I’m writing this late afternoon on February 18th, 2021 at the tail end of an event that anyone who experienced it will likely never forget.
Allow me start here – I’m in South-Central Texas, along Lake Buchanan at the Texas Hills RV Haven RV Campground (and cabins) for the winter of ’20-21 primarily because of “the virus” and its impact upon ski areas up north (where I typically spend my winters.) I arrived on November 1 and have found most days to experience high temperatures in the 60s with some days as warm as 80F. That said, what happened over the past week or so was EPIC.
Monday February 8 2021 was one of our warmer days with afternoon temperatures around 79F – a taste of an early spring? Perhaps, Tuesday was also comfortably warm and Wednesday was forecast to be 70.
Surprise! I awoke Wednesday morning (Feb 10) to temperatures near 40 and the NEW forecast was for temperatures to remain in the 40’s all day. The first of two ARCTIC cold fronts had slipped south of my location. By Thursday Feb. 11, the high temperature struggled to reach freezing, and when sleet and freezing rain began to fall early Friday morning on the 12th, it actually accumulated on the ground and DID NOT MELT when the precipitation stopped falling! (Remember its Texas… freezing rain and sleet can occur, but don’t last long!)
The Cold Wave Reinforces
Saturday and Sunday morning were the LAST opportunities to prepare for the coming ARCTIC blast of the COLDEST AIR that Texas has EVER seen. On Saturday, temperatures hovered in the mid 20’s on a dark, dreary day with the forecast of significant snowfall and temperatures in the single digits to come by Monday morning.
By Sunday evening, the temperature had fallen to about 8F and we experienced a several hour period of HEAVY SNOW – that fell horizontally as the wind gusted to 35mph! And then… the power went out at about 10:20pm.
I chose to rely upon my two Trojan 105 6 volt batteries for the night to keep my camper warm and functioning. I knew they would power the furnace and I set the temperature at 57F. Plenty warm enough to keep the plumbing from freezing – and for me to sleep under a heavy blanket!
Its times like during light Sunday night that I thank Outdoors RV for building such a solid camper – and YES, it MATTERS! ALL of the plumbing is enclosed in a heated underbelly (except for about 4″ of pipe that extrudes to connect my sewer hose.) Further, the hot water heater can run propane or electric, so when the power failed, I flipped it to propane and knew again my batteries would sustain it.
On Sunday afternoon, the campground owner (wisely) cut off the water to each site to keep his own plumbing from freezing and bursting (which is now a MAJOR problem across much of Texas for homeowners and renters.) I know I would be without water for several days, but I also knew that having an 82 gallon fresh water tank was MORE than enough for the upcoming freeze (and I’m NOT in a toy hauler!) As I’m writing this the water is STILL off and it will likely be a full 6 or 7 days without any water outside of my own fresh water tank “reserve.” (Oh and forget about the grocery stores having any water!)
I often feel like a “broken record” with my Concierge RV Buying Service clients to whom I recommend a very limited group of campers worthy of their hard earned dollars as this event shows it PAYS to have a TOP FLIGHT camper! You never know when you’ll need it!
Living in the ARCTIC COLD of SOUTH-CENTRAL TEXAS
I awoke on Monday morning to temperatures near 5F, a fresh coating (4″) of snow, and moderate winds off the lake. Of course, I HAD to break out my CROSS-COUNTRY SKIS! A tool I never expected to use while here in SOUTH-CENTRAL Texas!
After some much needed exercise and play, reality set in, especially for my neighbors who had campers that were NOT “4 season” and had serious issues including frozen pipes, water hoses, and eventually frozen hot water heaters. I made no attempt to travel anywhere on Monday. The roads started out snow covered, and despite strong sunshine, temperatures only reached 19F (the NORMAL HIGH is around 67… so we were ONLY 48 degrees BELOW normal!!) And… of course, Texas drivers are NOT known for their prowess on snow and ice covered roads! Further, there’s virtually NO plows or salt / sand trucks to treat the roads. So, it was up to the sun to melt the roads – and at temperatures in the teens – that wasn’t happening any time soon!
