City provides critical response to winter storm
With Winter Storm Heather, which brought frigid temperatures to Austin and Central Texas, moving out of our area, the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center is supporting the demobilization of 24/7 shelter operations. The weather forecast is expected to warm above thresholds during the day, and Cold Weather Shelters (CWS) will reopen tonight, Thursday, January 18.
City of Austin, Travis County and community members are beginning the recovery stage after five days of extreme temperatures. Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said he was proud of the response the City showed to this weather event and praised the dedication of the staff members who came in on a holiday weekend to serve their community.
“As we move to the next phase following Winter Storm Heather, we should take a moment to recognize the hard work and dedication of all our public servants who spent their holiday weekend protecting and serving our city,” Watson said. “Despite challenging conditions these public servants go above and beyond for the people of Austin. I’m really proud of the efforts made across departments that was a testament to numerous changes in the last year made by our Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) that made such a great response to this storm possible.”
Travis County Judge Andy Brown is proud of the collaboration efforts between City and County staff in response to the storm. He thanked all involved in the community for staying informed on services available and tips on how to protect themselves and their property.
“Together, we navigated our way through the first winter freeze of the year, fostering improved collaboration between the County and City,” Brown said. “I extend my heartfelt gratitude to our emergency management teams, frontline responders, and essential workers for their tireless efforts over the MLK holiday weekend.”
Cold Weather Shelters
As the forecast called for multiple days of below-freezing temperatures, the City repurposed public facilities – normally used to provide afterschool care or senior activities – for use as temporary overnight shelters. Starting January 13, through January 17, City shelters housed and fed 209, 404, 659, 590 and 405 people per night for a total of 2,267 people served at 7 shelters over 5 days, a record number.
The decision to open Cold Weather Shelters is typically made daily based on temperature thresholds. The City uses the National Weather Service weather report at Camp Mabry as the official location for assessing temperatures due to its central location and proximity to Downtown. CWS are activated if the overnight weather meets the activation criteria:
- 32 degrees or colder overnight
- 35 degrees, with rain/wet
- 35 degrees, with wind chill of 32 or colder
This morning, with temperatures rising above shelter activation levels and facilities resuming their regular public services, shelter guests were provided with food and water, and then transported to Republic Square Park – the second largest CapMetro bus stop in the city, close to the Central Library with connection to multiple bus routes. There, individuals were able to connect with local agencies and partners who provided resources and helped them navigate to their preferred destination.
The City partnered with the Austin Area Urban League to manage shelter operations, and CapMetro to coordinate transportation. Additionally, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Capital Area Food Bank, Community Resiliency Trust, Urban Alchemy, and the American Red Cross supported shelter efforts with volunteers, blankets, cots, hand sanitizer, pet crates, food, and water.
The American Red Cross (ARC) distributed 442 blankets to local shelters in Central Texas being run by government agencies and non-profit partners. Cots, shelf-stable meals, hand sanitizer, and pet crates were also supplied upon request to area shelters. The ARC had 14 mass care volunteers assist with distribution of emergency supplies day and night, and over 45 disaster action team volunteers responded to fires around the clock within the eight-county territory.
All libraries and parks facilities remain available during regular business hours to serve as Warming Centers which offer temporary relief from the cold. HSEM maintains a Warming Centers Map at austintexas.gov/alerts, allowing users to find a location near them and get directions in just a few clicks.
RECOVERY AFTER THE STORM
A winter storm like Austin experienced this week can cause property damage, water leaks or broken pipes, as well as loss of utility services. The City and its partners have resources and services to help those in our community negatively impacted to get back on their feet.
Repairs and Permits
If your home or business sustained damage, you may want to begin repairs immediately to prevent any further damage to your home or property. Learn more about safely permitting emergency repairs on the City’s Development Services Department’s Permits for Emergency Repairs webpage.
Frozen or Leaking Pipes
Austin Water has tips for best practices to thaw your pipes properly and slowly if they froze during the cold snap. Turn on any faucet that has water flow, as the faintest trickle can help thaw a frozen pipe. Try warming the pipe by opening cabinets to allow warm air near the pipe, or wrap the pipe with warm, damp towels. If these steps do not work, contact a licensed plumber or property manager. For issues with a suspected damaged meter, call Austin Water’s 24/7 emergency line at 512-972-1000. For complete instructions on how to locate and thaw frozen pipes, visit austinwater.org.
Mental and Emotional Health
Austinites are still reeling from several years of severe winter storms that, in some cases, caused catastrophic damage and left many without power and water for multiple days. The recovery stage following a disaster can be difficult for anyone struggling with their mental health. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious by the process. Everyone is encouraged to get enough rest and be aware of exhaustion. For more information, FEMA has mental health guidance on its website.
“Please check on your neighbors and family who may need assistance even after the storm,” Interim City Manager Jesús Garza said. “Stay safe. Stay warm. This is the first winter storm of the season and more winter weather is forecasted. Building a prepared and more resilient community together will make it easier for us all to respond to the next storm.”
A summary of City of Austin departments’ response to the storm is available here.