Multiple rounds of freezing rain, snow and ice have left thousands without power in the Copperas Cove and Kempner area.
While temperatures are projected to break above freezing today, according to the National Weather Service, it may not bring much relief to those still without power.
Bitter cold temperatures were recorded at nearby Killeen Skylark Field airport.
The lowest high temperature recorded since Sunday was 20 degrees, measured on Monday, while the lowest low was 2 degrees, measured on Tuesday, NWS meteorologist Sarah Barnes said Wednesday afternoon.
Temperatures inside homes or apartments without power plummeted into the 30s and 40s as area residents did what they could to stay warm.
Power has begun to be restored to some areas of Copperas Cove, but others were still without power as of Thursday afternoon.
All people the Herald reached out to have had varying ways of coping with the frigid temperatures and lack of power.
Linda Walsh, who lives off of Summers Road in western Copperas Cove near one of the fire stations, said her power went off Monday morning.
She is currently living with her daughter and two grandchildren.
“My grandkids have been doing fairly well,” Walsh said Wednesday. Her granddaughter is 8, and her grandson is 13.
“I learned to get in my car pretty quickly,” she added. “I heat up my car until it’s nice and toasty warm, and then I turn it off.”
Walsh’s daughter has been busy during the day, doing what she can to keep the family safe.
“My daughter has been busy, busy, trying to round up candles and clay pots,” she said. “And then, last night, besides doing those things, she also put plastic over all the windows and taped them up.”
Walsh said those measures helped warm up their living space “immensely.”
A neighbor has let Walsh and her family use his charcoal grill to cook and warm up food, such as vegetable soup.
“Now that we can fix food, it’s made it better,” Walsh said.
A 40-year resident of Texas, Walsh said she has seen winter weather before, but nothing of this magnitude.
About four years ago, when she lived in Lubbock, she said she witnessed 19 inches of snow, but the power stayed on.
She said she had to park across the street and walk to her apartment since her parking lot was full of snow.
Walsh said that as long as she had heat and water, she would take 19 inches of snow over frigid temperatures causing power outages.
“It’s astounding what this weather is doing,” Walsh said.
As the family waits for power to be restored, Walsh said her grandchildren are trying to make the best of it and create games to play.
“We’re making it, but it’s not very comfortable,” Walsh said. “I would give anything for a hot shower and wash my hair.”
Water for horses
A few miles south of Copperas Cove in Kempner, Scott Robison has been out of power and water since Sunday.
He owns and operates Robison Ranch and has around 60 horses and 40 cattle.
“We’ve been hauling buckets of water from the ponds every day,” Robison said.
Horses can usually go through about 10 gallons of water per day, Robison said.
With several creeks and ponds on his 250-acre ranch, Robison said he is not in danger of not being able to get water to the animals.
“We board a lot of horses here, and some of them are self-care, where the horse owners are supposed to come themselves, but they can’t come out, so we’ve been kind of taking care of the self-care horses, too, because they can’t drive out here,” Robison said.
A crew of individuals has been able to come out to the ranch to help bear the burden of the double duty of caring for the other horses.
Robison said the only heat he and his wife and daughter have is a wood burning stove, but a constant supply of firewood has kept the house warm. He has even been offering assistance to those having issues getting firewood, such as veterans in town and neighbors.
Robison said the experience has made him grateful when he does have electricity and for the “small things.”
He explained how the lack of electricity has forced him to get water from the ponds and creeks.
“The problem is we have wells, and that’s how we water our horses,” he said. “But when the power goes out, the water lines freeze, so we have no water at all.”
Some residents have seen a resumption of power, such as Mary Kate Waite who lives on High Chapparal Road with her husband Cannon and their three children that range in age from 1 to 8.
Waite said they regained power early Wednesday after not having it for two days.
The Waites lost power Monday night, not long after offering their house as a place of refuge to some friends.
“By Monday, we had some friends call and asked if we had power, and we invited them over,” Waite said. “...They got here, and about a half-hour after they got here, our power went off.”
The friends continued to hunker down with the Waites throughout the duration of the outage, since they made use of their fireplace.
“Luckily, just last month, we stocked up with what we thought would be for the year,” Waite said of their firewood supply. “... We’ve gone through all of that this week.”
As the Waites slept early Wednesday, they were awoken by the sound of their appliances beeping back to life.
She said she and her husband immediately filled their water jugs with filtered water from the refrigerator and began charging the power converter so they could keep their phones charged.
Power came on and off on Wednesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the power had remained on for about three hours. Waite said she was hopeful it was a sign that it would stay, but she said she and her husband were taking it a minute at a time.
During the time without power, Waite said everyone congregated in the living room.
“We closed off the bedrooms and put towels underneath all of the doors to kind of keep the draft out,” she said. “(We) closed the curtains to keep the draft out of there and just focus(ed) on the center of the house.”
