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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 Water Says It Does Not Have A Timeline For When Service Will Be Restored

Uncollected trash and recycling piles up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin on Tuesday.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
Uncollected trash and recycling piles up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin on Tuesday.

This story has updates on power and water outages from Thursday. Read Friday's updates here.

Lee esta historia en español.

Winter weather is moving out of the area, but cold temperatures will stick around for the next few days. This afternoon, Austin surpassed the all-time record for the longest consecutive period below freezing: 140 hours. That record was set back in 1983.

A hard freeze warning will be in effect until 10 a.m. Friday, but the area may finally get above freezing sometime Friday afternoon.

The NWS says travel continues to be dangerous because of icy conditions, and it urged people to stay off roads. If you need to drive, check current road conditions here before heading out.

Additional power outages are possible as branches and ice weigh down power lines.

Warmer weather is expected by Saturday, and temperatures could get up into the 50s and 60s next week, the NWS says.

Follow along for winter storm updates throughout the day from the KUT newsroom. Find the latest tweets from the National Weather Service at the bottom of this post.

8:30 p.m. update — APH cancels COVID testing and vaccinations for Friday.

All Austin Public Health COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites will remain closed Friday, the agency said. APH said it's unknown when vaccinations will resume, but that people with current appointments would be contacted to reschedule.

“We know these are challenging times as our staff, their families, and our entire community are grappling with issues caused by the weather,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said in a press release. “We assure you that as soon as we can safely give the vaccine again, we will notify the public.”

APH also said it would not be updating COVID-19 dashboards until at least Saturday.

The rolling average for new coronavirus hospitalizations was at 41 when the data was last updated Monday. Last week, interim Health Director Dr. Mark Escott said the Austin area was on track to lower the level of risk by early March. But it’s unclear now if the loss of power for hundreds of thousands of Austinites will have an adverse effect on the local spread and data collection.

8 p.m. update — Restoring water will be a 'multi-day' process

After many Austinites spent days without power, city officials now say many should prepare for days without water. At a press conference Thursday, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said there’s still much work to be done to restore service.

“It’s going to be a multi-day process to restore pressure and service,” he says. “Customers that don’t have water, it’s better to plan for the worst conditions: days without water, rather than hours.”

Meszaros says it's hard to give an exact timeline because the agency does not know where or how bad leaks are within the reservoirs. These reservoirs usually store about 100 million gallons of water or about one day's worth of water use in Austin.

At their lowest point, he said, the reserves were nearly empty.

“The water in our reservoirs essentially drained out over the last day,” he said. “We have to bring those reservoirs back up to service and that’s going to take time.”

More here from KUT's Nadia Hamdan here.

5:10 p.m. update — Work search requirement for unemployment benefits waived

The Texas Workforce Commission is waiving the work search requirement for all claimants this week and next, because of the severe weather.

Claimants will not be penalized for not searching for work over these two weeks, and the Workforce Commission will reverse any denials of payment under the work-search requirement.

4:20 p.m. update — Palmer Center reaches capacity

The City of Austin’s emergency warming facility at the Palmer Events Center hit full capacity this morning and could not accept any more people.

The city said there was still limited room available at Del Valle High School, Mendez Middle, and Reilly Elementary. The Austin Disaster Relief Network has a group of faith-based locations serving as shelters here.

Austin ISD has daytime warming centers at: Lee Elementary, Murchison Middle, Joslin Elementary and Barrington Elementary.

4 p.m. update — Austin Energy says 90% of customers have power

Austin Energy says it is continuing to restore power to more locations as the situation improves. As of 4 p.m., 90% of customers had power; 42,000 customers remain without power.

Austin Energy says it’s prioritizing customers who have been without power for the longest durations and focusing on the largest clusters of outages.

All customers are still being asked to conserve energy.

