In any other year, an offbeat story detailing how a cold snap in Florida led to stunned iguanas falling from the trees might be amusing to some New Englanders who look on snow and freezing cold as just a normal season.

But in the midst of a pandemic that has brought unemployment, isolation and suffering, the shocking winter blast sweeping much of the country this week — including many southern states unprepared for New England-style weather — is a catastrophe no one can ignore.

Many parts of Texas saw their first-ever windchill warnings, as Arctic air hit as far south as Houston.

The Lone Star State, with its self-contained energy grid, was slammed by record cold and snow that knocked out lights and heat for millions of residents, leading to burst water pipes and toilets backing as sewage treatment plants malfunctioned. The situation was so dire that a furniture store owner in Houston opened his doors to all comers, whether it was to warm up for a few hours or to sleep in his showroom for as long as they needed.

Angel Garcia, a nurse from Killeen, Texas, told CNN that she and her family had no heat in their home and were burning their toddler’s toy blocks as firewood.

“A lot of people don’t know the severity of what’s going on. People are tearing down their fences to burn,” she said.

Texas isn’t alone, by any means, as record lows and treacherous conditions closed roads, upended COVID-19 vaccination schedules and shut down thousands of businesses, many of them already hindered by the limits placed on them by the pandemic. Snow blanketed Oklahoma City, with drifts reported from 2 to 4 feet high. Even Minnesota, where living through record-low temperatures is the stuff of bragging rights, set a new daily state record for Feb. 13, when -50 was recorded in Ely.

As we all struggle with our individual challenges — whether it’s trying to find an appointment for a vaccination, searching for a job to help pay the bills, or working on ways to connect with family and friends during these isolated months – we can take some comfort in knowing we can handle pretty much anything the winter weather gods can throw at us. But we should make room in our hearts for millions of Americans trying to survive their worst winter ever.

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