AUSTIN (KXAN) — The historic ice storm last week did not just take down trees and power lines; it also damaged critical broadcast equipment. This includes equipment used for weather radios, an essential tool used by many during severe weather season.

During last week’s historic ice storm, heavy ice accumulated not only on power lines and trees, but also on the massive broadcast transmission towers in Westlake. Weighty ice on one of the towers and the guy-wires supporting it caused the tower to collapse.

It was not immediately apparent who the broadcast tower belonged to.

Maggie Herrera and her fifth-grade son Emmanuel Rubio live in Avery Ranch. “I moved to Austin in 2008, and I learned that with Texas weather, you need to be weather aware,” Herrera said.

Her son Emmanuel is a bit of a weather watcher.

“I like the dangerous weather like thunderstorms and tornado watches and stuff,” Rubio said. “I’m not really scared of tornadoes. I’m fascinated by tornadoes.”

Using a weather radio

Set up centrally in their kitchen is a NOAA Weather Radio. “We do depend on it, because we normally don’t have the TVs on,” Herrera said. “It’s our way of knowing when something is coming.”

And in March 2022, something was coming. “The warning lights came on,” Herrera said.

A tornado formed just east of their house and went on to cause $32 million in damage to 680 homes from Round Rock to Granger. It was an EF-2 tornado with 135 mph winds.

Maggie Herrera and her 5th-grade son Emmanuel show David Yeomans their weather radio. The weather radio went down this week following the 2023 ice storm. (Credit: KXAN/Todd Bynum)

The alert from their NOAA weather radio was the reason Maggie and Emmanuel went in their tornado safe place, in the downstairs closet.

But during the recent winter storm, Maggie noticed something odd. “I remember I pushed the button and it was just static,” Herrera said.

Weather radios go down

There was a large tower that actually fell,” Paul Yura with the Austin-San Antonio National Weather Service said. “And then as the tower fell, it actually hit additional power lines and telephone lines. Unfortunately, it knocked off one of the telephone lines that then feeds our NOAA weather radio transmitter.”

The National Weather Service reported that this would be a “long-term outage” — concerning for NOAA Weather Radio users as tornado season begins next month.

A downed transmitter tower caused by the recent ice storm
A downed transmitter tower in Westlake Hills. It was not immediately clear who the tower belongs to. (Photo credit: Austin Energy)

But, fighting the cold rain this week, crews from a communications company fashioned up a temporary fix and got the NOAA Weather Radio transmitter working again.

“I really appreciate how fast they worked on it, because it was really important for us to have it back,” Herrera said.

And now Emmanuel is back to watching out for his family. “Thank you very much for fixing it, so now we can be safe when a tornado actually hits,” Rubio said.

The National Weather Service says that crews will be working on the permanent, long term fix in the coming months — but that weather radios are functioning normally in the meantime.