WEDNESDAY LIVE BLOG: Winter storm arrives with boil water notices and outages across Central Texas

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NOTICE: This live blog for Wednesday is no longer being updated. To see the latest information on the power outages and other winter storm information, go to our new live blog.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While power is starting to come back for some folks, there are still hundreds of thousands of people in Central Texas and another batch of freezing rain swept across the area overnight, re-freezing already treacherous roadways.

Top 3 biggest stories right now

Winter Storm Warning issued by the National Weather Service in the Austin metro area is in place from 6 p.m. Tuesday to 6 p.m. Thursday due to another round of potential freezing rain and snow accumulation on the way. Originally, the warning was set to expire Thursday morning, but the NWS has since extended it.

Live Blog

11 p.m.

KXAN meteorologist David Yeoman’s provided an in-depth look at the Lower Colorado River Authority and what energy it provides to the state of Texas. Check it out in the segment below.

10:05 p.m.

Several dangerous spots on Interstate 35 are popping up, TxDOT reports Wednesday night.

10 p.m.

Latest update on outages in Austin/Central Texas.

9:45 p.m.

Lights around the Texas Capitol were out on Wednesday night after energy officials called for large buildings and residents alike to conserve power.

The ground lights were on for safety purposes, Texas state Rep. Donna Howard said.

9:23 p.m.

Latest outage updates for Austin/Central Texas.

8:50 p.m.

Elijah Moore, a Round Rock resident, booked a room at Kalahari Resorts Monday to solve a family crisis during the winter storm. Moore’s 3-week-old son was being affected by the cold after his home lost power.

“He was getting pale in the face, like his pigmentation was getting pretty flushed,” Moore explained. “As soon as we got him to warmth which he needs, he fully came back, so there were no signs of trouble for him, but as you can imagine, as a new parent that’s a scary situation you don’t want your child in.”

Read more here.

8:30 p.m.

A city-wide boil water notice has been issued in Austin due to power loss at The Ullrich Water Treatment Plant — Austin Water’s largest water treatment facility, the city said Wednesday night.

When it is no longer necessary to boil the water, Austin Water will notify customers that the water is safe for drinking water or human consumption purposes.

The water pressure fell below minimum standards, the release says.

7:40 p.m.

More than 300 Texas National Guard service members are currently mobilizing in the Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas/Fort Worth areas to help man warming stations to support those without power and water, according to a state release.

Additionally, there are more than 100 service members assisting the Texas Department of Public Safety in the Austin, Waco, Amarillo, Abilene, Wichita Falls, Tyler, and Dallas/Fort Worth areas. These teams include personnel and equipment that have the capacity to handle hazardous road conditions, provide recovery of stranded motorists, and transport personnel to safety.

7:23 p.m.

San Marcos is issuing a boil water advisory for all City of San Marcos water customers due to water pressure dropping within the distribution system, according to a release.

7:10 p.m.

6:15 p.m.

Several local hospital facilities are facing utilities loss, causing issues for patiends.

St. David’s South Austin Medical Center lost water pressure Wednesday, resulting in having to transfer some patients to other area hospitals and others being discharged to go home.

Several Ascension Seton sites of care are having “intermittent water issues,” due to the weather conditions, a spokesperson told KXAN.

Facility teams are working quickly to resolve the issues but, effective Wednesday, the hospital is rescheduling elective surgeries “to preserve inpatient hospital bed capacity and redirect clinical personnel.”

5:30 p.m.

Austin ISD has officially decided to remain closed through Friday — except for select essential personnel, the district said in an email.

Full list of school closures can be found below.

5:05 p.m.

All Travis County offices and facilities will be closed on Thursday and Friday, due to the continued winter weather conditions, Travis County Judge Andy Brown announced Wednesday.

Essential emergency county staff will continue to report for duty, the release says.

4:55 p.m.

KXAN’s Wes Wilson live tweeted Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest press conference on the energy emergency across the state.

Open this thread for the main takeaways.

4:32 p.m.

The Austin Fire Department says its answered 1,557 calls from midnight Wednesday through 12 p.m. Here’s the type of calls it’s taking:

  • Collisions/Rescues: 2/0
  • Wires down/arcing: 67
  • Public Assist: 21
  • Alarm Activation: 97 
  • Fires: 3
  • Broken Water Pipes: 183
  • Total 911 calls for service for AFD jurisdiction: 1557
  • Total 911 calls for service for Travis Co.: 260

4:22 p.m.

Here’s an update on the outage numbers around Austin/Central Texas as of 4:15 p.m.

4:05 p.m.

