TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan’s frigid weather apparently hitched a ride to Texas with one Traverse City couple who earlier this year packed up their camper and headed to the Lone Star State.
Bob Downes and Jeannette Wildman have been spending their winters in warmer climes for about the last seven years — the last two in a 16-foot Scamp travel-trailer. They had been on South Padre Island for about a month when the epic storm hit, crippling the state’s power grid and leaving millions without electricity, heat and running water.
“It went from being 75 degrees one day to having a hard freeze the next,” Downes said. “Our water filter split open, all the hoses froze. It’s funny how quickly civilization started falling apart.”
The next day there were lines of up to 100 cars at all the gas stations and people in a panic buying up all the propane for their generators, Downes said.
They headed for Goose State Park north of Corpus Christi on the Gulf Coast, arriving with just two gallons of gas, no electricity and very little food. By Wednesday, a grocery store the size of Meijer was nearly empty, Downes said.
It was a bit scary at first, he said, but they holed up for the next couple of nights, heating with the little propane they had before electricity was restored to the campground.
“It was basically in the low 40s in our camper,” Downes said. “We were basically snuggled up under blankets.”
Wildman said they were taking it all in stride.
“You know, we’re Michiganders, we got this,” Wildman said. “We’ve been through a lot, so hey, this is just another one of those things.”
On Thursday they were able to get some gasoline and were planning to head for Alabama. It was supposed to warm up into the high 40s on Friday and Downes was expecting roads, bridges and the freeway — all closed because of ice and snow — to open up.
“Gasoline trucks couldn’t even get to the gas stations,” he said. “Ironically we’re next to one of the biggest oil refineries in America.”
A polar vortex is responsible for the deep freeze and this one is a whopper, say meteorologists, who are calling it one of the biggest, nastiest and longest-lasting ones they’ve seen, and they’ve been watching since at least the 1950s.
By Thursday the power was starting to come back online, but many people had broken water lines, as they are not insulated to withstand freezing weather.
“People are obviously in far worse situations than us down here,” Downes said, noting that it was colder in Texas than in Moscow during the worst of it.
Wildman said they feel bad for the people who live there, some of whom they’ve seen burning their furniture to keep warm.
“Those of us that have campers, as long as we’ve got propane we’re good,” Wildman said. “It’s the rest of the people ... Texas wasn’t made for this kind of weather.”
Downes is the co-founder of Northern Express Weekly, where he was co-publisher and editor until about 7 years ago. He is also the author of several biking and hiking books and “Windigo Moon,” a Native American tale set in the late 1500s and early 1600s. He is getting set to publish a prequal to the book, “The Wolf and the Willow,” this summer.
Wildman is a retired day care worker.
On Thursday, with temperatures in the 30s and a howling wind that made it feel much colder, the couple was out hiking.
“You can only sit in your camper so long before you go crazy,” Downes said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.