Texas ice storm: Austin Energy still working to restore power

Austin Energy crews are still working to restore power to residents following the recent ice storm in Central Texas, says the city.

Crews made "significant progress overnight," with power being restored to nearly 51,000 more people since 5 p.m. Friday, the city said Saturday. According to Austin Energy's outage map, as of 11:27 a.m. Feb. 5, 42,158 customers are still without power, thanks to 1,563 active outages.

Austin Energy says the restoration progress was possible because with the climbing temperatures, fewer trees and limbs fell on power lines, but the utility adds that as crews continue, the restoration will be even more complex. 

The utility is warning residents that restoring power to a single circuit could be a multi-day effort due to equipment possibly being in hard-to-reach areas like a greenbelt or 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. 

READ MORE: No timeline for system-wide power restorations, Austin Energy says

400 lineworkers from Austin Energy and neighboring utilities, including New Braunfels Utilities, CenterPoint Energy and Renegade, are working to get customers online, officials say. 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.

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. People are asked to work with them on allowing access as needed.

Austin Energy is also warning residents that although it is 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; people should remain aware of their surroundings. 

What to do to avoid "cold load pickup"

Austin Energy says as crews work to restore power, circuits can become overloaded because of lights, electronics, and thermostats left on before the outage. The utility says this is called "cold load pickup" and it may cause a second outage. 

Customers without power currently can help avoid "cold load pickup" by doing the following:

  • 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.

Austin Water "not impacted" by winter weather event 

This winter weather event has not impacted Austin Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants, and the Water Treatments Plants continue to meet expected production rates, says the city. 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 to reduce demand on the system while the utilities work through intermittent power outages. 

Austin Transportation working to reset dark traffic signals

As of Saturday 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.

Storm debris management and repairs 

The city says that if you're dealing with downed tree limbs, call 3-1-1 to request a collection of down tree limbs due to the storm. Residents should have the limbs at the curb ready for collection at no charge to the customer. 

Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) crews are working to collect storm debris and has enlisted the help of three contract crews 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. 

READ MORE: How to navigate repairs, insurance claims after Central Texas winter storm

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 through this form.

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.

Austin and Travis County issue local disaster declarations 

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and Travis County Judge Andy Brown signed local disaster declarations Friday for this week’s winter storm. The action will help the city access state and federal recovery funds.

"Under FEMA public assistance program the threshold is for accessing funds for Travis County is 5.7 million dollars. If that threshold is met, FEMA will reimburse 75 percent overall expenses which includes the cost of debris removal and protective measures and any damage the county owned facilities or obviously in the city's case the same for the city," says Judge Brown.

Some of the funds will also be used to help residents who have lost power.

"If somebody has some personal expenses, meaning to their household resulting needing to reconnect needing to hire an electrician, some of this money can go to that as well," says Mayor Watson.

View the City of Austin disaster declaration here.

Food safety for power outages

Refrigerated or frozen foods may not be safe to eat after the loss of power. 

The CDC offers the following tips for food safety following the storm:

  • Never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Throw out perishable food in your refrigerator (meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and leftovers) after 4 hours without power or a cold source like dry ice. Throw out any food with an unusual odor, color, or texture.
  • Check temperatures of food kept in coolers or your refrigerator with an added cold source. Throw out food above 40°
  • If you have an appliance thermometer in your freezer, check to see if it is still at 40 °F or below. You can safely refreeze or cook thawed frozen food that still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below.

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.