A little over seven inches of snow and single digit weather might seem like an opportunity for outdoor fun to those of us living in cold weather states.
But, what if your city had no plows? And you didn’t own a shovel? Or a four-wheel drive vehicle? And you lost power? Then water?
That’s what happened to my friends in Austin this week, and they responded with impressive ingenuity and good cheer.
As record snowfall and low temperatures pummeled Austin, a surge in electricity caused by people trying to heat their houses overloaded the state’s power grid and nearly the entire city lost power.
Then as the blackouts hit water treatment plants, they, too, failed. People who had spent days freezing in their homes found themselves without running water.
“We feel like pioneers!” my friend Tanya said, upbeat in the face of her difficulties but recognizing the danger of the situation throughout the city.
With no running water, Tanya and her boyfriend Doug collected snow, melted it and used that water to fill their toilet tanks. They shoveled a path through their yard for their poor, stunned but still adorable dog Boz, who had no idea how to do his business in a snowbank.
With icy roads and no salt to tame them, most of the city shut down. That meant no food delivery, no Uber rides, no public transportation, no easy access to grocery stores, many of which also closed. What to do?
The people of Austin relied on exactly the qualities that built their city – innovation, determination, and empathy.
Another friend, Amy and her husband Todd were supposed to move into a new house this week, and instead found themselves bunking in with their oldest son and daughter in-law, who did not lose power or water.
“We are so grateful to have this wonderful option,” she said. “So many are not so lucky.”
Amy intended to help deliver water to people in need today, but her car is parked on the third floor of an ice covered ramp and would have slid straight down until it crashed at the bottom. “Maybe tomorrow when the temperatures go above freezing,” she said.
Amy sent me a several examples of Austin residents leaning into this historic challenge – a plumber offering parts at cost and his expert directions to help people safely repair their water lines, corporations donating money to restaurants to provide warm meals to stranded citizens and first responders, crowdsourcing, meal preparation and delivery to people in need.
The temperature dipped to subfreezing levels again last night, but warmer weather is on the way today.
Meanwhile, here’s to all the Texans who took care of themselves, their neighbors, and people they didn’t even know.