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.

Can’t You Hear the Whistle Blowing

bill-old-houseIn 1998 I moved into a questionable neighborhood to shack up with an equally questionable guy, in a house almost as shady as the street it sat on. Yet despite its beach towel curtains and unidentifiable odor, Squalor Manor had potential (and as it turned out, so did the guy).

One thing I forgot to consider before moving in with my future husband was the level of noise inherent to city living. Rush hour traffic, sirens and a neighborhood rooster, along with the creaks and groans of a 75-year-old house, created the urban equivalent of a Philip Glass marathon—and much like Philip Glass, it was unbearable. I was relieved when the racket finally began fading into the background, and the only sound left to break up the static was a train’s whistle.

Fast forward a few years, and our neighborhood has grown so hip, even the property taxes are ironic. Our streets are virtually hooker-free, and the coffeehouse to porn-shop ratio has begun to even out. These days, people pay alarming sums of money to live down by the tracks.

train_trackThere’s a railroad crossing less than a quarter mile from our house. It can be a minor inconvenience during day, but at night the distant sound of approaching trains is comforting. Each time a whistle blows, my husband or I will ask, “Where should we go tonight?” Sometimes it’s New Mexico or Colorado; other nights we take the long haul up through western Canada to Alaska. It’s a silly little tradition, but it is precisely this type of thing that makes a relationship special. Because let’s face it—lying next to a middle aged man with a Breathe Right Strip across his nose isn’t what they promised in the bridal magazines.

train1I recently learned of Austin’s Railroad Quiet Zones project. Train engineers are no longer required to sound their whistles in a new zone which includes three nearby railroad crossings. At the risk of sounding like a fist-shaking grandma, I have to question a person who moves into a house by the railroad tracks and then calls the city to complain that trains are noisy. I feel Darwin owes me an explanation.

Gene pools aside, this isn’t about gentrification or city policy—nor is it about an old house in an old neighborhood with new neighbors. It’s about imaginary adventures on imaginary trains and building new traditions while learning to live on the quiet side of the tracks.

I tried (and failed) not to use “SXSW” in this headline.

If you remember this, you're old.

If you remember this, you’re old.

Austinites have a unique relationship with their hometown, especially during SXSW. Technically, its residents don’t own the city, but many of us feel that we do. Here’s a helpful list of the colorful neighbors you’re likely to find in Austin and what you should expect when encountering them.

A-TEAM: “Get off my lawn.”

  • Those who remember Armadillo World Headquarters, Skillerns Drugstore, pre-Mopac transportation, and Aqua Fest (bonus points if you had a Skipper Pin)
  • Allowed to complain/shake fist*

*Might be mistaken for elderly person
**Probably is elderly person

B-TEAM: “You can be on my lawn, but only if you bring me a giant doobie.”

  • Those who remember Eckerd’s Drugstore, jeans that fit properly, and sex on South Congress that didn’t include dinner and drinks
  • Allowed to complain; fist-shaking optional

C-TEAM: “Get off my lawn.” *said ironically*

  • Can be identified by number of Apple products in man-purse; often confused for SXSW attendee; sneaky
  • Not allowed to complain; legal to throw rocks at, although must be prepared to pay for broken horn-rimmed glasses (unless worn ironically, in which case you may stomp on them repeatedly)

D-TEAM: “What the hell’s the problem with this traffic? I’m going to be late for my manicure.”
WARNING: Soccer Mom (Do not fuck with these people.)

E-TEAM: “What is that bright disk in the sky?”

  • Often referred to as “recluses” or “shut-ins,” these people remember a time before cell phones and laptops, when parking downtown was free.
  • Complaining rights depend upon whether you’re too cool (see C-Team) or too old (see A-Team)

F-TEAM: “Get out of my town and go back to California, posers.”

  • Moved to Austin after 1979
  • Mistakenly think they’re allowed to complain; likely to be mocked by Teams A and B

CAUTION: Handle with care; may be hostile

  • Can be identified by pained facial expression and total disdain for others (especially when those others are from California)*
  • Allowed to complain while two-stepping over your grave

*Natives see Californians as just an invasive species, akin to hackberry trees and feral pigs. No matter how often you clear the land or cull the herd, they just keep coming back.

And there you have it—your guide to a happy and safe SXSW. There’s no need to fight about it—just pick a team and go with the flow.

And please get off my lawn.