Millions of people have been without power in Texas, but as more lights come back on, it’ll be important to make sure food in refrigerators and freezers are still safe to eat.

Here’s a comprehensive list of foods that you can keep or should throw away after a power outage.

3:50 p.m.

This icicle in Georgetown is measured at nearly six feet long. Thanks to Sharon Huck for sending in these photos.

  • Icicle in Georgetown nearly six feet long
  • Icicle in Georgetown nearly six feet long

3:18 p.m.

Boil water notice for Travis County Water District No. 10. Customers are being asked to conserve water as much as possible after a power outage at the McConnell pump station, according to a tweet from West Lake Hills Police.

2:54 p.m.

Water spills into an elevator at The Bowie in downtown Austin. In just 18 hours on Tuesday, the Austin Fire Department said it received 685 calls for broken water pipes.

2:32 p.m.

A boil water notice has been issued for all customers of Wimberley Water Supply Corporation. WWSC says although there are outages only in certain areas of the system, it is issuing the notice for everyone out of an abundance of caution.

2:25 p.m.

Austin city leaders provided updates on the water and power situation in the area, urging people to conserve both if they can to help stabilize the systems.

“We’re asking the community to only take what they need,” City Manager Spencer Cronk said.

2:15 p.m.

“Water supply issues” at Webb Middle School has forced the shelter location to close, according to a tweet from Austin ISD Police.

The rest of the tweet reads — “Reilly Elementary School is now open as a shelter, and Mendez Middle School remains open as a shelter. Joslin Elementary School and Barrington Elementary School have been added as warming centers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. along with Murchison Middle School and Lee Elementary School.”

1:40 p.m.

1:15 p.m.

As crews try to clear highways and streets so people can travel, KXAN meteorologist Nick Bannin recorded a road grader taking snow off the right land of MoPac northbound Wednesday.

Texas Department of Transportation Diann Hodges joined KXAN News Today on Wednesday to talk about how crews are trying to get roads cleared and the challenges of all this winter weather.

1:02 p.m.

President and CEO of ERCOT Bill Magness gave the latest update for Wednesday alongside Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin.

Magness said he understands everyone wants to know when the outages will end.

“The factors that will determine the time and date that we can get everyone back on service are really two-fold,” said Magness. “One is — and we’ve discussed this a lot as we’ve gone through this event — there was an enormous amount of electric generation, the supply side, that was taken out of service by the storm…. so getting those resources back on the grid is the central solution to getting people their power back.”

Magness echoed previous statements he’s made about needing to maintain the balance of power supply and demand — he says without this maintenance, Texas risks a “cascading, catastrophic blackout. Not an outage that we can restore as soon as we get power plants working again, but a blackout that would affect the entire ERCOT region. And would have an indeterminate end date.”

READ THE FULL STORY WITH UPDATES

An energy expert, University of Houston Energy Fellow Ed Hirs, also spoke to KXAN anchor Tom Miller about what went wrong with energy in Texas.

“The state should have seen this coming. This has been out in the open. The 2011 winter debacle, which led to blackouts, including a major one across the Dallas Medical Center, certainly showed the shortcomings of the ERCOT model and the market design. There were studies, there were hearings, nothing was done to repair the systemic problem with the ERCOT market. The Public Utility Commission, the legislature, and the governor really decided there was nothing to do,” Hirs said.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE

1 p.m.

Austin residents are urged to conserve water as use is up 250%.

The utility says in order to avoid additional impacts to water service, like a citywide boil water notice or widespread lack of service, residents need to do the following:

  • Limit water use to essential need
  • While temperatures are above freezing, don’t drip faucets
  • Delay the use of appliances like washing machines and dishwashers
  • Report water main breaks to Austin Water at (512) 972-1000
  • If pipes at your home or business have burst, turn off your water at the cutoff valve. If you don’t know where it is, call Austin Water and have them assist you

12:46 p.m.

According to White House spokesperson Jen Psaki, the White House and FEMA are monitoring the situation in Texas and are in contact with leaders here. FEMA has provided power generators to Texas and is preparing to move diesel to the state to make sure there is backup power to critical infrastructure like communications, hospitals and water facilities. It’s also providing blankets and water.

Vice President Kamala Harris provided these comments on the TODAY Show this morning.

12:39 p.m.

The Brazos River Authority says the water plant serving the city of Taylor has full power again. Crews are working to restore water pressure.

12:22 p.m.

Lago Vista now has a boil water notice in place.

12:18 p.m.

All traffic lights in Pflugerville are flashing and should be treated as four-way stops.

