By Paul J. Weber and Ken Miller, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Thousands of frustrated Texans shivered in their homes Thursday after more than a day without power, including many in the state capital, as an icy winter storm that has been blamed for at least 10 traffic deaths lingered across much of the southern U.S.
Even as temperatures finally pushed above freezing in Austin — and were expected to climb past 50 degrees (10 Celsius) on Friday — the relief will be just in time for an Arctic front to drop from Canada and threaten northern states. New England in particular is forecast to see the coldest weather in decades, with wind chills that could dive lower than minus 50.
Across Texas, 430,000 customers lacked power Thursday, according to PowerOutage.us. But the failures were most widespread in Austin, where frustration mounted among more than 156,000 customers over 24 hours after their electricity went out, which for many also meant their heat. Power failures have affected about 30% of customers in the city of nearly a million at any given time since Wednesday.
Allison Rizzolo, who lost power in Austin, told KEYE-TV that she wished there were more clarity from the city on what to do or expect.
“I get that there’s a fine line between preparedness and panic, but I wish they’d been more aggressive in their communications,” Rizzolo said.
For many Texans, it was the second time in three years that a February freeze — temperatures were in the 30s Thursday with wind chills below freezing — caused prolonged outages and uncertainty over when the lights would come back on.
As outages dragged on, city officials came under mounting criticism for not providing estimates of when power would be restored and for neglecting to hold a news conference until Thursday. Mayor Kirk Watson said Thursday the city would review communication protocols for future disasters.
Austin Energy at one point estimated that all power would be restored by Friday evening, then later stated Thursday that full restoration would now take “longer than initially anticipated.” Soon after, Watson tweeted, “This is a dynamic situation and change is inevitable but Austin Energy must give folks clear and accurate info so they can plan accordingly.”
Unlike the 2021 blackouts in Texas, when hundreds of people died after the state’s grid was pushed to the brink of total failure because of a lack of generation, the outages in Austin this time were largely the result of frozen equipment and ice-burdened trees and limbs falling on power lines. The city’s utility warned all power may not be restored until Friday as ice continued causing outages even as repairs were finished elsewhere.
“It feels like two steps forward and three steps back,” said Jackie Sargent, general manager of Austin Energy.
School systems in the Dallas and Austin area, plus many in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee, closed Thursday as snow, sleet and freezing rain continued to push through. Public transportation in Dallas also experienced “major delays” early Thursday, according to a statement from Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
Hundreds more flights were canceled again in Texas, although not as many as in previous days.
Airport crews battled ice to keep runways open. By Thursday morning, airlines had canceled more than 500 flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport — more than a quarter of all flights scheduled for the day. Still, that was down from about 1,300 cancellations on Wednesday and more than 1,000 on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com.
Dozens more flights were canceled at Dallas Love Field and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Watches and warnings about wintry conditions stretched from the West Texas border with Mexico through Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana and into western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
At least 10 people have died due to treacherous road conditions since Monday, including seven in Texas, two in Oklahoma and one in Arkansas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged people not to drive.
And another wave of frigid weather in the U.S. is on the horizon, with an Arctic cold front expected to move from Canada into the northern Plains and Upper Midwest and sweep into the Northeast by Friday.
In a briefing Thursday with the federal Weather Prediction Center, New Englanders were warned that wind chills — the combined effect of wind and cold air on exposed skin — in the minus 50s (minus 45 Celsius) “could be the coldest felt in decades.”
The strong winds and cold air will create wind chills “rarely seen in northern and eastern Maine,” according to an advisory from the National Weather Service office in Caribou, Maine.
Jay Broccolo, director of weather operations at an observatory on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington — which for decades held the world record for the fastest wind gust — said Thursday that wind speeds could top 100 mph (160 kph).
“We take safety really seriously in the higher summits,” Broccolo said, “and this weekend’s forecast is looking pretty gnarly, even for our standards.”