The Houston Ice Storm of 1950

Houston Looked Like This in the Winter of 1950

The exact date escapes me, but I’m pretty sure that it was January of 1950 when a major ice storm hit Houston, knocking out power lines from all the falling frozen tree branches and rendering our un-salted, but frozen-solid streets virtually undrivable, except for the presence of pure Texan drivers who had never seen same and didn’t know any better than to try them out.

Clutch City was Crash City for several days. Hospital emergency rooms and auto body shops were suddenly the hottest service businesses in town – and the only things that were hot in any form. Everybody and everything else were too busy freezing.

My sweet old Grandfather, Papa Teas, was living with us at the time. He quickly joined the casualty list when he stepped out on the icy backyard steps and mistakenly took a leg-swing at kicking my cat out the way.

Sometime karma comes quick.

“Papa” went into a spin worthy of any virtuoso ballet dancer before landing hard on the ground on his right shoulder. I saw the whole thing and was simultaneously filled with both contempt and concern. I resented the fact that Papa took a whack at my cat, but I was sorry he got hurt. Still, even as I was helping Papa upright himself again, and while I was still feeling concern for his well-being, a part of me held onto “serves you right, old man. You shouldn’t have tried to kick my cat.”

Papa Teas Fell Like A Rolling Stone.

Papa came out of that fall with a broken right arm and, for several weeks, he wore an airplane splint that forced his arm ¬†out on an extended parallel plane with the ground. It had a long open screw-ring line at its bare end – and this protruding element had a way of digging into the sheet rock every time he walked through one of our little narrow interior doorways. Watching my dad’s face cringe in the evening when Papa left the room to use the bathroom was another cheap thrill on a quiet night at our house.

SCRAPE!!! Papa invariably caught the wall corner when he left the room. You could sometimes see the sheet rock dust flare up as he departed. Meanwhile, my ever-patient dad would be sitting over there, like Edgar Kennedy, the old anger-control actor from the Laurel and Hardy movies.

“DOLT!” Dad’s face would almost belch as he rubbed his hand down over his frustrated face, but he never said anything to his father-in-law. He didn’t want to hurt his feelings. And he sure didn’t want to start something with Mom.

Those were some intimate days, my friends. At least, the physical conditions of life were intimate.

Now it’s about to freeze over in Houston again. And I’m just grateful to be living in a house that has several bathrooms. You don’t really appreciate how luxurious multiple bathrooms are until you get frozen inside with a large family in a one-bathroom house.

Yeah, I know. No inside toilet at all would be far worse in sub-freezing weather. Mom and Dad already told me years ago what that one was like. Most of us Americans are lucky beyond our wildest dreams in 2011 – no matter how cold it gets in the next few days.


7 Responses to “The Houston Ice Storm of 1950”

  1. Vito Says:

    I remember it like it was yesterday. I was shooting frozen Blackbirds out of my next door neighbors Mrs. Schults big oak tree with my faithful Red Ryder BB gun.

  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    Literally frozen birds? Wow.

    Bill, are you sure it wasn’t the winter of 1949? I was too young to remember anything then, but my parents have some photos of our street in San Antonio that look a lot like this, and the photos have 1949 stamped on them from the printing process. Usually Houston and San Antonio share comparable climates, but I suppose San Antonio could have had a snow in 1949 but not 1950 and vice versa for Houston.

    Just finished “Toy Cannon”; I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for writing it!


  3. Leona Schroeder Says:

    I remeber the snow in Jan. 1950 as this was my first time to see snow.
    And I had lived in Houston from birth to now
    I was a student at Stephen F.Austin High School and we took lots of box camera photos of ice on the tree limbs and snow on the ground. What a
    sight. I pulled out my old photo album and have one where I was throwing snowballs at my grandmother and brother. They were ducking, but I don’t think I had any direct hits.

  4. Ronald Vaughan Says:

    Yikes! In the winter of 1950 I was not quite one year old. Don’t remember that notorious ice storm,but I DO remember seeing SNOW
    in Houston, probably about 1960….very rare.

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  7. Wayne J Lovett Says:

    I believe it was in January of 1950, what I know is that HL&P while clearly proud of its response (it was featured in its new hire orientation) it internalized the lessons. The company took dramatic and sustained action to insure the future ratability of its system. It was a major player in the well respected and robust Texas Grid. Unfortunately the folks Austin, decided to chase after nickels and dimes in savings over stability and reliability. This year, the citizens of the state paid dearly.

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