Shared 11:15 a.m. on February 4, 2023
I know many of you have entered day four without power and are cold and angry. I share your frustration and disappointment with City communications and know that you need information you can trust to make decisions for you and your families. Below please find the latest updates that I have received from various City departments regarding power restoration, cleanup, safety efforts and the local disaster declaration. I realize you have many more questions – at the moment, this is the information that I have.
We are working to restore power to the whole city. I will share more updates as I learn useful information. Once everyone’s power is restored you will hear more about how we will prevent this from happening again.
Council Member, District 10
Austin Energy and other utility crews made significant progress overnight, working to restore power to affected customers. Since 5 p.m. Friday, power was restored to nearly 51,000 more customers, for a total of 256,307 customers restored since the beginning of this historic weather event.
In large part, this progress was possible because as temperatures climbed, fewer trees and limbs fell on power lines. However, as crews continue their work, the outage restoration process will become even more complex. Restoring power to a single circuit may be a multi-day effort. This is because equipment may be in hard-to-reach areas like a greenbelt, or it may be buried under extremely heavy debris. One example of this is a 500-foot steel communications tower that crashed down on a three-phase distribution line, four spans of wires and five power poles. Repairing this site alone will take several days.
There are about 400 lineworkers, tree trimmers and other personnel from Austin Energy and neighboring utilities working around the clock to get customers back online. Austin Energy is grateful for the assistance of neighboring utilities, including New Braunfels Utilities, CenterPoint Energy, Bird Electric, Renegade and CPS Energy.
Residents out driving on Austin roads are asked to remember to slow down and move over for any utility crews working in the field to restore power. More: https://youtu.be/k20e4hfBIm0.
Additionally, crews may be knocking on residents’ doors in order to access Austin Energy equipment, such as energy equipment in a backyard or a utility easement located on a resident’s property. Austin Energy personnel will be clearly identifiable with badges and in Austin Energy vehicles. Residents are asked to work with them on allowing access as needed.
As crews work to restore power, circuits can become overloaded because of appliances, electronics, thermostats, pool pumps, pool heaters and vehicle chargers left on before the outage. This is called cold load pickup and it may cause a second outage.
Customers currently without power can help avoid cold load pickup by:
- Turning off their thermostats.
- Turning off or unplugging any fixtures or appliances.
- Only leaving on one light to indicate when the power is back on.
This winter weather event has not impacted Austin Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants, and the Water Treatments Plants continue to meet expected production rates. Water storage levels remain healthy in the distribution system. Austin Water continues to work closely with Austin Energy to restore power to pumps and lift stations throughout our service area.
Crews continue work to restore power at two small drinking water pump stations. About 40 customers are affected in the Glenlake subdivision and the Mount Larson area. Austin Water has continued to be in contact with these customers about additional needs for bottled water. These were isolated events that did not extend to a city-wide boil water notice.
Austin Water continues to ask customers to conserve water. This helps to reduce demand on the system while we work through intermittent power outages. As the weather warms up and you get back to regular activities, please take it easy with your water use.
As of this morning, 74 traffic signals remain dark due to ongoing power outages. Austin Transportation Department (ATD) crews are working in the field to reset dark traffic signals back into operation when power is restored, and they will continue their work until signals are fully operational. ATD crews have reset 187 signals since Monday, Jan. 30.
Because of the ongoing power outages, about 35% of the City’s more than 1,100 traffic signals are unable to communicate with ATD’s Mobility Management Center – meaning ATD needed boots on the ground to manually check if the signals are functioning. All 413 of the signals out of communication have been checked to see if they are dark, flashing or active. Please treat dark or flashing signals as all-way stops.
- The Central Texas Food Bank is today running two special food distributions to assist Austin area residents experiencing power outages:
- 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Onion Creek Soccer Complex, 5600 E William Cannon Dr.
- 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM: Nelson Field, 7105 Berkman Drive
Alternatively, anyone needing food can find access Food Bank resources at http://centraltexasfoodbank.org/findfood
- Red Cross: Residents can call 1-800-RED-CROSS to request help when they have been impacted by a disaster. For more information visit the Central Texas Red Cross Get Help page.
