven years later, just lived through Snowpocalypse in Austin, Texas (ATX). Unfortunately, the ATX edition was far worse than its Atlanta cousin.
Snowmageddon Atlanta 2014
The Atlanta disaster was mainly a traffic issue. The roads iced over mid-day on a weekday when people were trying to make their way home. The interstates were like ice skating rinks, and thousands of people were stranded on the side of the road. Kids slept in their schools when no one could pick them up. Thankfully, the sun melted the problem away within a couple of days.
Snowpocalypse Devastates ATX
The six inches of snow last Monday meant a fun adventure for our 12-year-old son and our dog. For the second time in a month, they woke up to a fresh blanket of snow. Our son broke out his snowboard and hit the slopes, also known as our driveway.
After the first snow, neighbors said they’d never seen weather like this in 30 years in Austin. It’s typically 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (15-20 degrees Celsius) here in February! The second snow, Snowpocalypse, was more record breaking. The temperature dropped to 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 degrees Celsius).
Don’t Mess with Texas
Unfortunately, the novelty of Snowpocalypse wore off quickly. Thanks to COVID, we didn’t have any traffic issues here in ATX, but the extreme cold temperatures and fragility of the state’s energy infrastructure created a very dangerous situation for residents. Hotels booked up immediately. Pipes began bursting. The roads were impassable. Many in the area were without power and heat for days. For some, temperatures inside their homes dropped below freezing for multiple days. Some people had no drinking water for days. Many still don’t have water service, and those who do remain under a “boil water order.”
Last week’s Snowpocalypse showed us just how fragile our infrastructure is. Our neighbors’ daughter and son-in-law moved back home to live in their parents’ basement last Spring. They are finance and legal professionals living in New York City. They left New York to escape COVID-19. Living and working in their parents’ basement had been great for them, especially since they were expecting their first child.
Prior to the storm, the young couple drove themselves to the hospital and learned there were complications. She had to have an emergency C-section, and their son was born during just before Snowpocalypse. The complications kept them in the hospital until last Tuesday when she had her gallbladder removed.
Due to surging COVID hospitalizations, and the frigid weather, demand for hospital beds and staff were at critical levels. Doctors and nurses were literally sleeping in the hospital, unable to drive home due to the icy conditions. As a result, this young couple learned after gallbladder surgery that the hospital needed their bed. They were going to have to find a way home.
Under normal circumstances, going home with a newborn shortly after surgery would be unpleasant and painful for the mother. Snowpocalypse made it almost unimaginable.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
I received a text from the husband on the second (and worst) day of Snowpocalypse. I had only met him once or twice across the fence. He very politely and calmly re-introduced himself and asked if we happened to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. He explained that mother and baby were fine, although she was in surgery at the time. They were being discharged, and he needed to find a way to make the 12 mile trip home. Making matters worse, when they drove themselves to the hospital, they were wearing flip-flops. Not only did they not have a vehicle that could get them home, they also didn’t have shoes or warm clothing.
Luckily I have an all-wheel-drive car and I’ve got experience driving in winter conditions. So my wife and I packed the car with warm clothes, blankets, water and supplies and I headed to the hospital.
The driving conditions were the worst I’ve ever experienced, and that includes driving in a blizzard in Boston, and in Atlanta Snowmageddon. There is no snow removal equipment in Austin, and no salt or sand for the roads. In addition to sheer ice and snow covering the roads, Austin is very hilly. The hills are long and steep.
It took me over an hour to drive the 12 miles to the hospital. The drive back took even longer and became more treacherous every minute we were on the road as the sun set and slushy areas re-froze.
Finding an Open Pharmacy
We arrived at the local HEB pharmacy just after they closed for the evening. The husband knew he had to do whatever it took to get his wife the painkillers she would need to make it through the night. He felt the weight of being a new father, and felt a deep sense of responsibility to care for his wife. Turned away at first, he persisted and found the manager who opened back up, filled the prescription, and dealt with all the necessary paperwork.
When he got back to the car with a prescription in hand, his adrenaline was pumping and he was ecstatic that he was able to come through for his wife. I imagine the HEB manager felt a sense of pride as well for helping a new mother in need.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I knew the most dangerous part of the journey still laid ahead – making it down the hill in our neighborhood. We have an extremely steep, half mile long hill from the top of the street to our homes. By the time we pulled into our neighborhood, the streets had refrozen. I was concerned that my SUV might become a 5,000 pound toboggan. For about a hundred yards, it was, but there was a dry patch I was able to steer into to halt our acceleration.
Our Snowpocalypse story had a happy ending. When we pulled up to the driveway, our neighbors carefully ran out to the car to meet their grandson for the first time!
Difficult Times Unite Us
With a global pandemic and climate change bearing down on us, we are going to need to rely on each other more and more.
I was grateful to be able to help a new family make it home safely in harrowing conditions. The doctors and nurses (the true heroes in this story), the father, the HEB manager and I all got a rush of adrenaline from our role helping a young mother bring a new life into the world.
Maybe Snowpocalypse, and these trying times generally, will help us see each others’ humanity and unite us after years of growing political divide.