Austinites urged to stay home Thursday as winter storm bears down on Central Texas
Stay home if you can Thursday, the National Weather Service has warned, as icy conditions will make travel in the Austin metro area and the Hill Country "difficult to near impossible."
A winter storm warning for Austin and the surrounding area has been extended, now going into effect at midnight and lasting until 9 p.m. The Weather Service says it's expecting ice accumulations of up to a quarter-inch in the warned area, which includes Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. Farther north of Austin, low sleet accumulations are possible.
On top of the "high" likelihood of icy conditions, wind chills Thursday will range from the single digits to the low 20s, and will be even colder Friday morning, the NWS says. Anyone outside who's not wearing warm layers, gloves and a hat will be at risk for hypothermia.
Comparing this storm to last February
How will the weather compare to last year's freeze, which left millions across Texas without electricity and water? Not even close, state officials and energy experts have said. As KUT's Mose Buchele reported Tuesday, meteorologists are expecting around 30 hours of uninterrupted freezing temperatures this week. Last year, Austin stayed below freezing for nearly a week.
"Officials are confident the freeze will not undo the state’s energy system," like we saw in February 2021, Buchele says.
Texas' electric grid manager, ERCOT, said in a statement Wednesday it will have enough energy generation to meet the high demand for electricity. Grid operators say they do not see the need to ask consumers to conserve power, according to interim ERCOT President Brad Jones.
One way to stay safe is to stay informed. We've compiled some links to help you check up on road conditions, power outages and services that may be disrupted by the freeze.
If you must travel Thursday, you should keep food, water and a flashlight in your vehicle in case of an emergency, the Weather Service recommends. You can find the latest road conditions at DriveTexas.org.
Check on neighbors and pets
The NWS urges people to check on their neighbors — especially the most vulnerable to cold weather — and to protect pipes, plants and pets. With the low temperatures expected, pets will need to be kept indoors and warm.
"If it's too cold for you, it's too cold for them," the Austin Humane Society says.
If you're unable to bring your pet inside, make sure they have a space up off the ground facing away from the wind, the City of Austin says. They'll need dry, thick bedding as well. The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act requires outdoor dogs to have access to fresh drinking water as well as shelter that they can stand up in and turn around comfortably, the city says. Replace your pet's water regularly to make sure it doesn't freeze.
Pet owners should keep walks short, especially for shorter-haired and older dogs.
"Signs of hypothermia in pets include shivering, lethargy, weakness, and shallow breathing," the city says. "Frostbite can also be a risk for ears and tails; signs of frostbite include red, swollen areas or pale, white areas."
The city also recommends drivers thump their car hood before starting the engine to give any cats taking shelter inside time to get out safely.
Where to stay warm
Austin is opening up cold weather shelters tonight for people experiencing homelessness. The city and Austin Public Health are asking folks who need shelter to arrive at One Texas Center at Barton Springs Road and South First Street for in-person registration between 6 and 8 p.m. People will be shuttled to shelters, where they can stay for 24 hours.
Closures and disruptions
School officials started to announce closures Wednesday morning. Austin ISD, Hays CISD, Round Rock ISD and San Marcos CISD are among the districts closing Thursday and Friday. We're keeping a full list of area closures here.
Capital Metro is suspending all bus and train service Thursday except for emergency services. CapMetro says those emergency services include bringing people to warming centers and providing trips to urgent health needs like dialysis treatments. But regular bus and train routes will not be operating.
CapMetro said it expects to made a decision by midday Thursday about service on Friday.
The city has canceled Thursday street sweeping and trash pickup; it will assess whether to resume services Friday. All Parks and Recreation facilities will be closed Thursday. The City Council meeting Thursday has been pushed back to noon. Residents who had registered to speak are being encouraged to participate virtually.
How to stay informed
If you want to receive updates about the winter storm from Austin Emergency Management, text ATXWEATHER to 888-777.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.