Storm Debris Management and Repairs
Downed Tree Limbs: Call 3-1-1 to request a collection of down tree limbs due to the storm. Please have the limbs at the curb ready for collection at no charge to the customer. Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) crews are working tirelessly to collect storm debris and has enlisted the help of three contract crews that will be working alongside City staff to expedite the collection of storm debris materials. Because the damage is widespread throughout the entire City, collections will take some time. Here are some guidelines for storm debris set out correctly and collected as soon as possible.
Typically, ARR will collect the contents of your green cart and up to 15 extra items placed beside the cart but item limits will be temporarily waived for storm debris collection.
Residents with physical limitations or financial needs requiring help cleaning up winter storm debris can request volunteer assistance through the Austin Disaster Relief Network. Complete this form: link.adrn.org/ws-cleanup-request.
The City’s Development Services Department will work retroactively with homeowners, business owners and contractors to permit and inspect emergency repairs to ensure work was completed safely. That means that work can begin quickly on repairs. Learn more about emergency repairs and permits here.
News Conference 3:00 PM Today
The City of Austin is hosting a news conference at 3:00 PM Saturday, Feb. 4, at City Hall to provide operational updates on the winter weather response. More information HERE.
Speaking at an operational update for media yesterday evening, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk, said: “We still have a lot of work ahead of us as we continue to recover and assist residents affected by the storm, and that work also includes assessing our response to this week’s storm and identifying ways in which we can do things better in the future.”
Local Disaster Declarations
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and Travis County Judge Andy Brown yesterday signed local disaster declarations for this week’s winter storm. This is the first step in the process of seeking state and federal assistance for response and recovery efforts for the community. The City of Austin’s declaration, which has been certified by the City Clerk, can be viewed HERE.
Although it is now getting warmer and the roads have begun to be cleared, certain dangers still exist due to the remaining downed power lines. Trees have been weakened and may continue to fall–remain aware of your surroundings.
Refrigerated or frozen foods may not be safe to eat after the loss of power. Find out what you can do to keep food safe during a power outage, and when you need to throw away food that could make you sick. More information: https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/food-safety-during-a-power-outage.html. Austin Resource Recovery customers can dispose of any spoiled food by placing it in their green composting cart for collection, and recycle the glass, plastic and metal containers. Place all plastic wrap, waxy paper and Styrofoam packaging in the trash.
|Shared on February 2 at 4:51 p.m.
Many of you are suffering a second cold day without power. This is not acceptable in our city. I have been working tirelessly for years now to improve our cold weather infrastructure and I have continued that work this week during the storm. I want you to know what I am doing to get your power back on and to share information from City departments that you may find helpful.
In this email, you will find updates on these topics:
Power Restoration TimelineAustin Energy’s Outage MapWater Service UpdateDowned Power LinesAvoiding Cold Load if you have Lost PowerSafety Info for Those Without PowerOvernight and Daytime Cold Weather SheltersUpdate on Travel ConditionsStorm Debris PickupProperty DamageCity Services and Curbside Trash PickupAssistance with Home Storm CleanupPress Conference Updates
Power Restoration Timeline:
I just spoke with Austin Energy leadership. They confirmed there are over 100 crews working to restore power across Austin, with additional crews arriving for mutual assistance. Despite the improved weather conditions, Austin Energy is now reporting that they are unable to provide a specific system-wide restoration estimate and full restoration is going to take longer than initially anticipated. I am not happy with this and I have shared my frustration with Austin Energy. I am doing all I can to encourage and support rapid restoration of power to all households.
Yesterday, AE was hopeful that restoration would be possible by Friday evening. However, over night we experienced more precipitation and more ice formed. This morning as crews could better visualize the network, AE determined the impacts were larger than anticipated. Crews are working to restore power with heavy equipment on saturated ground, with some areas impassable. For some, the homeowner’s equipment needs to be repaired by an electrician before power can be restored. The complex nature of the restoration process also means that to proceed safely takes time.