At the campground, we all knew we needed to survive on solar panels and generators for the next SEVERAL days. Fortunately most folks had one or the other. My first task on Monday was to break out my Renogy solar panels. They did a great job, but they DO need sunshine to perform well! Monday turned out to the ONLY day with bright sun all week. The sun did not return until Friday – and by then the power came back on. It actually wasn’t stable until late Friday morning! The power came on briefly Thursday afternoon but went off again shortly after. Most of the past 4 days has been overcast AND COLD. In fact, temperatures by Tuesday morning (the 16th) had fallen to the COLDEST EVER OBSERVED in this region – the low temperature was -2F!
Solar Panels are great – but EVERY RV’er should be traveling with a GENERATOR
My generator is a basic, cheap 2000 watt Wen generator. I purchased it because it is lightweight and quiet. I’m now VERY glad I had it with me! It holds a gallon of gasoline and can run for 10+ hours. It won’t power much in the camper, but it does what I need it to do – charge the batteries, power the laptop, wifi hotspot, and run the TV. This generator has proven to be FAR more reliable and resilient than I ever expected! If I ever want more power, I can get a 2nd generator and parallel it with the first to generate about 3600 watts – enough to run an air conditioner and/or a microwave.
Travel Challenges and MUCH more…
As I mentioned earlier, Tuesday morning I awoke to BELOW ZERO temperatures, and the threat of an approaching ICE storm. It was a dark overcast, my solar panels were ineffective, but my generator kept plugging along – keeping my batteries topped off, but there was a new issue – my propane was running low.
I spoke with my neighbor as they were heading out, despite the STILL snow covered roads, and gave them a 30 pound tank to get refilled. They found THE ONLY propane supplier in our region that was open (others had no power to fill tanks) and waited nearly 2 hours to fill our tanks as they needed propane as well. They also found THE ONLY gas station with power to fill our gas cans. Fortunately we had been tipped off by locals as to which businesses were operating.
The Ice Storm
Tuesday night at about 10pm, I heard the pinging of sleet pellets on my camper – and it came down heavily for several hours. We were fortunate! Atmospheric temperatures above us were just cold enough to ensure SLEET and not FREEZING RAIN. Freezing rain is rain that freezes when it makes contact with the ground. It sticks to everything – including powerlines. Sleet is frozen rain (ice pellets.) It is not nearly as dangerous as freezing rain. Areas south and east of my location received far more freezing rain – and the evidence remained until well into Friday on the trees as you can see the glaze.
By Wednesday morning, the latest storm had ended and temperatures “recovered” to near 30F. Today it was my turn to brave the STILL snow (and now ICE) covered roads to head out, fill propane, get fuel, and make a quick grocery shop.
I have recently switched over to a plant based diet, thanks to my brother who turned me on to a book called “The China Study” that explains why animal protein is so dangerous for us. So… I had to get some fresh produce and found the grocery store in Llano was open. By Wednesday, Llano had power (about 20 miles from my location.) I even drove past the coffee shop I’ve frequented this winter, but due to frozen (and burst) pipes, they were closed.
Advantages of going through this in an RV Camper
As challenging as this week has been, ALL of us in campers were FAR better off than most living in homes. Recall when the power first went out Sunday night, I STILL had heat as my furnace runs on propane – so as long as I had propane AND battery power, I could stay (relatively) warm. Naturally I cut back on the thermostat to extend the life of my propane supply. Further, in a camper, my hot water heater and refrigerator run on propane as well (a good argument for NOT having a residential fridge in a camper!!)
When the electric went out, most home dwellers lost the food in their freezers, their hot water, and eventually their water (and pipes) froze as the power outage lasted nearly a week and temperatures remained below freezing for nearly 5 days after the power went out.
Now that temperatures are “on the mend”, today (I’m writing this portion on Saturday 2/20), many homeowners are finding massive damage to their plumbing – and this is true of sanitation plants (many can’t flush their toilets), and those who even have water, have to boil it before using it.
