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Energy & Environment
Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

'Now Is The Time To Prepare': Historic Winter Storm Expected To Hit The Austin Area This Weekend

Traffic on southbound Interstate 35 in South Austin during Thursday's winter storm. The city has asked people to stay off the roads if they can.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Traffic on southbound Interstate 35 in South Austin on Thursday. The city has asked people to stay off the roads if possible.

South-Central Texas could experience the coldest air mass since 1989 over the next few days, the National Weather Service tweeted Friday, calling the weather "historic."

"Now is the time to prepare," it said.

The NWS said freezing rain was expected late Friday, with additional light freezing rain and sleet Saturday. Temperatures are forecast to plummet Sunday evening, with rain changing over to snow. Many areas can expect accumulations, it said, and additional power outages are possible.

"Travel Sunday night into Monday will be difficult if not impossible as winds increase and whip around the snow, reducing visibility," the weather service said.

Lows on Tuesday morning could go into the single digits, with wind chills below zero. More wintry weather is possible Tuesday night, it said.

Follow along for weather updates from the KUT News team below:

10:20 p.m. update — Cold weather shelters to stay open 24/7; warming center opening at Palmer Center

The city is opening a warming center at the Palmer Events Center at 10 a.m. on Saturday. People who go to the warming center will be eligible to be transported to shelters in the evening if requested.

The city also announced Friday that cold weather shelters would operate 24 hours a day for as long as required. Those seeking shelter Saturday evening should go to the Central Library at 6 p.m. for transport.

6 p.m. update — Abbott issues disaster declaration

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration in all Texas counties in response to the severe winter weather.

Abbott is deploying state resources to help local officials respond to the weather event, according to a press release from his office. The governor also ordered the State Operations Center to operate 24 hours a day through next week.

"Texas should heed the guidance of their local leaders and stay alert to changing weather conditions in their area," Abbott said in the release. "These resources will help us respond to this severe winter weather and keep our communities safe.”

4:45 p.m. update – Austin activates cold weather shelters

The City of Austin is opening its cold weather shelters tonight with normal hours but expanded capacity. Intake is from 6 p.m. to 8 pm at the Central Library on Cesar Chavez. Families in need of shelter should report to the downtown Salvation Army Shelter on Eighth Street by 6 p.m.

Conversations are underway about the possibility of running the shelters 24/7 when the more severe cold hits over the weekend.

At least a dozen groups providing services to people experiencing homelessness have called on the city to keep them open 24/7 until daytime temperatures get closer to normal.

“Today, I’m calling for an emergency response to an emergency situation," said Irit Umani, executive director of the Trinity Center, a faith-based organization that serves the poor and homeless in Austin. "These people should be gathered, and they should stay indoors until the freeze is over."

On Thursday night, the city provided 126 people overnight shelter in recreation centers, but they were released in the morning.

1:21 p.m. update — Capital Metro prepares for more winter weather, warns of detours

Capital Metro says it is preparing for additional days of winter weather. "Field staff are inspecting bus stations, rail platforms and the service area overpasses and bridges, and they are de-icing surfaces as needed," the public transit agency said in a statement.

Customers can visit Cap Metro's website to track delays and detours.

7:53 a.m. Friday update — Stay off the roads if you can. If you have to drive today, slow down.

There are "EXTREMELY ICY CONDITIONS" on Austin's roads this morning, the Austin Transportation Department said in a tweet. The city says it's seeing crashes in all parts of Austin and many intersections have traffic signals that are flashing red. (Drivers should treat dark or flashing signals as an all way stop.)

Southbound drivers on MoPac Expressway have been routed to the exit near Enfield Road as ice has been reported in both directions of the highway. Police are blocking some northbound lanes near the Fifth Street exit due to ice as well.

9 p.m. Thursday update — Officials shut down part of Highway 183 and 183A toll road because of ice

The Texas Department of Transportation and Austin Police Department are closing down Highway 183 between Cameron Road and Cedar Park city limits, APD tweeted just before 9 p.m.

They said drivers need to avoid all overpasses and avoid unnecessary travel.

The 183A toll road is also being shut down in both directions overnight because of ice, according to Cedar Park Police.

8:30 p.m. update — Medics urge Central Texans to avoid unnecessary travel

Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services responded to multiple ice-related crashes on Thursday and is encouraging people to avoid travel tonight.

There were two major pileups on SH 45 in Northwest Austin — a 26-vehicle pileup this morning near the 13700 block of the highway and a six-vehicle crash in the same area in the evening. ATCEMS recommended shutting down the area overnight.

The medics also responded to three environmental exposure calls Thursday and multiple incidents on North 183.

6:14 p.m. — Thousands of Austin residents are without power

About 25,000 Austin Energy customers were without power around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the electric utility said on Twitter.

Normally, you can monitor updates on this Outage Map. But because there are so many outages, Austin Energy has stopped posting estimated restoration times for now.

The utility says crews are continuing to assess damage caused by the weather and are working to quickly make repairs.

6:05 p.m. update — UT Health Austin cancels Monday vaccine appointments

COVID-19 vaccine appointments at UT Austin will be canceled Monday because of anticipated inclement weather.

UT says it will reach out to people with appointments to reschedule for a later date.

5:10 p.m. update – Hays CISD cancels in-person classes Friday and Monday

The Hays Consolidated Independent School District is going 100% virtual for students and staff Friday and Monday. All after-school and extracurricular activities over the weekend have been cancelled.

