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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.

Austin And Travis County Declare States Of Disaster As 'Historic' Winter Weather Arrives

Pedestrians walk through snow in the Travis Heights neighborhood of South Austin on Sunday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Pedestrians walk through snow in the Travis Heights neighborhood of South Austin on Sunday.

This story has winter weather updates from the weekend. For Monday's updates, click here.

A winter storm warning is in effect until noon Monday for much of Central Texas, including Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. A wind chill advisory is also in effect until noon Monday.

The National Weather Service says bitterly cold air will combine with gusty winds to produce wind chill values of -15 to around 0 degrees Monday morning. It's the coldest air mass since 1989, according to the weather service.

In a tweet Friday, the NWS called it a "historic" winter storm. The City of Austin and Travis County issued states of disaster Sunday night.

RELATED | Tips On How To Prepare For Freezing Weather

The strong weather system could bring 2-4 inches of snow. Travel will be "difficult if not impossible," the weather service warns, as it expects winds to whip around the snow, decreasing visibility. More power outages are possible.

Temperatures will drop to single digits Sunday and Monday nights. At these temperatures, NWS says, stranded drivers are at risk of getting hypothermia.

"If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency," it recommends.

You can check the latest road conditions here. Scroll to the bottom of this post for the latest updates from the NWS.

We'll be updating this post throughout the weekend as information becomes available.

Update at 8:15 p.m. — Austin and Travis County declare states of disaster

The declarations from Austin and Travis County leaders in response to historic winter-weather threats will be in effect for no more than seven days. The Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center is activated and coordinating the County and City response.

“Residents are urged to stay off the roadways unless absolutely necessary," Travis County Judge Andy Brown said.

“We are also concerned about our energy supply. Please conserve energy by turning down thermostats to 68-degrees, closing shades & blinds to reduce heat lost through windows, and turning off and unplugging non-essential lights and appliances,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said.

5:30 p.m. update – Cap Metro stopping all services at 8 p.m.

Capital Metro announced that all services will stop at 8 p.m. and that service hours will be adjusted from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday due to the weather.

In addition, Cap Metro will not operate the following services Monday and Tuesday:

  • MetroRail
  • Rail connector
  • MetroExpress
  • Flyer route
  • Pickup service
  • UT shuttle
  • Round Rock service
  • Lago Visa feeder

4:45 p.m. update — H-E-B further reduces store hours

Austin and Central Texas: Sunday 5 p.m. close, Monday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Wimberley and Dripping Springs: Sunday 5 p.m. close, Monday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

3:40 p.m. update — Check your flight's status before heading to the airport

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is advising passengers with flights within the next 48 hours to confirm the flight's status before going to the airport. It said there were a large number of cancellations because of the weather.

It asks people whose flights are confirmed to use extreme caution getting to the airport and to walk carefully on surfaces leading to the terminals. While the airport roadways are open right now, it warned, highways around ABIA are closed or icy.

2:40 p.m. update — Vehicles stranded on RM 620

The Lakeway Police Department posted a video on Facebook showing cars stranded on RM 620 this afternoon.

The department said crews were working on sanding roadways and urged people to stay home.

12:55 p.m. update — Southwestern University closing

Southwestern University in Georgetown will be closed through Thursday.

11:45 a.m. update – UT Austin closing through Wednesday

The University of Texas at Austin is closing campus at 4 p.m. today through Wednesday morning at the earliest. All virtual learning classes are canceled due to expected power outages.

President Jay Hartzell says UT Austin will monitor conditions through the week and determine the best time to reopen campus.

COVID-19 vaccine and testing appointments have also been canceled on Monday and Tuesday, and will be rescheduled.

10 a.m. update – School updates

Several Central Texas school districts were already planning to be closed Monday because of the Presidents Day holiday: Austin, Bastrop, Blanco, Del Valle, Dripping Springs, Hutto, Leander, Round Rock and Taylor Independent School Districts. Families should check for updates on further delays and closures on each district’s website.

All Burnet CISD campuses and offices will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Hays CISD is going 100% virtual for students and staff on Monday. All after-school activities are canceled.

San Marcos CISD will be all-virtual on Monday for students; staff will work from home.

Austin Community College also announced it will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

9:30 a.m. update – Consumers again urged to conserve energy

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is asking consumers and businesses to conserve electricity as much as possible through Tuesday to avoid putting too much stress on the grid.

"We are experiencing record-breaking electric demand due to the extreme cold temperatures that have gripped Texas," ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a press release. "At the same time, we are dealing with higher-than-normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies available to generating units. We are asking Texans to take some simple, safe steps to lower their energy use during this time."

In Texas, electric use is usually higher in the summer; extreme winter weather like this poses special challenges to the grid.

All around the state people are turning their heaters up. But because this is Texas, a lot of homes aren’t designed to keep out extreme cold, so those heaters just keep running and running. And if they’re electric that means they’re pulling juice from the grid. But again, because this is Texas, the grid doesn’t have as much electricity available as it would in the summer.