12:16 p.m.

Austin ISD has opened two more warming centers: Joslin Elementary School at 4500 Menchaca Road and Barrington Elementary School at 400 Cooper Dr. They’ll be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

https://twitter.com/AustinISD/status/1362102788734349318

12:05 p.m.

Central Texas is starting to see more trees breaking under the weight of ice.

KXAN Photojournalist captured these photos from Pflugerville:

  • Trish Poulter in Pflugerville collects ice to help flush toilets Feb. 17, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)
  • Downed tree limbs in Pflugerville Feb. 17, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)
  • Downed tree limbs in Pflugerville Feb. 17, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)
  • Downed tree limbs in Pflugerville Feb. 17, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)

KXAN’s Alyssa Goard also has an update on downed tree limbs in southwest Austin.

11:47 a.m.

The Llano County Sheriff’s Office provided some updates on its Facebook this morning:

  • Roads are still bad — stay home if you can
  • They’ve been inundated with welfare check calls and are asking people to only call if they are truly necessary. “Our vehicles have ended up stuck on ice in someone’s driveway, or unable to maneuver their icy driveway. This could cause damage to property, and vehicles, that is unnecessary. Please, help us out by not requesting a welfare check on someone that you know is okay, or has told you they are okay.”
  • Dispatch is working with pen and paper
  • EMS is going from one call immediately to another

11:35 a.m.

A boil water notice is in effect for southwest Austin and the Lost Creek neighborhood. Neighbors in the area are reporting low water pressure.

Austin Water released this statement:

Austin Water’s treatment plants are functioning normally. Even so, water use has far exceeded typical water usage and exceeded water production by 250 percent over the past 24 hours. Water pressure and water storage have significantly dropped throughout Austin Water’s service area in the past day.
 
The combination of burst pipes at homes or businesses, Austin Water system water main breaks, and increased customer demand from dripping faucets or storing extra water are creating extraordinary high-water demand.

11:33 a.m.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Diocese has asked its parishes to make their own best judgment when it comes to Ash Wednesday masses and services. Many have chosen to cancel those services amid the icy weather and widespread power outages.

The Austin Diocese has asked its parishes to offer at least one live streamed mass and asked them to keep their websites and social media pages updated with schedule changes.

11:21 a.m.

Latest numbers of people without power as of 11 a.m.:

Austin Energy – 189,478 customers
Oncor – 41,780 customers without power in Central Texas
Pedernales Electric Cooperative – UNAVAILABLE
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative – 13,234 customers without power in Central Texas
Central Texas Electric Cooperative – 17,107 customers without power in Central Texas

11:20 a.m.

A number of local Austin businesses and restaurants are teaming up to provide free, warm meals to those in need. Find the full list here.

11 a.m.

Williamson County is advising businesses that cannot follow procedures to adhere to the county’s boil water notice to shut down operations immediately.

Valor Public Schools has cancelled all classes Thursday, Feb. 17. Classes on Friday will resume 100% remotely.

10:30 a.m.

Grocery stores are announcing their hours and which stores are open on their social media.

As of 10 a.m., H-E-B said the following stores will be closed Wednesday:

  • A16 – HWY 183 & Lakeline
  • A24 – 620 & 2222
  • A1 – 7th & Pleasant Valley
  • A11 – Slaughter & Menchaca
  • A12 – Riverside & S. Pleasant
  • A13 – 183 & 290
  • A15 – Lamar & Rundberg
  • A20 – Parmer & McNeil
  • A25 – Parmer & I35
  • A27 – Anderson & 620
  • A31 – S. Congress & I35
  • A6 – Parmer & Mopac
  • Elgin
  • Taylor
  • Pflugerville 2 – FM 685 & Pecan
  • Leander
  • Kingsland
  • Hutto

See how to look up information on other local stores in this story.

10:27 a.m.

Below is the latest update on weather and roads from KXAN’s Will DuPree and Mark Peña.

10:14 a.m.

ERCOT just released a statement. In that statement, ERCOT said 185 “generating units” have tripped offline since Monday. These include “frozen wind turbines, limited gas supplies, low gas pressure and frozen instrumentation.”

ERCOT also said that as of 9 a.m. 46,000 megawatts of generation has been forced off the grid and that 39.1% of that energy comes from wind and solar. The rest is from thermal energy sources.

Here’s the full statement:

Grid operator restores more power overnight

Ability to restore more depends on generator availability

AUSTIN, TX, Feb. 17, 2021 – The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) continues to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. During the overnight hours, ERCOT was able to restore approximately 3,500 MW of load, which is roughly 700,000 households.