Tuesday is currently scheduled as a regular day. The district says it will monitor weather conditions over the weekend and notify families by Monday night if that changes.

4:20 p.m. update — Trash, recycling and other curbside services delayed in Austin

Austin Resource Recovery stopped curbside collection midday on Thursday because of severe winter weather. All collections — trash, recycling, composting, yard trimmings, bulk items, etc. — have been canceled for the rest of the day.

People who have a Thursday collection day are being asked to leave uncollected items on the curb so crews can catch up.

Services might be delayed Friday, Monday and Tuesday as well if the severe weather continues. But residents are still being asked to set out carts as usual.

Austin Code will not be issuing citations for carts and items left on the curb during the delays.

3:55 p.m. update — Hays County shifts Monday vaccination appointments to Wednesday

Hays County is moving its Monday appointments for second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Wednesday because of expected severe weather.

People who have an appointment Monday at San Marcos High School will get an email saying their appointment is moving, the county says. The appointment times will remain the same as they would have been on Monday.

Hays County says it will send out emails about first dose appointments soon. The next first dose distributions are Tuesday and Wednesday in Dripping Springs. The county’s registration page can be found here.

2:48 p.m. update — Austin ISD will not hold in-person classes Friday

The Austin Independent School District will be 100% remote learning on Friday, the district said in an email to families. After-school activities today have been canceled. The district says its mass COVID-19 testing event scheduled for Friday has also been canceled.

Campuses will send devices home with students, AISD said. Many students in the district will not have class — in-person or virtual — on Friday due to an already planned professional development day for staff.

2:24 p.m. update — About 10,000 customers without power in Austin

Austin Energy says around 10,000 customers are currently without power, with the largest outage located in the US 183/Braker Lane area in North Austin.

"Please be patient as our crews work in these icy conditions to restore power," Austin Energy said in a tweet. Customers can track the utility's progress on this outage map.

2:01 p.m. update — Williamson County vaccine provider reschedules some upcoming appointments

Williamson County's vaccine provider Family Hospital Systems has rescheduled all Monday appointments at the Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex due to the expected winter weather.

Family Hospital Systems moved some Wednesday appointments inside by shifting them from the Georgetown High School Football Stadium parking lot to the Sun City Ballroom.

The company has not yet given any more details on when the appointments will be rescheduled.

12:03 p.m. update — Worried about pipes bursting? Here's how to make sure they don't

To make sure your pipes don’t burst because of freezing temperatures over the next few days, Austin Water recommends wrapping all pipes that are outside or in unheated areas of your home and preparing for a worst-case scenario.

“The biggest thing is know where your property owner’s cutoff valve is, where you shut your water off from our system to your system," Spokesperson Jason Hill told KUT in 2012. "If you have an emergency in your home, a water pipe bursts in your home, you’re going to want to turn that water off immediately.”

Here's a video where Hill shows us how to do that.

11:33 a.m. update — Austin activates its cold weather shelters

Traffic on southbound Interstate 35 in South Austin during Thursday's winter storm. The city has asked people to stay off the roads if they can.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Traffic on southbound Interstate 35 in South Austin during Thursday's winter storm. The city has asked people to stay off the roads if they can.

Cold weather shelters are available from the City of Austin tonight. Single adults in need of shelter should go to the Central Library, located at 710 W. Cesar Chavez St., between 6 and 8 p.m. Families in need of shelter should go to the Downtown Salvation Army Shelter, at 501 E. 8th Street, by 6 p.m.

Austin Public Health says a health screening for COVID-19 will be done during registration and temperatures will be checked. You can call the city's 24/7 hotline at 512-305-4233 for more information.

10:54 a.m. update — Austin Public Health will not open new vaccine appointments today due to the weather

Austin Public Health said no new first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments would become available today due to the winter storm, as well as considerations for second dose appointments and changes to APH's scheduling system.

If you already had an appointment scheduled for today, it has not been canceled, APH says.

Last week, Austin's public health agency said new vaccine appointments would become available on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, so people would not have to constantly check for available appointments.

APH also closed the Ana Lark, Southeast Branch Library, St. John's and Pflugerville COVID-19 testing centers for today and tomorrow because of the weather. Those who had their appointments scheduled can book a new test on the city's website.

10:31 a.m. update — National Weather Service urges people to stay off the roads

The National Weather Service said in a 9 a.m. update that a wintry mix of rain, freezing rain and sleet in the counties under a winter storm warning will make some roads, especially bridges and overpasses, "slick to potentially impassable."

"If travel is not absolutely essential, we suggest not to get out on the roadways today," Austin/San Antonio National Weather Service meteorologist Ethan Williams says.

The Austin Fire Department says it responded to a 26-vehicle crash on State Highway 45 in Northwest Austin around 8:19 a.m. Austin-Travis County EMS says so far four people have been taken to the hospital following the pileup, located just east of US 183.

Residents in the areas under the advisory should prepare for wintry precipitation – like freezing drizzle, freezing rain, sleet or snow – to begin accumulating on surfaces.

The Texas Department of Transportation has started pre-treating bridges and overpasses in Austin. These elevated roads are usually the first to freeze in such conditions.

The National Weather Service said temperatures could remain very cold and windy through next week, with snow or sleet expected Monday.

— Dani Matias

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