By Lyn Horner
Millions of Texans lost electric power and/or water during the winter storm and freezing temps we just experienced. My husband and I are among the very lucky ones whose homes remained warm and whose pipes did not freeze and burst. Our children were not so lucky.
Daughter Carrie and her family (including three young children) lost power. They bundled up and went to stay with friends during the outage which lasted only about 12 hours. Thank goodness!
Son Dan's family had it much worse. Their power was out for 60 hours, turning their house into a refrigerator. Using his head, Dan set up a large tent facing their gas fireplace, where he, his wife and two teenagers huddled to keep warm. Along with two dogs, I'm sure.
Why is this happening? Because the Texas power grid is designed primarily to handle summer heat, not severe winter cold. Our power plants need to winterize to prevent such a disaster again!
Now, lest you think this is the first time Texas has been hit by snow and cold, it's not. We have lived here over 30 years and have experienced two previous bad winter storms and freezes during that time. But the event I want to tell you about happened way back in 1895.
I’ve mentioned the Valentine’s Day blizzard that struck Galveston that year, which plays a significant role in MY VOYAGER. But there’s much more to tell about the frigid winter of 1894-95.
My main source:
Space City Rewind: Houston’s Great Snow of 1895
Posted by Matt Lanza at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2017
[The following quote is from Brenham, Texas, about 73 miles west/northwest of Houston.]
“All of Wednesday night polar spirits swept the earth until boundless snow had deformed the withered heath and the people of this section for the first time within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, looked out upon nature fringed with a beard made white with other snows than those of age.” – Brenham Daily Banner, February 15, 1895
Mr. Lanza also reports how rough that winter was on the plains. “This particular dispatch in the February 17, 1895 Galveston Daily News described the suffering experienced in Oklahoma:
“Many settlers are killing prairie dogs and eating them, having nothing to feed their families. They are in a piteous state of destitution without parallel in the settlement of new countries. It may be painful to drag before the public the distressing picture of a single individual starving to death, but when multiplied many hundred times one can then form a picture of this accumulated suffering.”
Included was a letter sent by the chairman of an aid committee in Medford, Oklahoma, to the mayor of Galveston appealing for assistance for destitute settlers who had lost their crops due to the summer drought. They were in desperate need of food, clothing and grain for seed and feed. The letter was dated Feb. 9, 1895
“Stories and pleas such as this one from Oklahoma were discovered in regional newspapers during the extremely cold early-mid February of 1895”
Houston’s winter of 1894-95 ranked as the eighth coldest on record until now. Six of Houston’s 35 coldest days on record occurred in the 1894-95 winter. The city reported 20 inches of snow Feb. 14-15. Galveston reported 15 inches.
The snow didn’t just fall in Houston and Galveston. It was a huge storm, dropping snow from Tampico, Mexico, to Pensacola, Florida. It also set records in New Orleans and Alabama.
Florida suffered multiple freezes that winter, decimating the state’s citrus crops. Here are headlines from the New Orleans Picayune, Feb. 10, 1895:
Much to my frustration, I could not find temperature records for Dallas/Fort Worth from 1895. However, I did find some from four years later, year of the Great Blizzard of 1899, also known as the Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899, a severe winter weather event that affected most of the United States, particularly east of the Rocky Mountains. Dallas recorded a temp -8 degrees.
So, as you can see, this is hardly the first time Texas and the rest of the South have suffered heavy snow and sub-zero cold. What worries me is that we may experience such weather more frequently due to the warming of our planet. Sound crazy? Not necessarily, according to climate experts. The following link will take you to an article that explains how this winter event came about.
To summarize, the jet stream normally holds freezing arctic air farther north, but it dipped south this week, bringing bone-chilling temperatures with it. This situation began in early January with a disturbance of the polar vortex. The writer, Tom Nizio, goes into detail, including some great diagrams showing weather patterns. Here’s the paragraph that has me concerned.
“There is some evidence that rapid climate change in the Arctic, which is melting sea ice, is helping to disrupt larger-scale weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, which may make incursions of polar air more likely and lead to extreme heat waves during the summer. This is still an area of active scientific research, however.”
If this turns out to be accurate, it’s all the more reason for Texas power plants to properly winterize. Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.