10:29 a.m. update — Austin Water says it does not have a timeline for when service will be restored

Austin Water says its treatment plants are stable but the utility is "facing significant challenges" to restore water through the whole system. In a series of tweets this morning, Austin Water said it does not have a timeframe for when people will get their water back.

Austin has been under a citywide boil-water notice since last night, but many people have low water pressure or no running water at all. Read more about the outage and what you need to do here. Parts of Williamson County and Hays County are also having water issues.

To report a water or wastewater emergency, or to report a leak or main break, fill out this Austin Water form.

In a Facebook Live last night, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said water problems could linger once the weather warms and pipes begin to thaw.

​"It is anticipated that some of the people in our city are going to find themselves with water pipe that then are shown to leak – you wouldn't see that right now because the water pipe is frozen," Adler said.

​The city is advising people to locate their cutoff valve now so they can be ready to turn it off if they have a leak. Adler said it's also recommended to contact a plumber now and, if you need repairs, hold on to your receipts.

Homeowners and renters insurance usually cover these costs. People who are uninsured could qualify for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

8:27 a.m. update — ERCOT says majority of customers statewide are able to have power restored; Austin Energy outages drop below 80,000

The operator of Texas' electrical grid says a majority of customers are able to have their power restored, but emergency conditions remain in effect.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, said in a statement this morning that people still without power likely fall into one of three categories:

  • Areas hit by ice storm damage
  • Areas without power because of the statewide energy emergency that now need a crew to go to their location to restore electricity manually
  • Large industrial facilities that voluntarily shut off their power to help conserve energy

"It is possible that some level of rotating outages may be needed over the next couple of days to keep the grid stable," ERCOT said.

As for Austin Energy customers, more than 73,000 of the utility's consumers are currently without power, according to its outage map — down from 220,000+ in previous days.

6:29 a.m. update — 88,000 Austin Energy customers without power this morning

A little over 88,000 Austin Energy customers are still without power Thursday, down from the 200,000 or more customers without power in previous days.

Austin Energy said Wednesday that ERCOT had given it permission to restore power to some customers. The utility says it's prioritizing customers who’ve been without power the longest.

5:42 a.m. update — Austin Public Health, Hays County close all COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites

Austin Public Health has closed all COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites Thursday. APH says it will reschedule or contact people whose vaccine appointments were supposed to happen when sites were closed.

Hays County says anyone scheduled for a second-dose Pfizer vaccine this week will be rescheduled for next week. Public health officials say those people will get a phone call or email from Hays County about rescheduling. All Hays County Curative COVID-19 testing sites are closed through Friday but will reopen Saturday if conditions have improved enough.

5:06 a.m. update — AISD cancels classes for the rest of the week

The Austin Independent School District says it will remain closed through Friday, except for essential personnel. The district had initially planned to do asynchronous learning (where students learn at their own pace) on Friday. But in a letter Wednesday, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said that's no longer the case.

AISD has turned several campuses into daytime warming centers for anyone in need. For information on their locations, operating hours, as well as other city shelters near you, click here.

4:45 a.m. update — UT Austin, ACC, Texas State extend campus closures

UT Austin has announced the campus is closed until at least Monday at 8 a.m. All in-person and virtual classes and events are canceled during this time. UT Austin officials say some campus activities could resume over the weekend. The university will monitor the situation and reopen if conditions are safe.

Austin Community College is closed through Sunday. All in-person and remote classes and all work are canceled.

Texas State University’s campuses in San Marcos and Round Rock are closed until Saturday at 8 a.m.

The extreme weather is affecting operations around the area. Here are some updates from the past 24 hours:

  • Austin Water has issued a citywide boil water notice because of the loss of power at the Ullrich treatment plant and a drop in water pressure. Find more about the notice here. Parts of Williamson County and Hays County are also having water issues.
  • St. David’s South Austin Medical Center is sending some patients home and transferring others because of widespread water issues. Patients at Dell Children's were told not to take showers and that toilets can't flush.

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