“We know millions of people are suffering,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness. “We have no other priority than getting them electricity. No other priority.”

However, some of that was lost when the Midwest went into a power emergency of their own, and ERCOT was no longer able to import approximately 600 MW.

As of 9 a.m., ERCOT is instructing local utilities to shed 14,000 MW of load representing around 2.8 million households.

“Although we’ve reconnected more consumers back to the grid, the aggregate energy consumption of customers (those recently turned back on and those already on) is actually lower this morning compared to yesterday because it’s less cold,” said ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin. “However, we are anticipating another cold front this evening which could increase the demand.”

“The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online,” said Woodfin. Since the winter storm began on Monday, approximately 185 generating units have tripped offline for one reason or another. Some factors include frozen wind turbines, limited gas supplies, low gas pressure and frozen instrumentation.

As of 9 a.m., approximately 46,000 MW of generation has been forced off the system during this extreme winter weather event. Of that, 28,000 MW is thermal and 18,000 MW is wind and solar.

Statement from ERCOT

10:03 a.m.

The Austin Fire Association President Bob Nicks is telling anyone who may be in need of help to contact him at (512) 217-3474.

Smithville ISD has cancelled all classes for the remainder of the week. Classes will resume at the regular time on Monday, Feb. 22.

9:45 a.m.

The Austin Fire Department responded to hundreds of calls from noon Tuesday to midnight, mostly broken water pipes. (You can help prevent calling them by reading this story and finding your main water shut-off valve.)

Here is a breakdown of AFD’s calls:

  • 511 broken water pipes
  • 95 alarm activations
  • 30 public assists
  • 20 collisions
  • 3 fires
  • 1 arcing or down wires

There were also 2,340 calls to 911 within the Austin Fire Department jurisdiction and 270 calls for service from Travis County.

The Diocese of Austin has asked all of its 127 parishes to use “prudential judgment” for scheduling any Ash Wednesday services. Many have chosen to cancel. Parishes have been asked to offer at least one livestreamed mass.

9:30 a.m.

Bluebonnet Electric says Wednesday’s ice and wintry weather is causing more outages not related to the ongoing ERCOT problems. There are currently 46 outages that have put 2,300 Bluebonnet customers in the dark, the utility tweeted Wednesday morning.

9:10 a.m.

8:40 a.m.

Central Texas H-E-B store operating hours are noon to 5 p.m. H-E-B: “We are currently assessing the situation, including sustained power outages. By 10 a.m., we will report which Central Texas stores will remain closed.

ERCOT says it lost power imports due to emergencies in the Midwest, and they are again shedding 14,000 megawatts of power which will lead to more outages.

Baylor Scott & White Health says it’s currently experiencing a water outage and teams are using bottled water until service is restored. BS&W: “Patient care is continuing and the hospital is operating normally thanks to our staff members who are working to maintain our facilities, patient care and support services.”

8:30 a.m.

The Austin Police Department says the following overpasses are closed:

  • 7900 block of S I-35 service road SB
  • S I-35 at West Slaughter turnaround
  • 7200 block of N I-35 NB
  • Metric and Kramer
  • Windsor between Lamar and Mopac

If you can, stay off the roads. If you have to drive any distance in these conditions, here are some tips on how to do so safely. In short, drive slow and be patient.

8:15 a.m.

Lockhart now has a boil water notice. Miles Smith with the City of Lockhart sent a press release that says, “Due to critically low supply levels, residents are being urged to turn on their taps only for drinking and cooking. Boil before consuming. The City will inform residents when it is safe to resume normal water usage.”

Here’s a link to our story with all the boil water notices issued throughout the area.

7:40 a.m.

ALERT: Austin Energy is telling customers to prepare to be without power through Wednesday night as possibly longer.

The utility sent out an update via Twitter saying they operating “two emergency events,” with the mandated outages by ERCOT to ease the strain on the state’s power grid, and freezing rain overnight causing more outages.

Central Market will have adjusted hours today:

Austin/North Lamar location: Noon to 6 p.m.

Austin Westgate location: CLOSED

7:30 a.m.

Current outages:

Austin Energy – 181,723 customers without power as of 7:10 a.m. Wednesday
Oncor – 40,537 customers without power as of 7:10 a.m. in Central Texas
Pedernales Electric Cooperative – UNAVAILABLE
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative – 12,916 customers without power as of 7:10 a.m. in Central Texas
Central Texas Electric Cooperative – 21,358 customers without power as of 7:10 a.m. in Central Texas

6:51 a.m.