Mary Ann Davis, who lives along Courtney Lane on Cove’s north side, said Wednesday morning that she has been without power since 5 a.m. Sunday. She braved icy roads Tuesday to spend about four hours at the public library, which was a warming station, mostly to charge her phone and other electronic devices.
Her son, who lives near Walmart, has been without power and was staying at mom’s house and helping her out.
“It’s been nice to have him around,” Davis said. “We have enough firewood left for today and tonight. We are using comforters, heating canned food over the fire, and I’m making bean soup later. This is getting old, but I am not complaining. I think about those for whom not having heat is an every-winter-day struggle for whatever reason, and I feel blessed.”
Preparation pays off
Johnny Chadwick, a Lampasas County resident who lives between Kempner and Lampasas, said he has fared well during the ongoing weather emergency. He credits his lifelong pursuit as a “prepper” (someone who prepares for catastrophic emergencies by stockpiling food, water, ammunition, and other supplies) with keeping him fairly comfortable.
“Being a prepper has paid off,” Chadwick said, laughing. “This is why I tell people about investing in over-expensive cars. Maybe they have a mid-life crisis and so they go out and buy an expensive car that will barely get you from one gas station to the next. Instead, get you an economical car that will get you out of any situation, and for heaven’s sake, invest in back-up preps and more back-up preps.
“I’ve got what they call a Little Buddy Heater that I found at a garage sale for 20 bucks, brand new and still in the package. It runs off of those little camping propane bottles. The only bad thing that has happened — remember, I built this little house myself — is that I’m down to one commode and one sink. All the drainage has frozen.
“I used every little thing I could to wrap my pipes: Old T-shirts, cut-up socks, cut-up sweatshirts, the whole nine yards. When you build your own house, three words come to mind: Insulate, insulate, insulate.
“I’ve got a backup generator, and I’ve always told people that it’s better to have two or three little generators that you can carry around, as opposed to a giant one that you can’t move. You can always block off one room of the house as a lifeboat.
“Because of my rules about surviving and prepping, I luckily have not been without (anything).”
Chadwick, a registered nurse at AdventHealth-Rollins Brook in Lampasas, said Wednesday afternoon that he was getting ready to go to work. He has been to work “a couple of times” over the past week.
“Nurses are really awesome people,” he said. “A lot of them are camping out at the hospital right now. Luckily, they have some showers and stuff for us, if we have to have it.
“I’m about to go take what they call a submarine shower, which means you get some hot water, pour it on yourself, lather up, and then take another container of hot water and pour it on yourself to rinse off. Then away to the hospital I’ll go.”
Riding it out
Tim Traeger, a junior high school teacher who lives near C.R. Clements/Hollie Parsons Elementary School in the Morse Valley neighborhood in Copperas Cove, said Wednesday that he and his family have been “secluded in the house” all week due to the weather. Schools have been closed, and so has their family business.
“My wife and her mom run Lil Blessings 4D/HD Ultrasound Studios in Cove Terrace (shopping center),” said Traeger, father of two including a newborn. “We’re just hiding out in the living room, taking care of a 2-month-old.”
Traeger said power at his house has been off and on, and his only venture away from home was a slippery trip to the grocery store.
“I went out once and I will not do it again,” he said Wednesday morning. “That was yesterday (Tuesday). I went to H-E-B, and it was very, very slow going. I live up at the top of a hill, so I had to slowly go down the hill, get on one road and then another one, just to get on (Highway) 190.
“H-E-B was a madhouse. Like the world is coming to an end-type madhouse. We needed milk, bread, eggs, and there was hardly anything left. I had to get an off-brand milk, a weird-looking loaf of bread, and I got an order of drumsticks — they were limiting meat.
“It’s crazy. A lot of people say, ‘Why hasn’t Cove been reacting better to all this?’ Well, does Cove really have the means to prepare for this type of weather? People up north have snow plows, salt trucks, all this … you don’t have that here in the south because we don’t normally get weather like this.
“I think this is the worst winter weather we’ve had in, what, 70 years? It’s not the best situation, for sure, but we’ll make do with what we have.”
‘Hung out to dry’
Gwenyth Jett, a longtime Cove resident who now lives in Harker Heights, said she has been fortunate to have no loss of power, although her car broke down late last week.
“I feel so blessed,” she said. “I have my thermostat set at 60, and I went around unplugging everything I could unplug.
“I haven’t been out of the house since, I guess, last Friday. I may have walked out on the back porch, but that’s about as far as I went. Just watching movies, playing Candy Crush, and being bored out of my mind.
“I did watch a large truck swerving all over the road, trying to drive last night out in front of my house. I have two friends at work whose pipes have busted. One of those took in somebody else who hasn’t had power in a couple of days. I know some other people down near San Marcos who haven’t had power in two or three days.
