Winter has arrived...
...and it seems to have a serious inferiority complex with regard to the Dallas summer.
First off, apologies for the lack of a post last week, everything turned chaotic, and it was all due to the weather. About a week and a half ago, a rather nasty ice storm blew in and quite literally froze Dallas.
This all coincided with the end of exams for the semester. We’ve all now managed to get through what we’re told is the hardest quarter of the MA/MBA program. It was a tough series of exams too, each of which had tricky challenges to overcome.
The final exam was a night exam, so many of us did not finish until close to 10pm. At which point we all went directly to the bar for a celebratory drink. Normally the end-of-exam drinks are scheduled a day later, but we had all heard that a big ice storm was expected to hit the next day with freezing rain, and nobody was prepared to take any chances of missing out on a party.
The next day was brutally cold, and I was still holding out some hope that the end-of-exam party would take place that evening, but as the day wore on the sky became darker, and the air became sharper with the onset of the rain. Soon after it became clear that all parties were going to be cancelled. The rain got heavier through the evening, and lasted all night.
Now for those of you reading from back home in Australia, you may not be familiar with the concept of an ice storm and “freezing rain”. It’s different to a snow storm, sleet or hail, in that instead of the precipitation being frozen on the way down, it remains liquid until it hits the ground. At that point it freezes solid. This means that everything gets coated in a glaze of ice. And unlike snow, it is a lot harder to get rid of.
The next morning was a sight to behold. The entire area outside was coated in a glaze of solid ice. Icicles had formed on all the plants, and the grass was covered in an inch-thick layer of ice. Some of the neighbours were slipping around on the footpaths as they walked their dogs. A flag flying from a nearby building had become frozen, such that when it flapped against itself it made a giant cracking sound.
I got dressed to brave the subzero temperatures and look around the area. The plants were encased in the ice, so much so that you could snap off a leaf with ease. The branches of trees had become weighed down. The side gate to the apartment block had frozen over, making it impossible to get in.
My housemate Jack had left his car here for the holidays, and had parked it under one of the trees. A branch had partly snapped, and was hanging precariously above the car, like a wooden sword of Damocles. A quick call to Jack and I was granted the rare permission to drive his car to safety.
This was not an easy task – both the roadway and the car were covered in a thick layer of ice. It was impossible to scrape the ice from the windshield, and even getting the door open was an effort. The car struggled to start in the cold, but eventually came to life, and I inched it slowly backwards away from the danger. With all the windows blocked, I was forced to have the door open, moving the car about a metre, stopping, poking my head out of the car to make sure nobody was coming, and then moving the car once more. Eventually I got it parked in a new, treeless spot.
With that danger averted, I went back to getting ready for my trip to Disney World. My friend Adam and I were planning to go to the airport together, with me staying over at his place the night before. However, in the early afternoon he called to say that because of the storm, there was no chance of him getting across from near Fort Worth to Dallas to pick me up, and that I would have to try to get to his place using public transport.
This would normally not be too difficult, but the ice storm had left such a large amount of ice on the rails and wires that the entire light rail system had shut down, replaced by buses. It was a chilly walk from my apartment to the nearest station. The nearby main roads had been cleared of the worst of the ice, and traffic was flowing reasonably well.
Once in the city I got to the main train station to get to Fort Worth. Thankfully a train arrived just as I got there, keeping me from a long wait in the cold. As the train headed west from the city the ground became even whiter, and the trees heavier. The roads became less clear; where in Dallas the main roads had been fully cleared, the roads in Fort Worth were iced over save for two ruts where cars had been. On arrival at the station, the parking lot was all ice. Adam pulled the car around gingerly and drove us back to his place.
About 9pm that evening we then got the worst news – the airport was virtually closed, and our flights were cancelled. We stayed up until 3am on hold, desperately trying to get rebooked. Eventually we were placed on flights two days later, meaning we would miss the start of our training at the Disney Institute.
The conditions the next day were even worse; even though no further rain had fallen, the overnight temperatures were even lower, causing any ice that had melted the previous day to refreeze on the ground as black ice. The conditions were even more dangerous. Moreover, the frozen conditions had caused the internet and TV at Adam’s place to disconnect, leaving us with only our phones to communicate. We spent the morning trying to again sort out our flights, and eventually we got moved to a flight the next day, but we anxiously worried that it too would be cancelled. The TV came back on just in time to see the SMU Mustangs lose to the University of Central Florida in the football (a game which incidentally, due to the ice and the subzero temperatures was made free admission, not that anyone could get there). Things were not looking up for us.
In the early afternoon we ventured out of the house to try and get some lunch. The roads were so slippery that we could barely exceed walking pace in a lot of places, and you had to start braking extra early to avoid skidding out. Amazingly, a local Chinese eatery was still doing business, and we were able to get fed. While we were eating, a customer had managed to get stuck in the ice, and was spinning the wheels on his truck trying to escape. He had managed to melt through the ice such that the rubber was meeting concrete, but as soon as the tyre moved back onto the ice, it would slip back down.
The owner of the restaurant rushed out with a bucket of hot water, and even though I’m from a country that doesn’t get ice storms, I knew that was the worst thing to do – the water would simply refreeze. Adam and I ran out to stop him but it was too late, the water had already been thrown down, and had immediately frozen up, at which point the restaurant owner took to attacking the ice with a hammer, but to no avail. Eventually someone procured a bag of sand, and they were able to move the truck out.
We headed back to Adam’s place, again making sure not to drive too fast lest we lose traction. We then settled in for another tense wait.
The next day we got up at 0530 to drive out to the airport. Our flight was still on schedule, but a fog was descending on Dallas, which had the potential to stop all flights getting into the airport, and leaving us stranded. The first few miles of driving were slow going, with all the roads frozen over completely. But as we headed back east, and onto the larger roads, gaps opened in the ice and we were able to travel faster.
It took over an hour to drive what would normally be 20 minutes or so, but we made it intact. On arrival we met up with a few more of the MBA students going to Disney World, and shared stories of what had been dubbed the “Iceocalypse” of 2013.
Our flight was delayed getting in, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief as it pulled up to the gate. We got on, got seated, and watched as the de-icing crew got to work removing the accumulated ice from the wings before we could finally take off and leave the ice behind. Two hours later we were in Orlando, where it was warm to the point of being uncomfortable. Not that we minded.
We had escaped.
What happened next was truly amazing… but I’ll leave the Disney World experience for next week.
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Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.