Winter Storm Prompts Widespread Closures, Accidents on Icy Roads

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The intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and U.S. Highway 35 is empty of cars Tuesday mid-morning during inclement weather.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Interstate 35 is void of cars Tuesday mid-morning during inclement weather.

Frosty temperatures and ice on Tuesday brought power outages, dangerous road conditions, and widespread closures to the San Antonio area.

San Antonio's City government, all area independent school districts and higher education institutions, and many businesses kept their doors closed Tuesday. Some business leaders said they closed because they wanted to keep their employees safe from possible storm impacts.

As of 1:30 p.m. police and fire department officials had responded to 195 accidents throughout the city, while CPS Energy was working to restore power to about 300 residents.

"San Antonio’s temperatures plummeted from a high of around 70 degrees [Monday] afternoon as a result of a cold mass of air originating in the Arctic moving into the region, bringing cold weather across much of the South," National Weather Service meteorologist Brett Williams told the Rivard Report.

By late Tuesday morning, temperatures in San Antonio, Austin, and parts of the southern Hill Country were hovering in the 20s, Williams said.

The cold air didn’t bring precipitation on its own, though. Williams said warmer air helped generate a rising front, which led to freezing rain and sleet across the region.

San Antonio saw some freezing rain and sleet during the morning. The storm was expected to move east by mid-afternoon. “Then we’ll just be cold the rest of the night and finally get above freezing around noon to 1 p.m. tomorrow afternoon,” Williams said."

The "mix of freezing rain, sleet, and snow" predicted in the National Weather Service's Tuesday winter storm warning impacted roads across San Antonio.

Sheets of ice outside of a Eastside house in San Antonio, Texas.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Sheets of ice cover the lawn of a near-Eastside home.

The City of San Antonio’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department has closed several roads due to icy conditions, including West Commerce Street between Frio and Richter and Thousand Oaks between Wurzbach Parkway and Schertz Road. For a full list of closures, click here.

VIA Metropolitan Transit's fleet deployed on schedule Tuesday morning and will operate  regularly as long as weather permits, according to a City press release. Due to icy roads and street closures, however, riders should expect delays. For VIA service updates, click here. 

The City announced Monday that all its offices and facilities – libraries, senior centers, community centers, parks facilities, Animal Care Services shelter, and the municipal court – will be closed Tuesday and reopen at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Trash and recycling collection also was canceled for Tuesday.

The City's and Bexar County's emergency operations, however, are staffed and responding to weather outcomes.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, the San Antonio Police Department had responded to 47 major and 148 minor accidents since midnight, the department's public information officer Michelle Ramos said. No fatalities have been reported.

CPS Energy crews shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday responded to an outage caused by a downed wire near Loop 410 and Pearsall Road that left around to 1,370 people without power. For an outage map, click here. For list of winter safety tips, click here.

According to NWS, strong winds of 25 to 30 mph could exacerbate hazardous conditions.

"We’ve seen a handful of downed power lines since about [midnight on Monday]," CPS spokesman Albert Cantu said. "Wind was one of our biggest factors ... As that band of rain continues to make its way here, that’s going to affect us."

San Antonio Water System spokeswoman Anne Hayden said the utility has not seen any weather-related problems with its system. Freezing weather typically poses little threat to SAWS' pipes, which are underground and insulated from frost, she said. Instead, pipe breaks and leaks typically happen above ground on the customer's end.

"It’s usually their pipes that are frozen," Hayden said, "especially pier-and-beam folks' houses or houses that have faucets that are exposed to north winds."

Texas Department of Transportation crews on Monday worked to pretreat roads in advance of the wintry weather.

“The mix that we are using to pretreat … keeps the ice from staying solid, but there is still ice on the road,” said TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer. “We still need people to drive very carefully and slow down, or not drive at all.

“There is a misperception that the pretreatment that we use doesn’t let ice form at all. We need people to understand that there could still be slippery situations.”

By Tuesday morning, TxDot had sprayed roughly 20,000 gallons of pretreatment brine, according to a department tweet.

San Antonio could see snow for the second time in less than six weeks. On Dec. 7,  snow fell across the area, marking the first snowfall since Feb. 4, 2011, when the city recorded 0.4 inches. With the December snowflakes came sweeping power outages that affected more than 88,000 San Antonians.

Heavy snow falls in downtown San Antonio for the first time since 1985.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio saw snowfall in early December.

Public school districts in Bexar County canceled Tuesday classes in anticipation of dangerous road conditions.

School districts announcing closures include Alamo Heights Independent School District, San Antonio ISD, Northside ISD, North East ISD, Harlandale ISD, Edgewood ISD, Southside ISD, Comal ISD, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, South San Antonio ISD, Southwest ISD, Judson ISD, Boerne ISD, and Fort Sam Houston ISD.

Higher education institutions have announced similar closures. The University of Texas at San Antonio, St. Mary’s University, Texas A&M-San Antonio, Trinity University, Alamo Colleges, Our Lady of the Lake University, and the University of the Incarnate Word announced all programs and classes would be canceled for Tuesday.

UTSA and UIW have delayed their reopening until noon Wednesday.

Some local organizations announced weather-related closures, including the San Antonio Zoo, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, the Witte Museum, and the San Antonio Food Bank. USAA and its banking centers will also be closed Tuesday.

The grand unveiling of Confluence Park has been postponed until March; the Rivard Report's Conversation with the Council with District 9's John Courage has also been moved to a later date.

 

This story was originally published on Jan. 15, 2017.

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