“Historically our loads have been the highest in the summertime so a lot of power plants actually go down for maintenance this time of year," Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at UT Austin who studies the grid, told KUT's Mose Buchele. "There are certain things that have to be swapped out and fixed for power plants to get ready for typical summer peaks."

It’s a recipe for high demand and tight supply. And – in a worst-case scenario – rolling blackouts.

ERCOT offers these tips to reduce electricity use:

  • Turn down thermostats to 68-degrees.
  • Close shades and blinds to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
  • Turn off and unplug non-essential lights and appliances.
  • Avoid using large appliances (i.e., ovens, washing machines, etc.).
  • Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.
  • Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production processes.

8:45 a.m. Sunday update – Cap Metro suspends fare collection

Capital Metro will suspend fare collection now through Tuesday, because of anticipated wintry weather.

Cap Metro said all vehicles are being pre-started for heat and maintenance, and track inspections are being conducted on MetroRail. Staff will de-ice surfaces as needed.

It said weather-related detours are in place and that updates would be posted through MetroAlerts and on its website.

11:45 p.m. update – I-35 in Kyle to close because of icy conditions

Due to icy conditions that led to several accidents, portions of I-35 in Kyle will be closing, the city tweeted. Drivers will be detoured to access roads.

Officials recommend people avoid the area if possible and if they do drive, to drive with extreme caution.

TxDOT is treating major roadways with a salt and water mix, then switching to a “granular material” as temperatures drop. Motorists can check road conditions here.

4:30 p.m. update — Gov. Abbott gives update on winter weather preparations

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking Texans to stay home and avoid driving as a prolonged stretch of freezing temperatures will make roadways across the state dangerous for several days.

“Once you lose control of your vehicle on ice, it can lead to exactly what we saw in Fort Worth earlier this week,” Abbott said, referring to the more than 130-car pileup that left 6 dead Thursday. “We as a state ... we should have several collective goals over the next few days one of which should be that we will not replicate what happened in Fort Worth."

Not only are there risks when it comes to driving in icy conditions, but getting caught in the outdoors in such harsh temperatures presents its own set of problems. Abbott reminded Texans that there is a phone number on the back of your license you can call should you become stranded on the road. It’s 1-800-525-5555.

“The severity of the cold weather that is about to be experienced in the coming days is unprecedented in Texas history,” Abbott said. “We need people across the state to get ready for the extremely harsh conditions that are coming.”

Abbott said he will be asking the White House for a federal emergency declaration.

4:25 p.m. update — Energy conservation urged

The extreme cold in the coming days is expected to cause severe spikes in demand for electricity. The state's Public Utility Commission is asking Texans to conserve energy Sunday through Tuesday by setting thermostats no higher than 68 degrees, especially when away from home, closing curtains and blinds to prevent heat loss, unplugging unused electrical devices, and avoiding the use of large appliances, such as dishwashers, during periods of heaviest demand, mornings and evenings.

"At this point we really have no additional generation that we can add to the system to address the issues, so therefore it comes from conservation and demand management, and that's where we need your help," Public Utilities Commission Chair, DeAnn Walker, said on Saturday.

4:25 p.m. update — H-E-B announces reduced store hours as winter weather bears down

Austin and Central Texas: Sunday, 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Monday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Wimberley and Dripping Springs: Saturday, closing at 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Monday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Hill Country: Sunday, 6 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Monday: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

1:10 p.m. update — Austin Pets Alive! urgently seeks cold weather supplies

Austin Pets Alive! is asking for donations of supplies to distribute as temperatures reach record lows. Volunteers for the nonprofit are collecting and distributing items to community members in need, as well as building shelters for outdoor animals.

People can make a donation online or bring items like hay, blankets, towels, heating pads and doghouses to Austin Pets Alive at 1156 West Cesar Chavez between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday through Monday.

8:45 a.m. update — Vaccine appointments getting rescheduled

Austin Public Health closed all three COVID-19 vaccination sites on Saturday morning due to icy roads and the expectation that weather will worsen in the days ahead.

About 2,300 vaccination appointments scheduled for today are canceled. APH says those with appointments will be contacted about rescheduling. You do not need to log in again to find a different appointment; APH will contact you either by email or phone.

Today’s appointments were second doses for people who got their first shot between Jan. 11 and Jan. 16.

“We know this is frustrating and disappointing,” said Dr. Mark Escott, the city’s interim medical director. “The health and safety of our residents is our top priority and we want to ensure that we do not put people in harm’s way while protecting them from COVID-19.”

APH says people can receive their second shot between 28 and 42 days after their first shot.

Monday appointments for the coronavirus vaccine in Hays County are being moved to Wednesday. Second-dose appointments at San Marcos High School will instead happen there on Wednesday at the same time. The next Hays County vaccine clinic for first-doses of the vaccine will be sometime next week in Dripping Springs. Find more information here.

Williamson County's vaccine provider Family Hospital Systems also has rescheduled all Monday appointments at the Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex due to the weather. Family Hospital Systems moved some appointments inside Wednesday 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.

Here's the latest from the National Weather Service:

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