On Day 2 of Central Texas freeze, thousands remain without power; Valentine's Day snow possible

Kelsey Bradshaw
Austin American-Statesman
Pike Electric workers prepare to replace a utility pole Friday that snapped along North Lake Creek Parkway near Lakeline Mall Drive.

Nearly 24 hours after she first lost power, Kristin Carroll was taking 20-minute breaks in her idling vehicle Friday to warm herself and charge her cellphone before going back into her frigid house in Northwest Austin. 

"I look like Nanook of the North, and I don't take anything off when I go in the house," Carroll said of her bundled-up attire.

Carroll was one of thousands across Central Texas without power Friday as ice and freezing temperatures continued for a second day. The extreme cold, along with the possibility of snow, was expected to persist in the area through early next week. The winter weather already has been blamed for dozens of highway crashes and prompted the closures of government offices and schools.

Eric Shuman, 53, helps a neighbor melt the ice off a vehicle's door Friday. Shuman has been without power since 3 p.m. Thursday and is debating staying in a hotel. Icy weather is expected through Sunday.

Carroll, a 61-year-old mortgage banker who lives with her husband in the Great Hills neighborhood, said their power went out at 3 p.m. Thursday. In text messages with neighbors, Carroll learned she wasn't the only one without electricity.

But, according to Carroll, Austin Energy's power outage map showed Carroll's neighborhood with power restored. She called the city and Austin Energy, who she said were helpful and apologetic, but they weren't able to give her an idea of what happened.

"I don't want to come across as whiny or complaining. I just want to come across as concerned. As a taxpayer, we should be able to get contact information and feedback as to what's happening and an ETA on this repair from our city," she said.

"We are working diligently to restore power, but it is still dependent on hazards our crews encounter," Austin Energy posted on Twitter. "We know some customers are reporting their outage is not on the outage map."

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The utility said the discrepancy "may stem from an instance where one small outage area is part of a larger outage area."

"As each segment is repaired, those customers are restored and the system may register that restoration as complete when there are still smaller outages that need to be addressed," the utility wrote.

Sometimes customers are getting text messages indicating their power is back on when it isn't. Customers with questions about their outage status can call 512-322-9100, Austin Energy officials said.

Austin Energy responded to dozens of power outages throughout Friday. At 8 a.m., the energy service said more than 11,000 of its customers were without power. 

The utility explained on Twitter that outages were taking longer to repair because crews also were grappling with icy conditions on roads and in neighborhoods.

By 2:30 p.m., Austin Energy still faced 265 active outages that were affecting about 11,000 customers.

Oncor Energy reported 3,000 customers without power as of 1 p.m. Friday in the Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto and Granger area.

“Overall, the Round Rock area was hit the hardest from the impact of the storm,” said Armando Perez, an Oncor regional manager. “We are working as safely and as fast as possible to restore power."

Between noon Thursday and noon Friday, Austin firefighters handled 815 calls for service, which included 56 reports of wires being down.

Of those calls, Austin Fire crews responded to 335 collisions and 18 structure fires. They also answered 35 calls for assistance, including removal of trees on roads or houses.

Pedernales Electric Cooperative had 103 crews working overnight Thursday into Friday responding to outages, said Mike Viesca, a Pedernales spokesman.

"Most of these outages were caused by iced tree limbs falling onto power lines," he said. "Our most impacted areas included Marble Falls, Bertram, Liberty Hill and Cedar Park. We are closely monitoring changing weather conditions and have our crews on standby for the weekend. We are shifting resources and schedules as needed so we're able to work around the clock."

A broken tree branch blocks part of a driveway in North Austin on Friday.

The city of Austin again activated its cold weather shelters for those experiencing homelessness Friday night as temperatures were expected to drop into the 20s. 

Friday's icy weather was a continuation of what the Austin area saw Thursday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Hampshire. He said freezing drizzle and light rain might continue Saturday before a storm system from the west moves into Central Texas.

Some ice accumulation will be possible again Saturday, especially now that the ground is cold.

Sunday's storm, as of Friday afternoon's forecast, has an 80% chance of freezing rain and snow. Hampshire said the freezing rain should transition to snow pretty quickly. 

Between 2 and 3 inches of snow could fall Sunday, he said. Temperatures will drop into the teens on Sunday night and into single digits Monday night, according to the weather service's forecast.

Valentine's Day in Austin on Sunday is expected to be one of the coldest on record. In the past 100 years, the coldest Feb. 14 in Austin was in 1951 when the high was 33 and the low was 25 — and it snowed. Should we see snow Sunday, it would be only the third time that Austin got snow on Valentine's Day, the last time being in 2004.

All 254 Texas counties were placed under a disaster declaration Friday by Gov. Greg Abbott because of the winter storm.

"Texans should heed the guidance of their local leaders and stay alert to changing weather conditions in their area," Abbott said.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times staff writer John C. Moritz contributed to this report.

Micah Thomas, 8, jumps for an icicle hanging from a tree Friday.