Despite the advanced warning, drivers seemed to be caught off guard by Thursday night’s winter storm.
Law enforcement and EMS officials reported Thursday that they responded to a 13-car pileup on U.S. 183 in Northwest Austin and a 20-car pileup along MoPac near U.S. Highway 290. At about 10:30 p.m., Austin Police said they were responding to a 20-car collision at MoPac and Braker Lane.
Between 5 p.m.-midnight, Austin-Travis County EMS said they responded to 109 crashes.
Road closures also rolled in through the night as icy weather made its way through the Austin metro area.
Portions of Interstate 35, including the upper deck near downtown, were closed because of the ice.
SH-45 in Round Rock and the 183A toll road in Cedar Park were shut down so crews could treat them after ice built up along the highways. Austin police also closed U.S. Highway 290 between Capital of Texas Highway and Manchaca Road. The interchange at U.S. 290 and MoPac was also closed.
Travis County Sheriff’s officials shut down Ranch Road 620 at Mansfield Dam about 8:15 p.m. while crews worked to de-ice the bridge.
Around 9 p.m., the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management said multiple collisions were reported along bridges and overpasses in Bastrop. State Highway 71 was also closed down at the Colorado River as the county waited for Texas Department of Transportation crews to treat the bridge.
In Hutto, authorities closed down U.S. Highway 79 at State Highway 130 about 10 p.m. due to icy conditions. City officials there advised motorists to avoid flyovers and bridges.
Behind Thursday’s Arctic cold front, rain showers quickly changed over ice and sleet. Accumulating snow chances are also still possible across Central Texas overnight Thursday and into Friday.
Temperatures plummeted into the 30s by midday Thursday under gray skies, accompanied by strong north winds and the National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory for most of the region. It remains in effect until noon.
Kelli Reyna of the Texas Department of Transportation says TxDOT has manpower, equipment and supplies scattered strategically at locations across 11 Central Texas counties.
“We’ve already worked out overtime work schedules if need be and we’re always mindful the Hill Country could be most vulnerable,” she said. “Also bridges, overpasses and less traveled roads tend to freeze up first.”
Winter Weather Coverage:
“Hazardous weather can cause problems for drivers, so stay off the roads if you can,” said Greg Malatet, Texas Department of Transportation District Engineer. “If you do decide to drive, be sure to reduce your speed in icy conditions and take extra precautions when approaching bridges, shaded spots, overpasses and turns, as these areas tend to ice over first.”
Overnight Thursday into Friday morning, some areas of light accumulating snow are possible – mainly over the higher elevations of the Hill Country. Up to 1” of snow accumulation is possible on grassy surfaces. Austin and counties to the east could receive anywhere from a trace to half an inch.
The precipitation should wrap up by lunchtime Friday though the clouds hang on.
The winter storm prompted the state operations center to increase their readiness and staffing needs should they be called on. Several state agencies, including TxDOT, the Department of Public Safety and Texas Military Forces will be standing by to assist communities before, during and after the storm.
More medics were also being called in across the city to prepare for the winter storm, according to an Austin-Travis County EMS spokesperson.
“If you slide into an accident, remain buckled in your car and rely on your cell phone,” said Kelli Reyna with TxDOT. “Don’t go out, because other cars could well be sliding into you if you’re not careful.”
Winter Weather Driving Tips:
- Reduce speed. Speed limits are based on normal road and weather conditions, not winter road conditions, so a significant reduction in speed is recommended to stay safe.
- Maintain at least three times the normal following distance on snow or ice.
- Stay back at least 200 feet from trucks and equipment treating roadways.
- Use extra caution on bridges, ramps and overpasses as they tend to freeze first.
- If you start to slide, ease off the gas pedal or brakes. Steer into the direction of the skid until you feel you have regained traction then straighten your vehicle.