Monday morning, February 15, 2021 – Southeast Texas – Temperature 12 degrees fahrenheit: “O’ sh*t!,” a south Texas wildcatter would declare in weather like this.
At 5 a.m., I woke up at Texotic Farm to no power, no water, two cats, two dogs, three parrots and a swimming pool freezing over. It was 12 degrees fahrenheit in southeast Texas, typically noted for only having two seasons – summer and January. This year Mother Nature decided to add February to the mix. Before the week would be over, the area would see temperatures drop to 8 degrees with a series of cold fronts hitting the area like a lightning strike on the open prairie during a thunderstorm.
The view from my second story window was a Ponderosa Pine covered with snow and the ground glittering white, frosted with ice. How beautiful and how deadly. The tropical palms looked like wilting scarecrows after a corn field harvest. There had not been such a storm in Houston since 1896 (125 years). No longer would I smirk at those that preached the gospel of climate change, we were living it and I didn’t want to participate.
I rolled out of bed, bundled up in three layers of clothes, two pairs of gloves (not worn for three decades), knee-high lamb insulated boots that had been buried under a dozen summer sandals, and topped off with the ole’ fur ski jacket. I was preparing for a bird rescue. As I stepped outside, at the edge of the horizon, daybreak was peeking out from behind gray clouds blowing snow. The wind had kicked up to 20 mph, making the wind chimes ring like the bells of a Spanish mission. Greeting me at the back door was Cheyenne, the pinto miniature horse with an intent of coming into a house that wasn’t much warmer than his barn stall. His back was frosted in a glistening blanket of new fallen snow.
In the outside aviary, the meanest birds alive were perched. Edward and Cody (bright scarlet and blue Macaw parrots) were in a semi-frozen state in front of a small heater that had ceased working. Edward, who only speaks Spanish, came out with some choice words of disgust while Cody, who always has a bad attitude in the best of times, was not in the mood for conversation while fluffing his feathers to keep warm. Fortunately, they were too cold to be their usual aggressive selves so I quickly grabbed Edward’s long red tail feathers (right at the anus), much like I remember my mother doing when retrieving a rooster before she rang his neck and dumped him into boiling water for defeathering (agreed, this is not a pretty picture).
Edward was squawking at the top of his lungs, not because he was hurt but because he was restrained from reaching around and taking a bite out of my upper arm. However, he soon succumbed to the warmth of a beach towel being placed over his head. Cody’s capture followed with both birds being placed in a small cage inside the house where there was no power, and it was only a few degrees warmer than the aviary.
Outside in the corrals, I faced a frozen well head that was spouting water like Yellowstone’s Ole’ Faithful (without the steam) creating a manmade pond that was ready for skating. The livestock water tanks were frozen two inches thick. The llamas, with their long thick winter coats, were covered in snow and overjoyed with the freezing weather. They playfully romped in the corrals kicking, running and jumping. These animals, descendants of a herd from the Peruvian Andes Mountains, had grown up in the humid heat of south Texas and had never seen snow. Having such cold weather must have taken them back to their roots.
The remainder of the week would include three cold fronts passing through the Houston region, the final one coming on Thursday morning with rain turning into ice, breaking tree limbs and finishing off what tropical plants still remained.
When the thaw came on Saturday the broken pipes revealed themselves, creating a waterfall outside the master bathroom. By the end of February, the temperature had returned to the 70s, the spring breeze played through the wind chimes, and massive repair bills had come and gone. Life can be a “b***h” in the unpredictable winters on the southeast Texas frontier.