40-Degree Homes, Oncoming Snow and Fear of the Unknown in North Texas

"To have the power go out and not come back on and not have anybody telling you that it's going to come back on and also compounded by literally almost a year of feeling a loss of control can send somebody into a deep state of despair."

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Shoppers line up to enter the H-E-B at Slaughter Lane and Escarpment Boulevard in Southwest Austin, as the store prepared to open with reduced hours Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, after a winter storm closed roads and knocked out power to thousands. Store employees initially limited the number of people in the store.
TNS
(TNS) - Firewood and other provisions the Steadman family purchased before the winter storm swept over Texas were not enough to keep them warm in their Fort Worth home.
 
By the time energy providers announced late Monday that some outages would continue indefinitely, the temperature in Elizabeth Steadman's home had fallen to 48 degrees. Her family lost power around 2 a.m. Monday. Steadman, 59, and her husband, Darrell, spent the morning kindling their fireplace and checking for any sign of an update. Their son, Michael, 25, who has Down syndrome, did not understand why the temperature had dropped.
 
The family's fireplace, which they suspected would keep them warm should the power go out, did not keep the house or their food warm as they planned. After receiving no clear answer when the power would return, they hunkered down at their daughter's apartment.
 
"You just come to the point where the misery takes over and you're cranky and you're thinking, 'If this doesn't get better, I don't know what we're going to do,'" Steadman said on Tuesday.
 
The Steadmans are far from alone. More than 301,000 households were without power in Tarrant County on Tuesday morning. Many of those homes lost power more than 24 hours earlier and residents had to deal with single digit temperatures outside. As a whole, more than 4 million people we without power in Texas on Tuesday morning.
 
Surviving the cold
 
About 20 minutes west of the Steadman home, Laura Figg and her husband, Travis, were also hunkering down. The couple survived a blizzard in Washington, D.C., but even then they didn't lose power or fear for their safety.
 
But after 30 hours of living with no electricity, that fear set in as concerns about hypothermia became real.
 
"We are keeping warm by many layers of clothing and blankets," Laura Figg, 32, said through a Twitter direct message on Tuesday morning. She was trying to save the battery on her phone. "We're also sharing body heat with each other and the dogs."
 
The couple is concerned about their 16-year-old pug, Paco, because of his age. Mochi, their 2-year-old pug, has never seen snow and "he is not a fan," Figg said. They are using puppy pads to help the dogs.
 
It's 45 degrees inside their house and the temperature will likely fall if they don't get relief soon. Their gas fireplace has refused to work. They're eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and have a gas stove to heat up canned soup.
 
In Haslet, Chris Hayes, 26, his wife, Katrina, their 3-year-old son, Myles, and their dog, Rahr, also lost power around 2 a.m. Monday. On top of that, Hayes' pipes froze and his family doesn't have running water.
 
"I feel like we were lucky because it happened pretty early," he said. "So we were able to get some bottled water from Costco before it hit everyone else. So now it's becoming hard to find."
 
Hayes also talked with a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter through Twitter, afraid to deplete any unnecessary power from his cellphone.
 
Katrina Hayes is a nurse at John Peter Smith Hospital and Hayes is also an essential employee, so both have had to work while also dealing with the historic cold.
 
Hayes said they did their best to prepare for the weather, but their efforts still fell short.
 
"Most of my neighbors have been sleeping in their cars because it's too cold," he wrote. "We don't have internet, which we rely on because phone service has been really spotty at best. Our house is relatively warm because it's new, right now it's 53 degrees in the house. But I've heard some neighbors in the low 40s."
 
Being isolated from getting information has been one of the harder parts of this ordeal, Hayes said.
 
"Without power we have no idea what's going on," he wrote. "The power company doesn't answer. And really all we get anyway is 'we don't know.' My sister-in-law lives not too far. She has power so we've been able to get warm over at her place. But I worry about not being here at night, I feel the need to watch over the house."
 
He also worries about what will happen when the temperatures get above freezing later this week.
 
"Will my house flood? How much will all this cost to repair? We just don't have a lot of answers," he wrote. "I think that's the worst part."
 
A letdown by Texas leaders
 
Steadman, Figg and Hayes feel let down by the state's response to the cold.
 
Steadman said the lack of information from Oncor, the utility service provider for much of North Texas, or advice on how or where to seek shelter, added to the uncertainty and stress of an unprecedented freeze. By the time it became clear to some that their power would remain out for the evening, she said, it was too late to find other arrangements.
 
The unclear messages from local and state providers, coupled with the ongoing stress of the coronavirus pandemic, is more than enough to overwhelm those who are already stressed, Steadman said.
 
"To have the power go out and not come back on and not have anybody telling you that it's going to come back on and also compounded by literally almost a year of feeling a loss of control can send somebody into a deep state of despair," she said. "The stress level of that could be very difficult."
 
Steadman said while she has fallen back on her faith to get through the freeze, she is also feeling some unease. As a mother of a special needs child, she said, she's become acquainted with having a plan.
 
"It causes you to feel like you have to be in control and you have to fix things," she said.
 
Figg is frustrated by the seemingly lack of plans by leadership.
 
"From where I'm sitting, it sure seems like planning ahead for the extra power requirements and keeping entire power plants from freezing over should have been possible," Figg wrote. "Even the rolling blackouts if they were actually rolling would be a distinct improvement at this point."
 
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas declared the state was at its highest energy emergency level on Monday and began what they called rotating power outages across the state. But thousands of Texans said their power went off and never returned.
 
Just after noon Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said 400,000 homes had their power restored. Abbott also deployed the National Guard and other resources to aid officials in transferring elderly Texans to safe locations. In Dallas-Fort Worth, the cold isn't letting up until at least Friday and Hayes said his family has no idea when they'll find relief.
 
A winter storm system is expected to move into DFW between 6 and 9 Tuesday evening, initially bringing a mix of sleet and snow, David Bonnette, a meteorologist with the weather service, said. That should transition to snow overnight, he said, dropping around 1 to 2 inches by the morning, which will accumulate on top of snow and ice that's already on the ground.
 
Fort Worth has opened a shelter at the Fort Worth Convention Center, open from 7 p.m. Tuesday through 7 a.m. Wednesday, and then from 7 p.m. Wednesday through 7 a.m. Thursday, officials said in a news release. It will be open until noon on Thursday.
 
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