Art by Ali Levens
A polar vortex caused temperatures to drop below freezing in every U.S. state in February, but the resulting snowstorms in the South wreaked the most havoc. Low temperatures, power outages, unsafe driving conditions and more plagued Southerners, including Pepperdine students living at home.
At-home students in the South saw conditions out of the ordinary for their hometowns which interrupted their normal routines. Snowstorms in Texas and Arkansas started around Feb. 14.
“For the first two days we had no electricity whatsoever,” junior Marcia Orellana said. “I got super cold. My house, inside of the house, it reached 40 degrees.”
Orellana lives in Rowlett, Texas, and said the thermostat in her house only shows temperatures down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so it could have been even colder. Rowlett received 8 inches of snow throughout the storm, while junior Blake Farley’s hometown of Searcy, Ark., saw 13 inches.
“That’s the most I’ve seen in my life growing up here,” Farley said. “I’ve talked to many people — I’ve talked to my grandparents. It’s been about the same for them and they’ve lived their whole lives here. This is about the most winter weather we’ve seen all at once.”
Junior Mahala Bayless traveled from her home in Eustace, Texas, to College Station to avoid the worst of the storm. Although 4.5 inches of snow fell on College Station compared to Eustace’s 10, Bayless did not escape the power outages.
“I left [Eustace] in hopes that I could still go to class,” Bayless said. “That was the biggest problem with all of this, that I came down here to a bigger power grid hoping that they would have something more sustainable, but it was bigger than just at a city level.”
Bayless experienced rolling blackouts, where power turns off and on periodically, from Feb. 14 to Feb. 18. Her WiFi stayed down until the night of Feb. 18, causing her to miss four days of classes.
When Orellana’s power went out Feb. 15, she sent emails to her professors letting them know she might miss class. On Feb. 17, Rowlett started having two-hour rolling blackouts, allowing Orellana to go to an hour of class that day. She said her professors understood her situation.
‘“Everybody was really nice about it,” Orellana said. “The good thing about online school is that you have recordings, so even if you miss class, at least you can catch up whenever you can on the weekend.”
A 130-car pileup on Interstate 35 in Texas on Feb. 11 made Orellana’s family weary of driving on icy roads. She said some of her cousins drove to grocery stores to find food but found them scarcely stocked or closed due to power outages.
Orellana said her family kept mostly frozen foods for emergencies, so without power, they ate bread, cereal, chips and anything else they could find.
“It was hard, but we were privileged enough to have a chimney,” Orellana said. “That’s how we defrosted some sausages — we put them into the fire.”
Farley said he experienced power outages that only lasted a few seconds, although he said he was snowed in for five or six days. He had to use a cellular data hotspot to connect his computer to the internet but went to class and continued his internship with the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs throughout the week.
“I was able to go about the daily routine that I had set up for this week,” Farley said. “I just stay at home all day with my internship and our classes […] I wasn’t too burdened by the weather.”
With the storm passing, all three students returned to class by Friday. Orellana said the snow in her neighborhood melted by Feb. 21.
“This week has been crazy because three days ago we were still [surviving] off of sausages and right now the temperature is about 40 and the snow is completely gone,” Orellana said. “The sun is shining like nothing ever happened.”
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