Hundreds of thousands without power statewide as ice storm brings more precipitation

Experts caution Texans to stay home and off the roads until the sun comes out and thaws the ice.

By Sarah AschFebruary 1, 2023 9:56 am

Countless thousands of residents got a glimpse of the mess outside as trees and branches littered streets and yards Wednesday morning. Crews from electricity companies statewide worked through the night to restore power to an estimated 200,000 Texans in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio alone.

The winter weather advisory stretches from far west Texas all the way to the eastern border into Louisiana and north past Red River. Radar models continue to show frozen precipitation falling across the state throughout Wednesday with the Texas Hill Country, the Concho Valley, Big Country, the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Austin appearing to get the heaviest accumulation.

School closures remain in effect for large parts of Texas. The snap of trees and branches will continue for much of this day, but at this point, the most serious danger is for Texans who try to get out and about with so much ice on the roads.

Matt Lanza, a forecast meteorologist and managing editor of Space City Weather in Houston, said winter storms like this can make it hard to predict exactly what kind of precipitation will fall.

“This is a really complicated storm. Anytime you get these sort of set ups in the wintertime, it’s always difficult to predict if you’re going to have sleet, if you’re going to have freezing rain, if you’re going to have snow, or if you’re just going to have plain rain,” he said. “Unfortunately, this time around, it looks like the roll of the dice came up for ice and sleet across much of the interior Texas.”

Lanza said that, as of Wednesday morning, the storm will likely get worse before it gets better, with some variation depending on what part of the state you’re looking at. Houston, he said, has mostly been spared the worst of the freezing temperatures. 

“We’re looking at more precipitation moving in today and this afternoon, and that will lead to additional ice accumulations, including in places that haven’t seen quite as much overnight, to the north and west of Austin and heading up toward the Dallas-Fort Worth area in particular. And west of there, we’ll see a good bit of ice,” he said. “Temperatures will become a little bit more, I would describe them as wonky, tonight because we see a little bit of warmer air trying to sneak in. So that may help a few places get back above freezing. Other places will stay below.”

Much of the storm is hitting Texas west of I-35, and many of those areas are less populated, Lanza said. This can make recovering from an ice storm more complicated.

“It’s a little bit slower because you have more population spread out over a large area. So it’s going to be going from community to community and trying to clean up the mess from power outages and stuff like that,” he said. “But utilities generally are prepared for this sort of thing. And hopefully it doesn’t take too, too long to recover from this in some of the rural parts of the state.”

Lanza said precipitation is expected to lighten up tonight and temperatures will start to rise. The winter storm warning currently extends until 6 a.m. Thursday.

Maybe you get a little bit of a thaw but, you know, you really need to get the sun out to get real improvement on roadways,” he said. “I think for Thursday the first part of the day, you’re probably still going to be stuck. But maybe by the second part of the day, things can sort of resume a degree of normalcy again. And certainly by Friday.”

Lanza said his best advice at this point is to hunker down.

“One of the biggest problems during storms like this is people think they can go out and about and do things and they get themselves in trouble,” he said. “I grew up in the Northeast. I dealt with snow. Snow is one thing. Ice is completely another. And there is no vehicle out there that is ice proof, no matter how hard, how good it is, it is really tough to drive on ice.”

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