The blizzard in Lubbock in 2015 brought severe weather and impassable roads to the Hub City in the days following Christmas. The storm ranked as the third highest snowfall on record at the Lubbock International Airport, leaving 11.2 inches of snow at that location over the course of December 26 and 27, the National Weather Service reported.
Not only was the snow a hassle, high winds came along with the snow, with some gusts traveling as fast as 65 miles per hour. According to city records there was only one weather related death during the blizzard, a homeless man who was found dead after a night of below freezing temperatures. The City of Lubbock estimates that the loss of business income as a result of this blizzard was $4,700,434.73
“The snow was overwhelming,” recalled Sgt. John Gonzalez of the Department of Public Safety who said the blizzard was one of the most notable weather events in his three decade career in law enforcement. DPS was one of many agencies– both Lubbock and regionally– responding to the storm.
“We were doing as much as we could. Once night fall came and everything iced over and froze, then the next morning we started logistically having to help ourselves to try to get out, so that we could get assistance to those that needed the help,” Gonzalez said. He recalled going to work at four in the morning on the day the snow started to fall, and some of his colleagues started working even earlier than that.
Steve Holland, Division Chief with Lubbock fire also recalls his team members working long shifts.
“We had guys working twelve hour shifts and most of those guys were actually sleeping at the office, they put cots up in their office,” Holland said. Lubbock Fire worked with city leaders at the city’s emergency operations center which was established at the Fire Training Center. Regional departments set up their headquarters at the Lubbock DPS offices where the District Disaster Committee was held.
The snow drifts– sometimes as high as three feet tall– made travel even harder for Lubbock fire who was busy responding to medical and house fire calls in addition to their blizzard responsibilities. Holland explained that one of the things LFR learned from the blizzard was how useful their four-wheel-drive vehicles are in inclement weather.
“They were fantastic,” Holland said. “I mean they could go right through the snow they could help pull out ambulance, they a could pull out other fire engines that were stuck so I think one of the big takeaways was that we could utilize that equipment and utilize it early, even to get our other equipment going.”
Gonzalez explained that DPS vehicles benefited from the help of LFR four-wheeler vehicles was well. Gonzalez added that putting chains on tires also presented a challenge for DPS troopers. He said that troopers hadn’t needed to use chains on their tires in quite a while.
“That was one of the difficult tasks, trying to get the snow chains on because it was so cold and the snow was so deep,” he explained.
Wood Franklin, Director of Public Works for the City of Lubbock explained that the storm sparked the creation of an emergency snow removal route for the city, mapping out a plan to clear key roads to allow emergency vehicles a way through the city. The top priority roads in this plan include large stretches of 19th, 82nd and Quaker. Now that the new policy is in place, it would go into effect any time four inches or more of snow accumulates on the ground.
“I think we did a great job last year, but we can always do things better he said,” Franklin said.
Franklin felt the city could have done better in planning routes for travel after the snowfall and communicating with the public.
“You learn something, this is a continuing education,” Sgt. Gonzalez said of the blizzard. “You learn something new every day and our job in those difficult times– we did what we needed to do in order to provide that service.”
Gonzalez added that the blizzard is a reminder that even first responders may be delayed in responding during severe weather scenarios, which makes it even more important for the general public to look out for their own safety until first responders arrive.
Gonzalez said that it’s never recommended to travel during inclement weather, but if you absolutely have to drive, it’s important to fill up your tank with gas and stock your vehicle with emergency supplies.
Holland agrees, hoping the public pays attention when warnings of severe weather start to make the news.
“Get prepared, get food, get water get whatever you need to get done [accomplished]. If you know you have to stay longer than two or three days before roads are passable, be prepared to be self sufficient for a period of time,” Holland said.