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Austin Has One Snow Truck For Every 47,000 Residents

A dump truck outfitted with a sanding device in 2009. The city has 15 trucks ready to clear the city if it snows tonight.
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
A dump truck outfitted with a sanding device in 2009. The city has 15 trucks ready to clear the city if it snows tonight.

An ice or snow storm that wouldn't even slow a northeastern city can cripple Austin, as it did in 2007. Our highway overpasses stretch into the sky, making them easily ice over when temperatures drop. And because it snows so infrequently, we don't have a legion of trucks ready to clear the streets.

"We have three sand trucks on standby right now, with another twelve available, if necessary," City of Austin spokesman David Matustik told KUT News.  That amounts to about one truck for every 47,000 Austin residents.

Chicago, for contrast, has about one snow plow for every 7,000 residents. But the Windy City receives an average of 38 inches of snow each year. Over the past six decades, Austin received an average of 0.9 inches of snow annually. That's according to National Climatic Data Center, which includes ice pellets and sleet in its count.

Matustik, the city spokesman, said Austin would prioritize clearing and sanding the main thoroughfares first: Lamar Blvd., S. First St., Congress Ave., and bridges over creeks in the city. The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for highways like I-35, US 183, and MoPac.

"As always, drive cautiously, and if you do happen to see any ice pockets or anything, you can always call 3-1-1 to report them," Matustik said.

If you've never driven in snow before, you should probably check out these helpful tips from the Wall Street Journal. You may also want to consider putting sandbags or weight in the back of your vehicle to help prevent it from slipping. Stick to main thoroughfares and avoid bridges and overpasses if possible.

TxDOT plans to pre-treat some roads with a liquid deicing product called EnviRoad Meltdown 20.  "The more traffic you put on it, the better the product works," TxDOT spokesman John Hurt told KUT News.

Sometimes people mistake the glisten created by Meltdown 20 to be ice. In at least one previous case, it resulted in the Austin Police Department closing overpasses that needed to have cars running over them to activate the deicing product. Communication between government agencies has improved since then.

Meanwhile, the city is telling people to take precautions so that their pipes don't freeze over and burst. Information is posted on its website.

Know where your property’s cut-off valve is located and how to use it, as broken pipes may not be evident until temperatures rise above freezing. The valve is generally located on the homeowner’s side of the water meter box under a 6-inch metal lid on the ground. If you think you have a broken pipe, shut the water off. If you cannot locate the cutoff or cannot turn the valve, call Austin Water Dispatch at (512) 972-1000 and request an emergency cutoff. If pipes have already frozen, keep the heat on in your home; open all cabinet doors with plumbing; and drip faucets while at home. Also, call a plumber to assess your situation as soon as possible.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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