Ready or not: How did Tyler face tundra-like temperatures?

Sarah A. Miller documents Tyler's week of ice and snow — and its lasting effects.

By Tuesday and Wednesday temperatures in the Tyler area will reach almost 70 degrees, the sun will be shining, and life will be back to normal — almost.

The sun sets on a snowy Tyler night. All photos by Sarah A. Miller

Last week on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, icy conditions began to slow traffic in East Texas. By nightfall, snow was accumulating several inches deep all over — on the ground, covering cars, blanketing every road and building around. To see contributors’ week in snow, see The Tyler Loop’s “A week like no other through the lens of our readers.”

Monday Feb. 15. and Tuesday Feb. 16 saw lows in the single digits and, at times, a frigid 0 degrees. Temperatures briefly rose above freezing on Friday, but the real thaw occurred Saturday and Sunday.

McDonald’s was one of few dining options open on Friday night. Cars lined Broadway Ave. to order hot meals. The store closed early, shortly after this photo was taken.
Snow is packed down from drivers with deep tread on their tires in a parking lot.

Life is still not quite back to normal for many in the Tyler area due to ongoing boiling water notices and storm damage from subfreezing temperatures to houses and property. Many experienced freezing and bursting water pipes in their homes. Many went days without electricity and with low or no water pressure. 

Tyler Water Utilities employees Miguel Espinoza and Alex Hurtado work to repair a broken water main on McMillan Drive on Saturday morning.
Alex Hurtado takes a section of PVC pipe to repair the water main.

On Saturday, the City of Tyler had at least 25 new reports of water main breaks in need of repair on top of 20 already repaired. Tyler Water Utilities employees along with contracted crews worked diligently throughout the week and weekend repairing breaks from shifting clay under the roads.

Tyler Water Utilities crew foreman Joe Adams operates a backlift to tear through the road and pull out the clay soil to reach the water main pipes.
Miguel Espinonza cleans debris away from the break in the water line under feet of red clay.

Many residents reported to the city’s Facebook page accounts of water bubbling up through cracks in the roads and flowing down streets. 

Joe Buie was taking his dog outside at 1:30 a.m. on Friday when he heard the sound of rushing water on McMillan Drive in Tyler.

It was 10 a.m. on Saturday when crews were able to dig 12 feet down to the water main and place a stainless steel full circle clamp over the ductile iron pipe that had split and was spraying water.

Alex Hurtado and Miguel Espinonza work together on the repair for the break in the water line which was due to ground shift in the clay soil.
A stainless steel full circle clamp is applied to repair the break in the water main on McMillan Drive.
Miguel Espinonza uses a shovel to clean debris away from the break in the water line.

This pipe was clearly not frozen, but it had been damaged from ground shift, the clay soil having become swollen in the cold weather. 

Several churches and businesses gave out free water. Starting on Sunday at noon, Super1 Foods on Troup Highway handed out free bottled drinking water in a drive-through line.

Super 1 Foods distributed free water on Sunday, Feb. 21, as Tyler remained under a boil water notice.

Since the storm happened over a holiday weekend, some people found themselves stuck in unusual places — a relative’s house, with a Valentine’s Day date or at a hotel. Megan Oldham stayed the week with a friend she was visiting for the weekend.

Amanda Oldham and Amelia Salina take Oldham’s dog Butters on a walk down Donnybrook Ave. in Tyler on Friday.

On Saturday, she and her friend Amelia Salina, went on a walk with Oldham’s dog, Butters. Butters, only one year old, was already experiencing his second Texas snow, the first of which hit Jan. 10.

During the latest winter storm Facebook marketplace groups, typically used to buy and sell items, were packed with requests for rides, groceries, hot meals and tips to stay warm inside homes without power. East Texans were quick to share advice: Keep family members confined to one central room; hang blankets from the doorways and over drafty windows; maximize sharing body heat.

Some people with four-wheel-drive vehicles braved slick roads to deliver essentials like medications and meals to their neighbors. Money was raised to house and feed over 100 unsheltered people in Tyler hotels. 

A person wearing warm camouflage gear is pulled through the snow by a friend on a 4-wheeler.

While the situation was tough for many, snowy conditions also provided a playscape with children home from school and adults snowed in from going to work. Residential streets and backroads were peppered with children on sleds, thrill-seekers on snowboards and skis and all-terrain vehicles sliding on the ice.

Blake Hopkins, 19, uses a skimboard to glide down a snow covered street in Tyler. Originally purchased in Gulf Shores, Alabama, to ride ocean waves, Hopkins repurposed it to ride out the winter storm.

Blake Hopkins, 19, used a skimboard to glide down the hills in the neighborhood around Andy Woods Elementary School. Hopkins bought his skimboard in Gulf Shores, Alabama, to float over the waves in the ocean. It was his first time try it on snow.

“It works really good,” he said, “I can go a little farther than I can in the water.” 

Sarah A. Miller is an independent editorial photographer and journalist with over 10 years of experience in newsrooms across the country. She lives in Tyler with several roommates and three quirky cats. Sarah loves being a community storyteller and getting to document the everyday lives of people in East Texas.

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