10 Things You Need to Know About Winter in Austin


Austin, weather, winterIf you are new to Austin, you might not be familiar with our winter ways. Never fear, because I am here to help. When the local forecast calls for snow, that means there’s a 97% chance it won’t snow. Regardless, I would encourage you to prepare for a natural disaster, because at a certain point, whether or not it snows becomes irrelevant. The National Weather Service has nudged the snow cornice, and it’s too late to stop the impending avalanche.

Here’s what you should expect in the coming days:

  1. Children will stay up all night looking out their windows for signs of snow.
  2. Adults will stay up all night looking at their weather apps for signs of snow.
  3. Parents and children alike will study the local news stations with fingers crossed, waiting to hear if school will be cancelled. It should be noted that parents’ fingers may be crossed for different reasons than those of their children.
  4. Local meteorologists across all networks will experience a phenomenon known as a “snowgasm.” If the weather makes national news, prepare for multiple snowgasms.
  5. All the grocery stores will run out of everything. If you choose to stock up on supplies for the 3% chance of waking up with a thin layer of frost on your windshield, I recommend wearing protective gear. It can get pretty ugly in the toilet paper aisle.
  6. If it rains but does not freeze, people will pretend the rain is sleet and drive accordingly.*
  7. Plan on recording all your favorite TV shows, as they will be preempted by local news stations showing off their latest ice graphics.
  8. In the unlikely chance it snows, you will want to dust off all your winter gear, including (but not limited to) coats, boots, moisture-wicking long underwear, neck gators, face masks, snowshoes, snow blowers, St. Bernards and plastic trays (for sliding down Murchison hill).
  9. If you hail from the south, be sure to investigate the brick-lined hole in the wall where you store your scented candles and National Geographic magazines. There’s a strong possibility this is a fireplace. I highly recommend searching online for instructions on how to use it, because anyone from Austin who claims to know how to work one of those things is a liar. (I’m pretty sure there’s something called a flue that you’re supposed to close up tight to keep all the warmth in, but you should probably call your cousins in New Jersey just to be safe.)
  10. Make a giant batch of chili (with beans).**
snow, Austin, weather, winter, swimming pool

Me with my sister and a snowman, circa 1977.

So if you find yourself confused about what to do to prepare for the upcoming disappointment we locals call a “snow day,” feel free to contact me at any hour. I’m sure to be awake, waiting for snow.

*Sometimes the only way to tell if the terrible drivers around you are responding to rain, snow, ice, pollen, pet dander or asphalt under their tires is to check out the facial expressions of the children in the back seat.

**It has been brought to my attention that Texans do not believe in putting beans in chili. Before things get ugly, let me clarify. I meant to suggest that beans would induce tooting, which would warm both you and your loved ones. In retrospect, it was offensive of me to suggest such a crude act. Mixing chili and beans is blasphemous in these parts. Separation of church and state might not be important to Texans, but goddamnit, don’t you go putting beans near my chili. Oh, and farting on your loved ones isn’t nice—it’s hilarious.

52 thoughts on “10 Things You Need to Know About Winter in Austin

  1. The first month I lived in Austin it “snowed.” I decided that since I had the day off, I should go out for breakfast. An inch of snow isn’t going to cause any problems! I was promptly rearended and now refuse to drive in any sort of precipitation because Texans are maniacs.

    • Heh – I hate to laugh at your misfortune, but that’s so typical! You’re from Chicago too, right? We’re such amateurs down here.

      • a big difference is the fact that chicago (and denver where i moved from) have snowplows and street sweepers and stand ready at the drop of a flake to keep streets clear. Oh, and they tend to have snow tires and drive like they’ve got good sense. Oh, oh — and they know that not even snow tires work on ice. staying home good. driving bad.

    • Amen! I lived in Colorado and DC. I’ve learned to avoid leaving the house if there’s freezing precipitation in Austin. There was the Great Snow of 2011. I watched people sliding down the driveway at my apartment complex and get stuck. Well meaning people came out with cups of hot water to melt the snow under the tires in an attempt to unstick the car…

      Yeah. Welcome to Austin y’all.

