Ice accumulations of up to three-quarters of an inch snapped tree limbs and downed power lines across Austin, leaving as many as 171,000 households in the state capital without electricity. But thawing temperatures were expected by Thursday afternoon.
“These outages are due to severe winter weather and are not related to a statewide grid issue,” Austin Energy said in a statement Wednesday. “Ice is accumulating on power lines, utility poles and tree limbs leading to power outages.”
For much of Wednesday, Austin Energy’s online outage map showed at least 25% of its customers reporting power loss. Around 3:25 p.m., the map indicated as many 799 outages affecting 171,245 customers or about 32% of all customers.
The National Weather Service’s winter storm warning for the Austin metro area and the Hill Country, and hopefully much of the misery along with it, was set to expire at 6 a.m. Thursday, but here’s what we know:
When will power be restored?
Crews were working to restore power outages across Central Texas on Wednesday, but some Austin Energy customers might not have electricity until sometime Thursday.
Austin Energy said it had sought more staff and resources earlier this week, but repair crews face the twin challenges of driving on icy roads and fixing frozen equipment.
The city utility also warned that under those conditions, “it is not possible to provide estimated restoration times. It is possible some customers may be without power for 12 to 24 hours.”
Austin Energy spokesman Matt Mitchell said the utility had kept up with its tree trimming schedule, but this storm was an unusual one for the area.
“Our vegetation management crews are finding the limbs at the higher elevation of 25, 30 feet up are falling and cracking into the lower limbs that were trimmed back,” Mitchell said. Those higher limbs snap and tumble across the canopy of tree limbs.
Austin Energy is also aware of longer than usual wait times and other issues with its phone lines and 311 information line.
“We’re investigating that right now,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got our IT people working on it.”
What’s the forecast for Thursday?
Thursday’s weather is expected to be better — but only by a little. Still, once the freezing rain moves off to the east by the afternoon, Central Texas will be able to enjoy its longest period of thawing temperatures in days.
“We should finally see an end to ice over the entire region by mid- to late morning Thursday as temperatures across the entire (region) warm back above freezing, but not before the damage has been done,” the weather service said in a bulletin Wednesday.
Thursday’s forecast for Austin calls for a 40% chance of showers before noon. Otherwise, temperatures should climb into the lower 40s amid chilly north-northwest winds of 10 to 15 mph with gusts as strong as 20 mph.
“Rain chances come to an end across all areas of South-Central Texas by early Thursday evening,” the weather service said. Austin will likely have overcast skies in the evening, but temperatures are expected to sink once again to near-freezing levels.
Will we have school on Thursday?
It depends. While many Central Texas school district offices and campuses were shut down Wednesday, some were still weighing reopening or having a delayed start Thursday.
Austin school district campuses and offices will be closed Thursday. District officials said they would monitor weather conditions before deciding what to do for Friday.
The Del Valle, Eanes, Elgin, Hutto, Lake Travis, Leander, Manor, Pflugerville, Round Rock and Bastrop school districts were just some of the districts also opting to remained closed Thursday.
The campuses at the University of Texas, Austin Community College and Southwestern University in Georgetown also will remain closed Thursday.
More:Winter weather cancellations, closures, delays in Austin area
How soon until we see sunshine?
Friday’s outlook for Austin includes a full day of sunny skies with a high of 51. Although Friday night temperatures could drop below freezing, Saturday should come with more sunshine and an even warmer high of 56. Sunday also will live up to its name with clear skies and seasonable high of 65 degrees, as balmy southerly winds return to the region.
How bad were the roads Wednesday?
Conditions worsened from Tuesday, when a 10-car pileup on Texas 71 in South Austin left one person dead and an 18-wheeler crash on Texas 130 seriously injured a Travis County sheriff’s deputy. Austin’s Transportation Department said city personnel have responded to more than 300 traffic crashes this week.
But many first responders on Wednesday had to pivot to handling downed power lines. The Austin Fire Department, which reported that several fire stations had lost power, said that fire crews between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. responded to more than 75 calls about wires arcing, with more calls coming in.
Downed power lines prompted authorities to shut down Interstate 35 in both directions at Grand Avenue Parkway on Thursday afternoon. In addition to urging the public to stay off the roads, fire officials also warned the public to avoid being under trees because heavy ice accumulation was breaking off limbs.
Firefighters also responded around 1 a.m. Wednesday to a fire in Northwest Austin fire in the 3900 block of Hawkshead Drive that started around a fireplace that was being used to heat a home. Two occupants were hospitalized, and one dog died in the fire.
How were hospitals affected?
St. David’s North Austin Medical Center briefly lost power Wednesday morning and was able to switch to generators. Power has been restored. “The safety of our patients was not compromised at any time. In an abundance of caution, all remaining non-emergent procedures are being rescheduled,” said Tom Jackson, CEO of the hospital.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ascension Seton Northwest was operating on backup generators. The hospital was “operational with minimal impact to patient care,” an Ascension Seton statement said. “All Ascension Seton hospitals have emergency response plans in place to provide uninterrupted patient care, including access to generators for each care site.” Ascension Seton’s other hospitals had power.
Capital Metro suspended transportation service Wednesday to take people to dialysis appointments. Fresenius Medical Care had its North and South Austin clinics lose power, but it was able to send patients to other clinics with power. It also rescheduled patients for later appointments.
Meanwhile, Austin-Travis County EMS medics have responded to a spike in calls — 345 calls on Monday alone included for 11 falls on ice, 10 reports of potential hypothermia and one person exposed to carbon monoxide. They also took 11 people to cold weather shelters.
What about those living on the streets?
The city of Austin had opened its cold-weather shelters on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and planned to have them open again on Thursday. Those who need overnight shelter can go to One Texas Center at 505 Barton Springs Road 6-8 p.m. to register.
These shelters are typically reserved for people experiencing homelessness, but anyone can register who needs a warm place for the night.
What if I had property damage from the ice storms?
Texans are encouraged to report property damage from the storms at tdem.texas.gov/disasters/january-2023-winter-storm.
Meanwhile, in Williamson County on Tuesday, County Judge Bill Gravell issued a disaster declaration to activate the recovery and rehabilitation steps outlined in the county’s Emergency Management Plan.
“We have seen in the past how an ice storm can linger and cause disruption and damage to people’s lives, so we want to be sure that we have all the resources necessary to assist if needed,” Gravell said in a statement.
Frozen trees, icy roads and outages:See the damage across Austin during winter storm