Some may remain without power beyond Friday at 6 PM and we do not have a definite end time. If you remain without power and do not feel comfortable or safe in your home with rising temperatures, I would recommend seeking alternative arrangements for this evening. Clearly, we have much more work to do to understand why our power infrastructure is not meeting our community’s needs, and I have requested a briefing on Tuesday that will be one of many ongoing conversations about our city’s emergency preparedness and response.
Austin Energy has released the following statement on power restoration:
While weather conditions have greatly improved, Austin Energy has determined we are unable to provide a specific system-wide restoration estimate. Based on what we knew at the time, we felt fairly confident with our initial estimate of restoration. However, more ice than anticipated occurred as a result of this storm. On-site inspections performed across the city have revealed the full extent of damage. Additionally, the majority of the outages from this winter storm are complex involving heavy construction equipment in areas that are sometimes impassable due to downed trees and branches. As an added challenge, we’re also continuing to experience repeated outages meaning ice, trees and tree limbs continue to knock out power to the same circuits crews just restored. Many of the issues include damages to equipment on the homeowner side. Some customers may need to hire licensed electricians to make those repairs before Austin Energy can safely restore power to their home. Crews are also being extra careful to avoid sheets of ice, icicles and tree branches that may snap back as they thaw. As a result, full restoration will take longer than initially anticipated.
We understand this makes an already challenging situation even more difficult. We have 100+ crews and more headed to our area in the coming hours to turn the power back on. We are grateful for the assistance of neighboring utilities who are providing much needed assistance. We appreciate the patience of our customers as our lineworkers brave these conditions and work with the rest of our staff to restore power.
Austin Energy’s Outage Map:
Some of you have brought to my attention that there are ongoing issues with the Austin Energy Outage Map and shared that your outage is no longer registering online. I realize this was a big issue during Storm Uri and, while I understand updates were made they clearly did not work as planned.
I raised this issue with Austin Energy and received this update:
Due to the high number of customers trying to report power outages, Austin Energy’s system isn’t allowing some people to submit through their outage map or by text. If you see a large outage on the map near your home, Austin Energy is likely already aware that your house is without power. You can still call their outage line at (512) 322-9100, but be aware that there are long wait times due to the high volume of calls.
Water Service Update:
I spoke with Austin Water leadership this afternoon and our water supply is in good shape. Austin Water has asked us to share this information in response to rumors to the contrary:
We’ve heard there are rumors flying that Austin Water plans to shut off water. That is not correct. Austin Water’s treatment plants are currently operating at normal levels & meeting the community’s water demands. Work continues in Southwest Austin as crews keep backup power generation flowing to several pump stations/lift stations during intermittent power outages. We’ve also delivered water to a small pocket of 15 homes that have been directly affected. We encourage all of our customers to consider cutting back on water usage. This will help ease demand on the system while we work through intermittent power outages.
Note the small pocket of homes are in District 10 and we are monitoring the situation.
Please also note that Travis County Water District 10 and their announcements do NOT apply to any Austin Water customers.
Downed Power Lines:
Assume downed power lines are energized, and never touch a downed line or a tree limb making contact with it. Call (512) 322-9100 to report a downed line, and call 911 if there is an imminent fire risk or other danger.
Avoiding Cold Load if you have Lost Power:
When power is restored, circuits can become overloaded because of lights, electronics and thermostats left on prior to the outage. This is called cold load pickup and can cause a second outage.
If you have lost power, help avoid cold load pickup by:Turning off your thermostats.Turning off or unplugging any fixtures or appliances.Only leaving on one light to indicate when the power is back on.
Safety Info for Those Without Power:
Never run a vehicle inside an attached garage, even with open doors.Do not use your oven or stove to heat your home or use generators, gas or charcoal grills, or camp stoves indoors.If utilizing a space heater, opt for a model with automatic shut-off switches and non-glowing elements. Keep the device uncovered and at least three feet away from flammable materials like curtains or blankets and the cord in a position that is neither a tripping hazard nor under carpets or rugs.Ensure your fireplace, wood stove or other combustion heater is up to code and the ventilation is adequate.Opt for battery-powered flashlights rather than candles. If candles are your only available source of light, don’t leave them unattended.If at all possible, use a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home.