In a camper, you have holding tanks to buffer you from the emergency. A fresh water tank can hold several days worth of water that is fine to ingest with no treatment. Note: Twice a year I disinfect my fresh water tank with bleach.
A snowstorm, arctic unprecedented cold wave, ice storm, and now ANOTHER snowstorm?
Yep, on Wednesday, we started hearing about a possible snowstorm on Thursday. This time, luck prevailed for our region as the snowstorm stayed SOUTH of our location! Del Rio Texas ON THE MEXICAN BORDER was hit with several inches of snow, but we were TOO FAR NORTH!
Despite the lack of new snow on Thursday, I elected to not try to travel anywhere as it was COLDER than Wednesday and any melting the previous day had refrozen and the roads were treacherous – actually the worst condition of the week. It was not until 10am Friday that I ventured out and even then, I encountered some pack ice (nearly an inch thick) on the roadways!
The sun returns and a slow return to normal
Friday saw temperatures finally break above freezing (the high was about 41F.) Much, though not all of the snow melted. The roads returned to their normal condition. But the impacts remain – I went shopping in Marble Falls and the grocery store looked more like something I’d find behind the iron curtain in the 1950’s – lines to enter, empty shelves, and very limited supplies. Why? The delivery trucks could not navigate the icy roads. Finally, today (Saturday 2/20) the stores will BEGIN to be restocked.
An unanticipated problem – but advance preparation saved the camper…
A while back I wrote an article on surge protectors. I have a surge protector that does far more than simply protect you from surges and when the power started to come back on Thursday and Friday, it likely saved my camper. How? This surge protector cuts electric to the camper if the voltage is TOO LOW (along with several other conditions.) This is exactly what was happening as the power company was restoring power. When I checked, because I could see my surge protector was ON, but my camper was OFF, I could see I was receiving about 100 volts in each leg to my camper! This is low voltage and CAN harm appliances. The better surge protectors will cut power to your camper to protect it. There are not many that do this. Mine is a Progressive EMS model (see below.)
Problems throughout the region continue
Problems continue – and likely will for days (weeks?) The infrastructure here in Texas has been damaged as it was never built for this kind of cold wave. Personally, I do NOT believe this event was a natural occurrence. I will not elaborate why I believe this to be true here, but from my experience as a trained meteorologist (I have a degree in meteorology), what happened required “manipulation.”
The entire event did reveal a KEY weakness in the electric grid here in Texas and MUCH of it points towards problems with “green” energy – specifically wind. Texas’ reliance upon wind farms proved to be a poor choice. Again, as the reader, I’ll let you work through the dynamics of what occurred here this past week.
Advance preparation is invaluable! This starts for RV’ers with choosing a high quality, well built RV that can survive several days of subfreezing weather. If it can happen here, near San Antonio, it can happen almost anywhere in our nation!
Have FUEL stored (gasoline, sufficient propane supplies), WATER, and FOOD. Again this can come down to your choice of RV camper as some have large fresh water tanks. Propane tanks – often 20 pound tanks in travel trailers can be replaced with 30 pound tanks. At no time did I have less than a 3 day supply of propane and gasoline. I may get a 5 gallon gas can to replace my 2.5 gallon.
Check batteries IN ADVANCE of an extreme weather event. I’m talking about the camper AND your vehicle. In my case, my truck is a 2015 and still running the original batteries – on Tuesday when I tried, it did not want to start! I do have my own battery charger, so my generator was able to service the charger.
We (my neighbors and I) all learned from this event and speaking for myself, I’m glad I went through it. It was good preparation for what may be coming in the future. Being in a RURAL area was definitely preferable to being near a city. Near the cities, the problems multiplied! More road issues, accidents, pressure on infrastructure, lack of food and water, etc.
Closing thoughts and future plans
In little more than a week, I’m moving on. My time here along Lake Buchanan is closing and the next part of my journey will take me to west Texas and then north – eventually to South Dakota where I will be attending (and reporting on) FreedomFest in July – see you there?
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