“I really think they (authorities) have mishandled this, and to me it almost seems like it is on purpose. You know a weather system like this is coming, and you don’t prepare for it? They basically just hung people out to dry, is how I feel.
“I didn’t hear anything on social media or anywhere about protecting your pipes. I didn’t hear anything that would help people who didn’t know what to do in advance. One of the things I posted on Facebook is about taking my recycling bags and stacking them up on the outside wall of my house where the spigot is, to protect it.
“I didn’t see anything anywhere about what people can do to prepare, so they wouldn’t have issues later.”
Stuck at home
Copperas Cove resident Krystal Jones has not been able to get her car out of the driveway all week long. Things got desperate enough that she bundled up Wednesday morning and walked from her house in Tonkawa Village to the local Dollar Store for supplies.
“We needed some batteries in case this power goes out again,” Jones said. “We can’t get up our street. We’re on an incline and we cannot get out. We’ll go out there (to the car) and sit and watch a movie or something for a little bit, warm up, charge our phones and go back in.”
Earlier in the week, Jones considered packing up her husband and two kids and heading to a nearby hotel. Unfortunately, they could not find vacancy.
“It was bad — the house inside was 60 degrees,” Jones said. “Power went out for 24 hours the first time (Monday), and it came back the next morning for three hours. Yesterday, it was out all day until 7:30.
“We tried the candle trick with the bricks (for a homemade space heater) and that didn’t work. Yesterday for a hot meal, I burned some wood and cooked a little dinner of sausage and corn on the fire pit. The kids have been playing board games by candlelight.
“Last night, it came on for exactly three hours. Same thing the other day. I’ve heard people in House Creek still don’t have power. My boss lives behind me past (FM) 2657, and they been without power for three days.
“I’m not complaining. The house has warmed up to mid-60s now, so I’m fine.”
At the peak of the storm, the city opened two warming centers, and one remains open as thousands still wait for power.
The Copperas Cove Public Library, 501 S. Main St., closed indefinitely Wednesday afternoon due to a waterline break, the city posted on its Facebook page Wednesday.
Police officers were assisting with transporting people from the library to Hettie Halstead Elementary School, 910 N. Main St., which the city secured the use of from the school district late Tuesday.
Hettie Halstead Elementary School is currently the only warming center available for Copperas Cove residents.
Those who seek refuge in the warming center must bring their own clothing, bedding, toiletries, food/drink, medications and any other necessities.
On Monday, Mayor Bradi Diaz signed a disaster declaration, which implements the city’s Emergency Management Plan.
It was the second weather-related disaster declaration Diaz has signed since becoming mayor in 2019.
On June 9, 2019, an EF-2 tornado ripped through parts of western Copperas Cove, doing an estimated $2.6 million in damage to 198 properties.
The winter storm caused a disruption to many city services as outlined by city spokesman Kevin Keller in various news releases.
Solid waste services were halted during the week, and the city’s contracted landfill was not operational.
“Once safe conditions allow, a notice will be posted with a collection schedule for all areas,” Keller said in a news release.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, residents were allowed to bring trash to a dumpster that had been placed in The Town Square.
As of Wednesday, the city reported that water distribution operations were functional, with loss of pressure on the Mountain Top Pressure Plain, which serves the Veterans, Skyline and Freedom areas as well as the Turkey Run (Turkey Creek area) Pressure Plain.
“Water is still flowing, however ever so slowly in some areas,” the release said. “Some residents may have water, while others may not.”
The city issued a boil-water notice Wednesday for many areas and implemented Stage 2 of the city’s water conservation plan.
The municipal court closed, and all hearings and appearances were postponed.
The Utility Administration office was closed, but payments were still accepted online and by phone. The city assured residents that no late fees or disconnections will be assessed for late payments.
Gary Young, deputy fire chief, said the ice and snow increased response times. Since the beginning of the storm, response times sometimes doubled and tripled or more.
“While our trucks are big, they are NOT equipped with traction devices, making us just as vulnerable motorists as everyone else on the road,” Young said via email Tuesday. “Combine that with an extraordinary increase in calls for service, and our staff are running from call to call, often leaving one address to go to another address then maybe another without any break in between.”
Between midnight Monday to Tuesday around 9 p.m., the fire department had responded to 70 calls for service. The most common was an EMS call, excluding vehicle accidents with injury. Young’s report showed the department responded to 42 such calls during that time.
Young said CCFD saw an increase of services related to the loss of electricity, especially those who rely on oxygen.
“Many oxygen-dependent persons have been using oxygen from a tank rather than a concentrator device, and the tanks are running out,” he said. “They cannot get oxygen refills from their medical supply vendor, which causes great concern for them.”
The only option for many of the people who made those service calls was to either get a ride to the nearest hospital or to stay with family or friends.
“In most cases, our EMS staff encourage the person to make arrangements to stay with a family member or friend who has power,” Young said.