Cold Enough?

Posted: January 9th, 2010 under photography, Plantlife, Weather, Wildlife.
Tags: , , ,

The cold front that hit central Texas between midnight and dawn Thursday certainly did change things…yeah, we’d had that 15 degree down-spike back in December, and some other overnights in the 20s (good for knocking the ticks back) but this was a serious Arctic blast like we used to get every winter 30 years ago and haven’t had for the past decade.  Of course we wrapped pipes in advance, put on the hose bib foam-thingies, blocked the air vents under the house, all the usual things you do.


Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t….yup, that’s a pipe that burst–not where it’s sawed off, but at an elbow just underground.We went below freezing Thursday afternoon–laundry froze to the line but from windchill effect, I’m sure.   By the thermometer, it was mid-teens overnight Thursday-Friday, and stayed in the 20s Friday…but on the west side of the house, the brick warmed enough in the sun to thaw out the split pipe enough to spray out water and make a noise I heard in the laundry room.  Naturally I was home alone.  Equally naturally, I could not get the water cutoff valve shut.   And the horses announced it was dinner time and the cat was tripping me every third step with the same message.

So I fed horses and cat, and mucked out, and about then Richard came home and shut off the water.   It was getting dark and much colder (still and clear.)  This morning, according to him, the local hardware store was full of farmers and ranchers with busted pipes to water troughs, barns, and houses, all picking up repair stuff.   However, our water shutoff valve no longer wants to shut off completely, and (if you look at the first picture) it’s dribbling steadily.   Hence the bucket to catch the water so it doesn’t make a mess right by the crawlspace access and so we have water for those essential functions .

Overnight it went down to 10 degrees F.    This morning both horses were out of the barn and prancing around in that 10 degrees, demanding breakfast.   We turned the water on for a few minutes to flush those essential functions and get some hot water going to wash dishes, and since it was supposed to get over 40F today (it didn’t…it put one foot over the freeze mark and stood there straddling it) , and then Richard sawed off the split elbow joint, moved a bucket under the drip, and started figuring out how to fix it.  Meanwhile, wormer buckets of water went into both bathrooms for the necessary purposes.

The horses don’t mind the cold at all, as long as they have hay…

2 horses274

And water (in that trough behind them above, and rather icy, below):


When it’s thin ice, Mac (the red one) who spent early years in colder climates, knows how to push through it, but when it’s this thick, they need help.

We had some interesting ice effects, some of which didn’t come out in the photos.   But this was a warm fall and winter until the last couple of weeks, and our water lilies had never gone completely dormant.   So here are lily pads that were floating just below the surface last week and are now flattened against the bottom of very clear ice:


At the upper end of the pond, a tiny area where the return pipe splashes in  made a miniature “northern winter” landscape.


Out on the land, all the water in the near meadow had frozen, some all the way to the soil  (didn’t have the right shoes on to go down to the creek.)   The little crescent-shaped pool below the #3 gabion, which had algae in it because it’s been so warm and wet, also had ice–and produced a strange “bubble-ice” over the algae with “frost flowers” on everything that stuck out of it, like grass stems.


The combination of frozen bubbles and sparkling spiky “petals” with the cloudy greens of the algae below was strangely beautiful.

We’ve had a lot of birds in the yard feeding area, as well as drinking from the running water in the backyard water feature (which didn’t stop running, though all the pond parts–upper, upper-middle, round, and lily–had skims of ice over much of them.   Blue jays, Inca doves, White-winged doves, Cardinals, American and Lesser Goldfinches, House finches, White-crowned Sparrows, Field Sparrows.   Also saw and heard birds on my trip out to photograph the frozen water in the near meadow.

