“And always marry a Texas Girl, ’cause no matter what she’s seen worse.”

A man had to know that if a girl had the grit to withstand the challenges of settling wild Texas, she could face down almost anything — rattlers, javelinas, rampaging wild long horn cattle. Not the least of her challenges would be the weather. Hurricanes, flash floods, and drought are epic, but these are topics for another blog. A Texas gal needed a special kind of resilience in the fall and winter–especially for Texas winter weather.

Texas winter? No snow to speak of

In Texas, a winter wonderland seldom included snow. On such a rare occasion, snow would be a welcome novelty. At worst, she might experience the odd snow ball or even manage a small snowman, before the snowfall melted into the grass. Occasionally, the panhandle would see a blizzard, but the wind would shortly sweep the landscape clear and pile tall snow drifts against fences or buildings.

That dreadful deep blue bank

However, if a woman looked up to see a deep blue bank of clouds, she would understand: a Texas blue norther, a fast moving Arctic cold front was heading her way. Shortly, temperatures could drop from forty to sixty degrees. Therefore, swift preparations would be key, because she could shortly experience thunderstorms with driving rain, sleet, hail and tornadoes.

Epic weather — paralyzed by ice

One of the worst weather outcomes would seem deceptively tame. Unexpectedly, a gentle rain accompanied by freezing temperatures will produce an ice storms. Nothing will paralyze a community faster than a 1/4 inch or greater glaze of ice. Icicles cascading down from the eaves may have crystal beauty, and a silver coating on trees and shrubs may give the landscape a charming, fairy-tale look. However, the broken tree limbs and sagging, or broken power lines can result in power outages that last for days.

Traveling nightmares

Now and throughout history, ice storms have made travel by foot or by wheeled vehicle hazardous. I sat horror-stricken as my father’s gold 1963 Ford Galaxy ricocheted from guardrail to guardrail on an icy overpass. Once we came to a stop, I sat stunned, convinced we were all dead. My father flagged down on on-coming truck driver who obligingly paused, while my father maneuvered us back in our lane and gingerly on our way. Northern states can also have gravely serious ice storms, but they also have fully-equipped highway departments and people long used to driving on slick roads. Texas doesn’t have the equipment or the experience.

Frozen holidays

In December 1978, my husband and I lived in East Texas, the setting for much of A Thing of Beauty. I was in my ninth month of pregnancy, full of holiday nostalgia and female hormones. We experienced our own Texas epic blue norther and temperatures plunged. It grew so cold, my grandmother’s antique glass cake plate snapped in two, despite being safely shelved in an interior kitchen cabinet. Tears followed, because it had displayed many a family birthday cake.

Christmas hazards

Furthermore, ice coated every tree in all Christmas tree lots. My husband knew the trees would be damaged. However, I felt it was unendurable to not have a Christmas tree in place for my coming child. Against his better judgement, he relented. However, he was right to be skeptical. Number one, I had my son five days early and spent Christmas in the hospital. Number two, the tree was a damaged and prematurely desiccated fire hazard. Needles positively rained before we took it down.

A Thing of Beauty and a storm for the records

My characters, the Rameys are stranded in their home during one of the worst Texas ice storms in forty years, from December 29, 1978 to January 4, 1979. Power outages lasted for days, and people struggled with the cold. For example, one survivor reported finding his pet gold fish frozen in its fish bowl. The storm damages cost the area $14,000,000.

A game for the records

In surely one of the most miserable Cotton Bowl games ever, quarterback Joe Montana, suffering the flu, led Notre Dame to a last quarter victory over Houston during this horrible weather. Evidently, Montana gamely ate a bowl of chicken soup and this dish saved the day. Meanwhile, folks like the Rameys wore their sweaters as President Carter advised, and withstood the elements like any other hardy Texans.

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