Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Severe Winds Pose New Threats to Power Lines


City of Austin Winter Weather Morning Status Update - Feb. 7 

A fresh bout of bad weather expected overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday morning could further destabilize compromised trees and power lines, risking additional power outages and complicating restoration efforts, the City of Austin is warning today. 

Forecasted rain showers and scattered thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon and night – some of which may be strong to severe – could combine with damaging gusts of wind up to 35 m.p.h. to place additional stress on already weakened tree branches and bring them into contact with energy infrastructure such as power lines, power poles, and transformers.

“Our trees are vulnerable after the winter storm and may have broken limbs high up in their branches that cannot be seen easily,” said Juan Ortiz, Director of the City’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “With strong wind in the forecast, additional tree limbs may fall, potentially creating further damage and causing new outages. That’s why we’re asking people to be extra attentive today, and to bear with us while we address new challenges as they arise.” 

Residents are urged to: 

  • Be aware of their surroundings when out walking or in their yard.
  • Do not leave pets or children unsupervised under trees.
  • When possible, do not park vehicles under trees.   

As of Monday evening, 97 percent of Austin Energy customers had power. Since the beginning of this storm Austin Energy has completed over 340,000 restorations.

As Austin Energy continues to repair outages, crews are ready to respond to the incoming weather. The utility will assess any additional damage caused by Tuesday's forecasted thunderstorms and strong winds.

Watershed Protection 
Watershed has some concern about flooding Tuesday, and will be running emergency radio ads about potential flooding. Residents are asked not to block inlets with debris, so that rainwater can drain and not flood streets.  

Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) Continues to Lead Clean-up 
As of Monday, Feb. 6, 35 contracted and City crews were working to collect storm debris, and the number of crews will continue to grow in the coming days. The damage is widespread, and collections will take time. 

Debris collection routes are based on the volume of service requests in a given area. ARR will collect all storm debris properly placed at the curb on that same street regardless of a request being submitted for a specific address.  

Austinites can still submit for storm debris collection via 3-1-1 or by calling 512-974-2000. Residents are strongly encouraged to submit their requests through the 3-1-1 mobile app or at www.austin311.org, as 3-1-1 continues to experience high call volumes. 

Regular collection of trash, recycling and composting has resumed, including bulk and brush collections. As of Monday, three contract crews were working alongside City staff to expedite the collection of storm debris materials. 

Residents are asked to: 

  • Clear unnecessary items out of the roadways to allow ARR trucks to pass through and collect the debris at the curb. 
  • Slow down to get around. Drive slowly when approaching City vehicles and be alert to potential field employees working on the street. 
  • Place limbs at the curb ready for collection. ARR crews will assess and collect them as soon as possible. 

Austin Transportation Department (ATD) 
As of noon Monday, Feb. 6, the ATD had reduced the number of dark or flashing signals to four, down from a total of 118 at its peak. Temporary stop signs are installed at all the dark signals that do not have battery backup to put the signal in flash. Those dark or flashing signals are located at:  

  • Exposition Boulevard and Westover Road  
  • Davis Lane and Brodie Lane  
  • West 45th Street and Ramsey Avenue  
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Comal Street  

ATD crews have been working 24 hours a day across the city this week, visiting all 491 signals that had lost communication with the Mobility Management Center (MMC) (roughly half of the 1,100 signals operated by the City) and resetting dark signals. Staff have reset more than 200 signals total, about 66% of which needed a technician in the field. The other 34% have been reset remotely due to more advanced technology previously installed. Crews also responded to fix three signals that were knocked down in the roadway.  

Drivers are advised to: 

  • Use caution on the roads and report any dark signals to Austin 3-1-1 or by calling 512-974-2000.  
  • Treat all school zones as active during the start and end of the school day—even if the lights are not flashing—and adhere to posted school zone speed limits.  
  • Report any dark school zone signals to 3-1-1. 

Storm Debris Management in the Right of Way
On Monday, 171 employees from the City of Austin’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments were working throughout Austin to clear the public right of way of downed trees and debris. 

Beginning Monday, crews were deployed across Austin using a grid system approach to methodically confirm that debris has been cleared across the city. Teams are assigned to specific sectors of the city to clear obstructions and confirm when their assigned area has been cleared for mobility. Today crews assessed approximately a quarter of the city through this method. Crews also addressed an additional 70 debris removal requests today, totaling 950 requests addressed to date since the beginning of this weather event. 

Residents should continue to report downed trees in the right of way by calling Austin 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 or using the 311 mobile app. The request will be routed to the assigned sector crews to help with our ongoing efforts. Residents may see trees placed on the side of roads so that Austin Resource Recovery can pick up the debris as part of our coordinated effort.  

Austin Water 
Austin’s water and wastewater treatment plants continue to operate normally, and water storage levels remain healthy. All Austin Water facilities, lift stations and pump stations, have been transitioned to permanent power. Back-up generators have been demobilized. 

All partial boil water notices, which impacted a relatively small number of water customers, have been lifted. AW is communicating with the affected customers via telephone, email, and doorhanger. Austin Water recommends that customers affected by the limited boil water notice flush their plumbing lines by running the bathtub faucet for two minutes before using the water. For additional information visit www.austintexas.gov/page/boil-water-notice-and-faqs.

Residents are encouraged to: 

  • Check for leaks in and around their homes.  
  • Report any water outage or leak in your neighborhood to Austin Water’s 24-Hour Dispatch Team at 512-972-1000. 

Development Services Department 
The Development Services Department is continuing to provide emergency repair resources for homeowners and businessowners at https://www.austintexas.gov/emergency-permits
Inspectors are available 24/7 for some emergency repairs. Call 512-974-2030 for electrical inspections or 512-974-1520 for plumbing and gas inspections.  
For questions, call 3-1-1 or the dedicated emergency repairs hotline at 512-974-1500, Monday - Friday, 7:45 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. As a reminder, permits are not required to start work on emergency repairs. 
As tree cleanup continues, there may be a concern about Oak Wilt, a potentially fatal disease for oak trees. While it is unlikely any trees were infected with Oak Wilt through wounds from storm damage, because both the fungus that causes it and the insects that carry it were probably dormant during the cold weather, residents are advised to:  

Emergency Shelter 
For individuals and families who remain without power or can no longer afford to stay in a hotel and need a place to shower or sleep, dial 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 to request overnight stays with Austin 311. 
Sleeping cots, shower facilities, food and water, pet sheltering, and charging stations are all accessible at emergency shelter. The City of Austin is working with community partners and volunteers to meet requests. Once a shelter request is made with Austin 311, residents will receive a call back from between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with information on next steps. 
Disaster Response 
The public is encouraged to help local government agencies get a full assessment of damage impacts from the storm. Individuals are able to report their impacts through the Individual State of Texas Assessment Tool (iSTAT). Report ice storm impacts through the iSTAT survey here
Reporting damages to Emergency Management is voluntary, and is not a substitute for reporting damage to an insurance agency, and does not guarantee disaster relief assistance. However, contributions from the public help Emergency Management personnel provide a clearer picture of the extent of damage across the community, and it helps prioritize the deployment of emergency response crews at the local level as reports arrive. 
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