In the afternoon, when it became clear the temperature wasn’t going to make it near 40F,  and several attempts to make the water shutoff valve shut all the way off (gentle attempts–last thing we need now is to break that!)  Richard contrived a semi-fix that Rube Goldberg would’ve loved:


The goal was to plug the end of the pipe, stopping the drip long enough to dry it so a new fitting could be glued on and held in place (given that it wasn’t going to be warm enough for the goo-stuff to set up in a normal amount of time.    This wasn’t my job, but I understand that plumbers’ putty was used to plug the thing to start with.  The treated post jammed into place to hold it is 8 feet long and its own weight holds it snugly.    Then the rest of the insulation was tied back in place because tonight it’s supposed to be in the ‘teens again, and then a concealing black bag (to heat up things in the last of the sunlight) went over all  (but not during the photo session.)

Can’t turn the water back on enough to get pressure to the actual plumbing until this sets.   So we’re still in the “bucket in the tank” situation for Essential Functions.   Tomorrow the prediction is for an afternoon high of 45F, which means it may get to 40F.    We’ll leave the water off through the night (this is the low-end pipe in the house so the others are all drained) and hope for the best tomorrow afternoon.


  • Comment by AnnMCN — January 9, 2010 @ 6:42 pm


    Oh, good Lord. What a mess. I read your first post, but the pictures and details help. The frost flower are lovely though!

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 9, 2010 @ 8:40 pm


    It’s nothing like the mess way back when–the time the pipes burst at the clinic–in the ceiling of the north wing–and thawed on a sunny but cold day like today–a Saturday when the clinic was closed because of the weather. That night, Richard had an emergency call, and went down to open the clinic–and water poured out the front door. The whole place was flooded. We spent Sunday trying to clean it up and the ceiling back there was collapsing–insulation beads floating on the water–one chunk collapsed on me, covering me with insulation–it was hysterical, but also expensive and infuriating…

  • Comment by George Dziuk — January 9, 2010 @ 11:50 pm


    The pictures are worth much more than thousands of words. I didn’t think enough about curing time for PVC in such cold. The old Polack approach would be buy time with inner tube and hose clamps.
    The best with getting this out of the way.

  • Comment by green_knight — January 10, 2010 @ 5:13 am


    That’s the good thing about living in a climate where freezing temperatures are considered normal – our pipes are not prone to bursting, though it can still happen.

    Wednesday’s snow is still on the ground. I’m not taking the car anywhere unless I absolutely have to (and work counts as ‘have to’, sigh.)

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 10, 2010 @ 10:22 pm


    As of Sunday afternoon, the temperature had crawled up to 40-41. A couple of hours at that temperature, and with sunlight on the black trash bag we’d wrapped around the whole repair site (specifically to capture sun warmth when it hit) and we dared try turning the cutoff valve back on.

    And lo–the goo on the repair seems to have “set” and we’ve had running water now for almost 5 hours.

    Of course I still have 2 almost-full wormer buckets of water in the shower.

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 11, 2010 @ 7:11 am


    I was thinking hose clamps and rubber myself, but the Local Plumber chose another route. I figure if he’s doing the work, he gets to choose the method. And after all–it’s all material for a story some day.

  • Comment by Doranna — January 11, 2010 @ 11:59 pm


    Hit that same cold front on the first night I was here in the new place. Interesting way to learn a heating system (we’re using a wood pellet stove mainly).

    Duncan has a nice water heater in his trough, which just goes to show you I’ve lived in consistently colder climes. It’s a good thing, as he doesn’t drink enough of the cold water and I can no longer risk that after his impaction colic last year. But boy, I remember breaking the trough ice on that Virginia horse water! Had an axe living beside the thing, hauled buckets of hot water out there…we did get 25 below sometimes, but the cold season wasn’t as long.

    I hope your pipe fixes easily!

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 12, 2010 @ 12:34 am


    Pipe’s apparently fixed. Didn’t leak all day today. Ahhhhh….

    I used to carry buckets of hot water out–melt a hole in the thick ice. But we haven’t had anything this severe in 15 years or so. I didn’t use an axe, back then, but an old axe handle. Now we’re using the muck-rake handles, or any other piece of board that’s handy.

    It’s amazing how warm those two horses stay with the barn to break the wind and each other for huddling. A ton-plus of horseflesh puts out the heat.

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