Overnight and Daytime Cold Weather Shelters:
Overnight Cold Weather Shelters are activated again for this evening. Shelter registration will take place at 505 Barton Springs Rd. from 6-8 pm. If you need assistance getting to shelter registration, or to an alternative warm and safe location, dial 3-1-1 or (512) 974-2000 to request transportation. Call (512) 305-4233 for more shelter information.
I will share tomorrow’s Daytime Warming Center locations as soon as I have them.
Update on Travel Conditions:
The last reports indicate that road conditions are improving and travel will be safer than the previous two days. Drivers should still proceed with caution if traveling, and avoid bridges or overpasses, as icy conditions are still present. There are still reports of some signal and light outages, and downed trees and debris in roadways. Less-traveled country or county roads may have icier conditions As temperatures continue to rise, more routes will be accessible and travel will be safer. Find updated road conditions at drivetexas.org.
Storm Debris Pickup:
As the ice melts today, please be alert for falling ice or branches. Many of you have asked about City pickup of fallen debris.
Austin Resource Recovery customers with small branches smaller 5 feet under 3 inches in diameter can set them in stacks with their weekly collection. Please allow Austin Resource Recovery workers some time to resume their work and catch up on previous pickups as driving conditions improve.
Anyone with larger items should submit a storm service request through the 3-1-1 app or by calling 3-1-1 or (512) 974-2000. The “Storm Debris Collection” request category can be found at the top of the 3-1-1 app under “Trending Requests”. Here are the instructions we received from Austin Resource Recovery for large debris:
Brush should be 5-15 feet in length.Tree trunks more than 8 inches in diameter should be 3 feet long or less.Cut ends should face the street.Stack loosely along the curb in one row, not more than 15 feet across and no higher than 4 feet.Do not block the sidewalk.Do not extend into the street.To prevent damage to your property, keep items 5 feet away from your trash cart, mailbox, fences or walls, water meter, telephone connection box and parked cars.Do not place any items under low-hanging tree limbs or power lines.Items will not be collected if they are in an alley or in front of a business or a vacant lot.
For those who can not physically handle their storm debris, please see the “Assistance with Home Storm Cleanup” section below.
I have reached out to Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) Director Ken Snipes to see if we can facilitate brush pickup in areas of District 10, like Emergency Service District (ESD) 4, that are high wildfire risk and do not receive regular ARR service, but do benefit from ARR brush services as part of our Austin Fire Department/ESD 4 partnership. I also will work with ARR and Austin Parks and Recreation to address fallen brush in our greenbelts and parks that can pose a wildfire hazard in warmer and dryer weather.
If you have experienced property damage as a result of the storm, this article provides some guidance on documenting the damage and filing an insurance claim: https://www.kut.org/austin/2023-02-02/property-damaged-in-the-winter-storm-heres-what-you-should-do-to-file-an-insurance-claim
City Services and Curbside Trash Pickup:
City operations will resume normal hours tomorrow. Limited curbside trash/recycling/compost collections have resumed. Please allow Austin Resource Recovery workers some time to catch up on previous pickups as conditions improve. Carts, bulk, and brush items from missed pickups should be left at the curb. Collections will continue into the weekend, and normal operations will resume on Monday.
Assistance with Home Storm Cleanup:
The Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN) has partnered with Travis County and the City of Austin to help those with physical and financial limitations who need help cleaning up from the storm. Anyone in Travis, Hays, Bastrop, Caldwell, or Williamson counties who needs cleanup help can submit a request at link.adrn.org/ws-cleanup-request or visit ADRN.org. Volunteer teams from local churches will receive that information and coordinate with you to help with the work. If you’d like to support ADRN disaster response efforts, you can donate online at adrn.org/ws2023.
Press Conference Updates:
If you are able to access video streaming, you can also tune in to a joint press conference hosted by the City, County, Austin Energy, and Austin Water today at 5 pm for further updates. You can also access a recording of a press conference hosted this morning here.
Stay warm and safe.
Alison AlterCouncil Member, District 10