      • Ah, Feb. 3rd, 2011, the fateful day when the whole city shut down for an inch of snow. It was beautiful and glorious, particularly since every business and school shut down, but the snow was all melted by lunchtime. Because of this post I updated my own blog with a handful of photos from that day. I don’t expect a repeat tomorrow but I’m still going to regularly check my phone, just to make sure. 😉

        • Well of course you will. It sure beats checking the weather any other time of year. The forecast goes on autopilot from March through November.

      • Hey, I was born in Austin and have lived here my whole life. It ices, not snows, and us Austinites, we get excited about pretty much anything related to snow. Once, it was supposed to snow and my child’s school got canceled. It didn’t actually snow, but that goes to show how excited we get.

  2. Ahem, lots of folks like to make spicy bean soup and incorrectly refer to it as “chili” but true aficionados know that it’s not chili if it’s got beans in it. Beans are served on the side. If you just insist on mixing them together, because you really like spicy bean soup, I’ve no quarrel with that (I myself sometimes enjoy a bowl of spicy bean soup) but calling the mixture “chili” is just wrong. Srsly. O_o

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  4. It’s funny that this post is about the possible snowpocalypse coming overnight but the focus is on beans in chili. I am not from Texas, so I don’t understand the hatred of beans in chili. I love red kidney beans in my chili. My husband, though born in Detroit, has lived her for now more than 3/4 of his life, and he puts beans in his chili. Why do Texans hate beans in their chili so much?

    • It is a mystery. Don’t tell anyone (except the entire internet), but I make veggie chili—which is pretty much ALL beans. (Gotta go prepare for hate mail now…)

  5. Because no one is actually from Austin (we all end up here from somewhere else – don’t question me, you know it’s true) it’s fun to make a weather comment – ANY weather comment – just to see how long it takes for someone else to contradict you and clarify that whatever it is you are both currently experiencing is in no way comparable to the horrendous conditions available in a non-Austin locale.

  6. This is oh so true and gave me a good morning laugh. Had chili last night with beans (the only way) 🙂

    I enjoyed your wit. Indeed farting in general is hilarious in our family. Stay warm.

    • Since I live with one man and two dogs, farting is pretty routine. Thanks for reading and commenting—glad you enjoyed the post!

  7. I lived in Austin from March 2003 through August 2006. While living there, I attended culinary school (like approximately 94% of the population there). The day of my baking and pastry final exam, the weather people were predicting a chance of snow after midnight. Naturally my final exam, which ran from 5 PM – 10 PM, was cancelled, which meant we had to make it up like 9-10 weeks later, after we’d all forgotten everything we were taught in that class. And of course there was only a light dusting of snow that night.

    And farting is indeed hilarious.

    • Well that sucks. I assume you passed though? I remember a “big” snow in Austin back in the 80s. I was in high school, working at H.E.B. There were lines from the cash registers to the meat department at the farthest end of the store. I thought people were preparing for the end times. It’s spooky when there is no meat left in a grocery store. And why meat?

      • I did pass. We had to draw a number (1-6) from a basket on our way in the door, then make the dish that corresponded with that number. My number corresponded with chocolate mousse, so I got off very easily. I likely wouldn’t have been able to successfully make any of the other items.

  8. I’m a 7th generation Texan. Grew up in a part of Texas that has to deal with a lot of snow and icy weather. Still, I don’t drive well in icy or snowy weather. I love to put beans in my chili, as did my mother and grandmother. Are there actually other Texans who live in Austin???

    • Can you believe?? Full disclosure: I moved here in 1972 at the age of five. I’m practically native!

    • I’m a 5th generation Central Texan, farmer’s daughter, born at Seton in 1976. Mother graduated from McCallum, grandfather from the old Austin High, and the rest of the family is from Round Rock, Taylor, and Hutto. Beans in chili for me… Can’t actually remember if that’s how my family made it growing up, since we didn’t make it often. I do remember I didn’t hear about the supposed ‘no-beans’ rule until I was an adult at least. *Shrug*

      As far as winter weather goes, well, it happens so rarely we just don’t have the means to deal with it, and roads aren’t built with it in mind. They really don’t need to be. I know it’s funny to the northern transplants (and I lived in Northern Europe for five years so I DO know what cold weather is), but we just have a different climate. Imagine if it was 100+ degrees for MONTHS on end in places without airconditioning? When I lived in Prague–where summers are reasonably warm to begin with–the few times it got into the high 90s, pretty much everything was cancelled.

