Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy
Posted: December 30, 2015
AUSTIN, Texas - Teams of soldiers from the Texas National Guard came to the aid of Texans as the onslaught of winter weather immediately following the Christmas holiday left parts of the Texas Panhandle covered in snow and ice.
From heavy rains and thunderstorms with potential flooding to blizzard conditions and tornadoes, the devastating weather that hit Sunday impacted many North Texas residents, with tornadoes leaving 11 dead.
With the winter storm imminent, the Texas National Guard dispatched soldiers Saturday to prepare to respond and assist, prepping their vehicles and winter kits to aid residents who may be impacted, said Capt. Luke Reynard, the military district coordinator for the Texas disaster district 1 region.
“What we saw most is high winds and really low visibility,” Reynard said. “The snow was coming in and blowing so hard it was causing whiteout conditions.”
Because of the low visibility, the Texas Department of Transportation shut down Interstate 40.
The guardsmen partnered with the Texas Department of Public Safety and TxDOT to assess the road conditions, clear roads and assist travelers who may have been stranded.
“Sunday morning I was working directly with DPS, and what we found was that DPS didn’t have a lot of eyes on the road as far as conditions,” Reynard said.
As a result, the guardsmen became the eyes on the road to survey road conditions as teams were sent west on Interstate 40 to the New Mexico border, east on Interstate 40 to the Oklahoma border and northeast on State Highway 60 toward Pampa.
As the guardsmen navigated the icy roads with little to no visibility, they were able to rescue more than 100 residents and assisted about 65 other stranded motorists by providing blankets, food and water, according to information from the Texas National Guard’s joint operation center.
Reynard said one of the biggest challenges were the snow drifts.
“We can have 3 inches of snow and you’ll encounter a snowdrift 6-foot tall,” he said. “We had a storm dumping about 5-10 inches of snow with 35-40 miles-per-hour sustained winds.”
Eventually, DPS was able to launch its helicopter and perform route recon near Friona, while TxDOT cleared up the roads making them passable by Monday evening, ending the National Guard’s mission.
“We are proud and grateful we have a team that is so dedicated to helping Texans in these dire times,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general – Texas. “We couldn’t have completed this mission without the dedication of our soldiers and their families for allowing them to serve the great state of Texas.”