The City of Georgetown was has extended Tuesday’s boil water notice into Wednesday and it now includes the following areas:

  • Leander Road/FM2243 area, from Southwest Bypass to Garey Park and the Parkside Parkway area, from FM2243 to Sam Bass Road (about 1,300 customers)
  • DB Wood Road/HWY-29 area, bound by IH-35, DB Wood Road, HWY 29, and Williams Drive. The includes the area of Booty’s Crossing Road, Serenada Neighborhood, portions of Berry Creek Neighborhood, and Wolf Ranch Northfork and Southfork (about 3,600 customers)
  • The Westinghouse area, from IH-35 to FM1460 (about 1,700 customers)
  • Florence (720 customers)
  • Liberty Hill (1,300)

6:30 a.m.

The City of Rollingwood is urging residents to not flush their toilets due to lift stations becoming inoperable. City officials explain on the city’s website that when lift stations aren’t working, they are unable to pump raw sewage into treatment plans. In addition to only flushing toilets when “absolutely necessary,” Rollingwood officials want residents to conserve water as much as possible to prevent sewage backups.

6:15 a.m.

Cedar Park Police warn that there is ice — thick ice — all over the roadways. They are pleading with people to stay home.

This is also what we at KXAN are seeing. Roads and even sidewalks are much worse this morning compared to the past few days.

6 a.m.

ERCOT sent an update via Twitter that 600,000 homes had the power turned back on as more generation returned to the power grid. They said there are still 2.7 million homes in Texas still in the dark.

5:50 a.m.

Viewer Michael Gully-Santiago sent in this video of what appears to be an electrical flash, possibly a transformer going out, near his home on Woodrow Avenue in central Austin. He said he was looking west toward Burnet Road when he caught the flash.

According to the Austin Energy outage map, that area of central Austin is experiencing an outage.

5:25 a.m.

The Texas Department of Transportation urged drivers to stay off the road Wednesday morning via Twitter as freezing rain makes roads slick on top of already poor conditions.

TxDOT says crews are trying to keep roads passable for first responders, essential workers and people with critical needs. If you have to travel, TxDOT says to do it slowly.

KXAN put together this tip sheet on how to drive on icy roads if you must. The main thing is to take it slow and be patient.

4:50 a.m.

Current outages and whether outages are trending higher or lower:

Austin Energy – 175,424 customers without power as of 4:50 a.m. Wednesday
Oncor – 44,968 customers without power as of 4:45 a.m. in Central Texas
Pedernales Electric Cooperative – UNAVAILABLE
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative – 16,131 customers without power as of 4:45 a.m. in Central Texas
Central Texas Electric Cooperative – 21,222 customers without power as of 4:45 a.m. in Central Texas

If you’re trying to view the Pedernales outage map, you will see that they say it is currently “unavailable” and that they are making updates. They tell people to check social media pages. Their last post was at 10:05 p.m. on Facebook.

4:30 a.m.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport says they will resume flights at 1 p.m. Wednesday, weather permitting. If they change their plans, we will let you know.

If you have a flight in or out of AUS after 1 p.m., contract the airline you booked with and check the status of your flight with them.

3:40 a.m.

Austin-Travis County EMS said Tuesday was a “record breaking day” for calls for service.

In a tweet, ATCEMS said medics and staff responded to 1,323 calls Tuesday — including 31 traffic crashes with five rollovers, 38 carbon monoxide poisonings, 69 environmental exposures and 104 falls on ice.

3:15 a.m.

Latest power outage numbers in Austin/Central Texas.

3:01 a.m.

The Cedar Park Police Department is dealing with the same phone line issues as Tuesday night, which is affecting its 911 line, according to a tweet.

CPPD says all 911 calls are being routed to Williamson County and then directed back to Cedar Park.

2:30 a.m.

Austin skyline from Congress Bridge
A view of the Austin skyline from the Congress Bridge. (Todd Bailey/KXAN)

The Austin skyline looks darker on Wednesday morning during Central Texas’ fourth winter storm over the last week.

As the energy crisis continues throughout the state and millions are without power, the Downtown Austin Alliance asked owners and operators of the largest downtown buildings and construction sites to turn off unnecessary lighting and equipment Tuesday to conserve energy.

1:34 a.m.

The Hays County Office of Emergency Services has an update for its COVID-19 vaccine schedule.

12:59 a.m.

12:15 a.m.

Serious amount of water at the IMT at the Domain apartments in north Austin. A viewer sent this to KXAN Tuesday night, saying that residents have been waiting outside since before 9 p.m. due of the issue.

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