      In Austin we’re also at the southern end of Tornado Alley, so if you’re not used to THAT sort of extreme weather it can be frightening (well, it’s frightening even IF you’re used to it).

      And, finally, snow days are really just an excuse to stay home and try to recover from your cedar fever…

  9. I am from Texas. From this little place just south of Austin you may have heard of it San Antonio. My family has given me endless for decades. I LIKE BEANS IN MY CHILI!!! I like lots of them too.

    I don’t like sloppy effing joes. Why in the world would I put all the effort into making cornbread in my cast iron skillet for sloppy joes. No. I want beans in my chili.

    Back to the real topic. Lived in Cleveland. The Ohio one not the Texas one. Snow not a problem. My car has the winter sports package. Seat warmers be damned. I have a heated windshield. Ice however I am staying home. These people don’t know how to drive when it rains. Add a little “winter precipitation” and you are screwed.

    BTW. HEB a madhouse yesterday evening. Walgreens not at all. Guess what milk is cheaper there too.

    Viral weenie this is a brilliant PSA for newcomers to Austin. Possibly life saving. You are a good friend saving all those car bumpers.

  10. I am a native Texas, born at Bergstrom AFB in 1965. Beans in chili–HELL YEAH!!!
    Attempted to go to work this morning and ended up in a ditch. Going 15-20 mph on 183 from Lockhart and hit ice. Turned into the spin, feet off the brake and accelerator, just went with it. Missed a pole by less than 2 inches. NOT going to risk life and limb driving on ice ever again.

  11. For all you transplants, Texans know how to do pretty much everything EXCEPT the ‘D’ word….Drive (on ice!)
    I’m from ‘Deep in the Heart of West Texas’, where we’ve had more snow in the last couple of years, then ever before on the record books! I DID happen to experience The UT- A&M game on Thanksgiving Day 1983, where the snow started falling and never stopped! No one was prepared to sit in the stands, much less drive in it…

    • West Texas…Gads!

      I drove all over Colorado in the dead of Winter…but the most frightened I’ve ever been driving (and I love driving) has been in West Texas.

      First…let’s talk Black Ice. Hmmm….no, let’s do not. That stuff is totally terrifying.

      Then there was the time in the early Fall I made a 2500 mile driving trip from Austin, out through W.Texas then on across New Mexico to Durango Colorado and back.

      Except…except…to get OUT of Texas, I had to drive through a HUGE wind/dust storm in W.Texas – I believe it was outside Amarillo. Terrifying experience. Total brown-out visually with swirls of dust totally captivating the air. You could not even see your hood, much less beyond nor could you see a thing on either side of any door. You could not just STOP as no one would see you if they were behind or in front or beside you. Worst driving experience of my life. Fortunately, it blew right on through and only lasted maybe 5 minutes but it seemed like 5 hours of terror.

      The only previous encounter I had with anything remotely similar was a 20 degrees below (0) whiteout in Colorado to get from our parked and waiting car at a country airport in a place called Hayden to our place in Steamboat Springs. At least here through the tires you could hear and even FEEL at 5 mile or slower per hour if you were ON the road or OFF it…even when you could NOT see it.

      AGain…you really could not just pull off for long because you were highly likely to just be ploughed into from any direction…and this whiteout was predicted to go on all afternoon and night. Hyperthermia was an alternative possibility as well…at that degree of exposure. That day/night whatever a Jeep 4-wheel drive vehicle cost it was the best investment we ever made in our Colorado place.

      In Austin, it’s not really the weather that is the hazard…but the slippy-slidey and spinning out car shenanigans you have to pre-anticipate and then avoid/

      Whew! Beware those drivers who think NOTHING of going regular (fast) speeds straight into and through trouble…or hitting the brake when they need to cool it and work to right the car as it comes out of whatever had seized it in their moment of panic. Of course, they are highly likely the MAJORITY of who is on the Austin road given those conditions…so there are quite hard to dodge.

