Axios Austin

Picture of the Austin skyline.

February 02, 2023

Thanks for joining us on this chilly Thursday.

β˜”οΈ Today's weather: Things are warming up! High of 42 with morning showers likely.

⚑️ Sounds like: Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," as performed on Austin City Limits.

🚨 Situational awareness: Power may be out in some areas of the city through Friday evening as trees and branches continue to topple utility lines, Austin Energy officials reported last night, per Austin City Council member Paige Ellis.

Today's newsletter is 645 words β€” a 2.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Hundreds of thousands lose power

A rubble of live oak branches.

A pile of massive branches from a live oak felled by the ice storm in South Austin on Wednesday. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

Roads and trees are beginning to thaw, but this week's winter storm again pushed the city to the brink.

The big picture: Unlike the 2021 edition, temperatures in the Austin metro hovered near freezing and residential outages were localized, rather than part of bigger problems with the state's grid.

Yes, but: As many as 28% of Austin Energy customers β€” or more than 155,910 homes β€” were still without power as of 6am this morning as ice coated power lines and downed tree limbs.

  • Austin fire officials responded to more than 76 reports of wires arcing since 3am Wednesday.
  • I-35 was shut down in both directions Wednesday afternoon between Wells Branch and Grand Avenue Parkway due to downed power lines, per CBS Austin.
  • Roughly half the flights β€” 347 in all β€” to or from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport were canceled yesterday, according to FlightAware data.
  • Austin ISD and the University of Texas are closed today for a third consecutive day.
Austin Energy estimated that some customers could be without power for up to 24 hours as ice froze over power lines. Photo: Twitter/Austin Energy
Austin Energy estimated some could be without power for up to 24 hours as ice froze over power lines. Photo: Twitter/Austin Energy

What they're saying: "Restoration efforts have been slow due to consistently freezing temperatures and accumulating ice," Austin Energy general manager Jackie Sargent told city officials last night.

Zoom out: At least seven people in Texas have died and more than 391,000 customers lack power statewide, most along a swath from San Antonio northeast to Paris.

  • The combination of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic air spilling south from Canada resulted in a long-duration ice storm for millions of people across at least eight states, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

Why it matters: This week's storm, which rolled in late Monday, was the latest test of the state's power grid and local utilities.

  • During 2021's winter storm, widespread grid outages left millions of Texans without power and Austin went under a citywide water boil notice.
  • Officials attributed nearly 250 deaths across Texas to the freeze, though the actual number was likely higher.

What's next: The sound of chainsaws will be ubiquitous in Austin neighborhoods for days to come as residents clear downed tree branches.

2. How to whack ice off your tree

Not a piΓ±ata. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

Suppose your iced-over tree were preventing you from exiting your house for safer terrain.

That was the problem Wendy Ogle was facing midday Wednesday at her Travis Heights house.

  • Having gone without power for three hours, she had to clear her driveway of a live oak limb, laden with ice, that was blocking her exit.

What she did: Grabbed a broom and beat the hell out of the tree.

  • Ice flaked off and β€” slowly but surely β€” the branch started rising, inch by inch.

Context: Ogle has lived in Austin since 1990, but grew up in Rochester, N.Y., so she knows a thing or two about managing winter conditions.

  • Inside her home, she tells Axios, were pots of water she had boiled and a thermos full of pork stew.

What they're saying: "This is why we need underground utilities," Ogle told Axios, between whacks. "Above-ground is ugly and β€” look here β€” this is why I'm beating my tree."

3. 🀠 The Roundup: Wrangling the news

Illustration of a mustang wearing glasses and reading the news on a phone.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

πŸš” A sheriff's deputy was taken to the hospital after he was hit by an 18-wheeler in southeastern Travis County. He is expected to survive, officials say. (KXAN)

πŸ›’ H-E-B topped Amazon as best grocery retailer in the U.S. in the sixth annual Dunnhumby Retailer Preference Index. (Chain Store Age)

πŸ’§ Federal environmental regulators are investigating claims that Texas is not doing enough to safeguard its water and air quality. (Houston Chronicle πŸ”’)

πŸ” DoorDash, the food delivery service, suspended its operations in Austin on Wednesday over dangerous road conditions. (Fox7 Austin)

4. Awesomely weird weather graphic du jour

Graphic showing corgis in a tree to illustrate weight of ice

Uh-oh β€” someone get those corgis down! Weather graphic via Avery Tomasco/CBS Austin/Twitter

πŸ’­ Our thought bubble: Thanks to this CBS Austin graphic, we now know that half an inch of ice on a 30-foot-wide tree is equivalent to 274 full-grown corgis β€” or 712 of Nicole's cat, Tex.

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5. Photos to go: A frozen city

A downed tree limb just dodges our editor's South Austin home. Photo: Bob Gee/Axios

News flash: It's been pretty dang cold.

The big picture: Ice toppled trees onto roads and homes across Central Texas on Wednesday.

  • We snapped photos around town β€” showing a very frozen Austin.
Icicles trail from a street-signal button in Austin.
Icicles trailed from a South Congress street signal button last night. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

The bottom line: We hope this newsletter finds you and your loved ones safe and warm.

More photos

Thanks to Bob Gee for editing and Kate Sommers-Dawes and Keely Bastow for copy editing this newsletter.

❄️ Asher is reading this perfect ice storm poem.

😍 Nicole can't wait to see Beyoncé in Dallas, two days before her birthday!

We're sorry you can't crumple up this newsletter and use it as fire starter.