Professors share firsthand experience of winter storm

Zoe Tzanis

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan's March 2 print edition.

First, the power went out. Then the heat. Then the water. Wearing layers of clothes and huddled together with his wife, daughter and cat to stay warm, Michael Mosser saw his modern day conveniences whisked away in the blink of an eye.  

“For a week, we got a chance to see what billions of people experience around the world,” Mosser said. “It was humbling.”

Mosser, an international relations and global studies and government assistant professor, said he and his neighbors faced an unsettling reality: below-freezing temperatures, power outages, water scarcity and uncertainty surrounding when those problems would be resolved. 

On top of adjusting course schedules and accommodating students, professors like Mosser experienced a historic winter storm mid-February that left thousands without power or water for days. Two weeks later, many are still dealing with damage to their homes and resources. 

Playing board games by candlelight and spending quality time with his family, Mosser said he tried to take his mind off of the calamity around him. 

“Looking for the small moments of beauty in this unfolding tragedy was something that I could use to take my mind off of the unpredictable aspect of it,” Mosser said.

Assistant communication professor Madeleine Redlick didn’t expect the storm to leave such a lasting impression on Austin, let alone her family. When her pipes burst the afternoon of Feb. 15, Redlick found herself in uncharted waters. 

“I have a Ph.D. My husband has a master's degree,” Redlick said “We have tons of education between the two of us. None of that education prepares you (on) how to deal with a burst outdoor pipe.”

On her hands and knees in the snow, Redlick said she couldn’t figure out how to turn the water off and eventually had to call the fire department.

Spending three days without water, Redlick said it was stressful trying to adjust her course schedule amid the uncertainty of the University’s reopening. She said she found out about the University’s plans with the rest of the UT community. 

“The University only closed itself day by day, so we could never really plan,” Redlick said. “We just had to keep flexing our plans for how to be accommodating of what (students) were going through.”

Erica Ciszek, an advertising and public relations assistant professor, said even though she and her wife both grew up in New England, they weren’t prepared for the impacts of the storm. 

“We're just thinking, ‘Oh it's gonna snow. That will be fun for the kids,’” Ciszek said. “We weren't aware of how unprepared the city and state infrastructure was.”

Ciszek and her family lost power for five days and water for four. She said they used melted snow to flush toilets, kept warm by candlelight and took advantage of water distribution sites in southwest Austin.

As conditions worsened and power outages extended, Ciszek said she saw her neighborhood swell with community spirit.

“We really saw the force come together in our community Buy Nothing group, which is this community Facebook group where people swap resources,” she said. “People were posting needs for water (and) firewood.” 

Five days later, when the power and water finally returned, Ciszek said she and her wife rejoiced with celebratory posts on social media. 

“It was this glorious moment,” Ciszek said. “Even though the water pressure was low and there was still a boil notice, it felt very celebratory. I didn't have to collect snow to flush toilets anymore.”