      Again…a really engaging post, Ileenie – and thanks to all of you who replied.

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  15. What a funny post. And for some reason, now I’m hungry for beans and chili or should I just admit I only know chili to come w/ beans? As a Michigander who’s lived in Texas for last 25 years AND whose parents were born in Texas, I feel I have the right to simultaneously fear the fake snow days while insisting on getting on the roads and scaring true Texans into driving faster so that I may drive as slow as molasses because the highways in south weren’t built to withstand cold only heat. I can just keep making this sh*t up all.night.long …

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  18. Native Texas…but born and bred in Houston. Got here in Austin in late 2002, but only after both my only sons and first (of two now) grandboys were already here.

    Chili…NEVER with beans. Red beans and rice, though, are great with Cajun meals…so are a great follow-up to Chili. One of my continuing regrets is because my Aunt learned to make the perfect chili from my material Grandma and made it regularly thereafter until her long life completed, I never bothered to snag a look-see and watch how that dish was made. I’ve never had chili since I liked better.

    There was no recipe…it was all a pinch, a handful, and a toss it all together event. BUT the ritual was a weekly one. They also happened to make the best rice to go with it – always…or as a side dish (yes…r.i.c.e) to go with it – moist yet firm – with butter.

    Because there was so little meat during WW II…it is entirely possibly my Mom’s brothers and my Dad MAYBE brought that rice idea back to go with the chili. All I can think of is quite possibly fortunes got slim to even buy that much beef for one dish so our family guys maybe discovered that special rice in Japan…and brought the idea home from the war of a side with chili.

    I know though…in this family chili itself ruled throughout their whole life…whether rice was on the table or not. Oh…and what went with it that was always a huge hit – thinly sliced, crispy, golden REAL french-fries! Yum! Never ever frozen…as of course, there were no such things a freezers in those olden days.

    Speaking of freezers and such…I learned to drive in driving rain (and floods) in Houston. Then in sleet, snow, ice and slush in Colorado…and frankly, there is NO WAY to learn to drive in what Austin calls “weather.” I’m a very big fan of younger generations bailing us out of much…and I’ve NO clue how Austin’s roadrunners got so totally unable to drive in almost ANY weather variance from just totally dry to gorgeously sunny to no wind whatsoever.

    But…I know ’tis true it is super dangerous on Austin roads anytime, anytime at all we have anything that could be termed “weather” year-round that is not the latter.

    Ileen, I’ve learned NOT to GO to the store the day before or the day after “weather” stuff. Oh. This year, i mistakenly ended up in HEB AFTER the Super Bowl started…and should have taken the fore-warning. Nary a SINGLE spot in a huge HEB parking lot at Brodie and Wm Cannon was empty. Not EVEN in the handicapped spots. And this was AFTER the kickoff.

    HEB looked like a civil war zone – the way the kitchens and the cellars looks in Gone for the Wind. Nada. Empty…like nothing on the shelves or in the coolers at all that remotely resembled anything that could be consumed in front of a TV.

    In contrast…if you were a vegetarian or a vegan…HEB was your dreamzone…as the entire fruit/veggie area was empty row by row of shoppers but full in every other sense. So…if you dared want to actually MAKE anything from scratch…you’d be in luck.

    Shopping for Anything “processed” or pre-packaged…not so much as a chance was there you would fill a cart.

  19. I’m not sure who will see this comment, but my apologies to those of you to whom I never replied. I feel like an ass. Someday I will learn how to work the internet—maybe even my own website. In the meantime, I didn’t even see some of your wonderful comments when they were originally posted a generation ago. I thank you for reading and commenting on my blog!

  20. Oh, dear, I am a native Texian (correct spelling) and guilty on all counts. I stay up late to watch for snow, I force my dogs to go outside and play in the snow with me even if it’s melted and mostly mud, I can’t drive in precipitation, and I’ve never had chilli without beans. One time, the theatre where I worked insisted on having a show on a snow day; I told them if they wanted me there to send a taxi (they did!). I like to think my delight at snow (really it’s always ice) is childlike wonder, which is as close to young as I get these days…

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