Here’s what Austin officials are saying about inclement weather

Editor’s Note: This story was updated regularly until Sunday, February 22. Information within this story may no longer be up to date.

The Daily Texan is tracking press briefings held by city and state officials here as the winter storm and power outages continue. To view past coverage of resources available at and around UT, please click here

Friday, February 19

3 p.m.: Gov. Abbott press conference

United States President Joe Biden approved the major disaster declaration request Texas submitted Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott said at a Friday press conference.

This declaration allows Texans to apply for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fix damages to homes that aren’t covered by insurance. About 165,000 Texas households still remain without power because of downed power lines or wire connection issues, and many don’t have access to water, Abbott said.

“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, as of 5 p.m. today, is standing up a phone bank for local water utilities who are unable to get water testing at their contracted labs,” Abbott said.

Texas suspended various regulations related to commercial vehicles to help expedite the process of moving food and other resources across the state, Abbott said. The state also requested a fuel waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the use of all forms of diesel on Texas roads.

“Frozen temperatures significantly impacted our refineries, but we’re working to help them get back online to provide the fuel Texans depend upon,” Abbott said. “We’ve already issued a number of waivers to expedite this process.”

Austin can expect water shipments by air on Friday, said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. About 1.7 million bottles of water have been transported since Thursday afternoon to Texas, Kidd said. 

“We continue to work with our hospital systems,” Kidd said. “We’ve asked for the FEMA ambulance contract to deliver additional ambulances into the state to support transfer of patients between facilities.”

Approximately 7,000 public water systems serving over 14 million Texans are currently impacted by the inclement weather, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Abbott said boil water notices will be lifted at different times because water supplies are under the control of local governments. 

“It takes up to 24 hours for (bacterial) samples and for testing to happen,” Baker said. “But the problem is you can’t perform that test until the integrity of the system is brought back.”

The state has been working to provide additional assistance to homeless populations through the FEMA program and other local initiatives, Abbott said.

“We care about all humans out there, especially those who are exposed to the harshest conditions, and we want to get them in a place where they can be alleviated from that situation,” Abbott said. 

By Lauren Abel

2 p.m.: City press conference

City officials said they are focusing on water distribution and returning water and energy services to Austin residents during a press conference at 2 p.m. Friday.

City manager Spencer Cronk said water will be handed out to the public at select locations across the city, and a map of pickup locations should be released later today. Cronk said the city is focusing on providing water to communities that have experienced a lack of resources amid inclement weather.

Austin Water director Greg Meszaros said he expects significant water availability improvements within the next 48 hours. Meszaros said the city will publish new water maps every 12 hours, which show water pressure and reservoir levels throughout the city.

“The system is going to see significant improvement over the weekend and a large majority of our customers will have pressure returned to their home,” Meszaros said. “We are producing more water than is being used right now … that just shows the power of conservation from the community.”

The boil water notice is expected to continue into next week, and the water supply will be sampled after water pressure is stabilized, Meszaros said. 

“The lifting of the boil water notice is a process of sampling and testing water at our lab,” Meszaros said. “Hopefully beginning next week those processes will begin to take place, and we can be lifted out of that.”

Typically, water reservoirs are filled with 100 million gallons. Now, reservoirs are at the 34 to 40 million gallon range, Meszaros said. At the height of the emergency, the reservoirs were drained, he said. 

Faucet dripping is no longer encouraged due to the water shortage, Meszaros said. He said 80 to 100 million gallons of water have been drained due to dripping faucets.

Jacqueline Sargent, general manager for Austin Energy, said restoring power to all of Austin may take “several days.” Sargent said as of noon Friday, 22,000 customers do not have power. She said it is recommended to conserve power, even though the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has moved out of an energy emergency alert. 

Sargent said tonight’s freezing temperatures should not impact power.

“At this point, with no further events that will disrupt the circuit, we do predict the power to stay on … but we still have people without power,” Sargent said.

Richard Mendoza, director of public works, said more than 180 miles of major roadways and 28 bridges and surfaces have been cleared of snow and ice. Mendoza urged the public to report potholes and out-of-power traffic lights on the Austin 3-1-1 app. He said to treat dimmed traffic lights as four way stops and limit travel to necessary trips and major roadways.

By Samantha Greyson

10:30 a.m.: ERCOT media call

Texas ended emergency power operations Friday morning after losing 40% of the generation power used during normal operations this week, said Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, at a Friday press conference.

“We expected to be in some sort of rotating outage Monday morning and Tuesday morning,” Magness said. “That certainly was a risk that we were prepared to manage, but it was when we saw the much larger loss of generation that we had the much bigger problem.”

Magness said the emergency item ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott for the current legislative session requiring the winterization of power plants is a good idea. He said ERCOT is prepared to discuss the issue and find ways to avoid a similar situation in the future, though they do not decide specific winterization plans. That responsibility falls to the North American Electric Reliability Council, Magness said.

Magness said the main reason ERCOT was unable to effectively roll power outages was because of an imbalance in supply and demand. Had ERCOT not taken action to cut power through outages, Texas likely would have experienced outages for months as energy sources would become overloaded and cause statewide malfunctions, he said.

“There’s not a backup system maintained by the state or maintained by generators, but that’s been a part of the structure of this market — that (energy companies) rely on generation that’s out in the system, and if it’s sufficient, you should be able to meet your demand,” Magness said.

Magness said he cannot speculate about the distribution or details of outages when asked if more affluent neighborhoods were given more power than other neighborhoods.

The electric grid capacity appeared to be sufficient when ERCOT was planning for the storm, Magness said.

“2011 was when we saw what’s been the worst weather up until this week,” Magness said. “We set it as a marker for … these kinds of conditions.”

Magness said the inclement weather in 2011 contributed to weatherization efforts for generators and power plants, which they expected to sustain through the current storm.

“The competitive market has driven investment decisions that have given us a generation fleet that has managed the highest summer loads, the higher summer peaks we’ve ever seen,” Magness said. “There is generation on the system efficient to manage the loads that we’re seeing.”

One of the largest issues ERCOT faced was balancing power outages while maintaining power for critical care facilities, Magness said.

“(Transmission providers) have to be sensitive,” Magness said. “You don’t want to turn off circuits for hospitals or other critical care facilities, and so managing around those critical care areas where you don’t want to turn off power units leaves you less and less area to execute outages.”

By Lauren Abel

10:30 a.m.: Facebook livestream with Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison

Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison said conserving water will help to restore outages and lift the boil water notice in a Facebook livestream with Austin Water and Texas Gas Service on Friday morning.

The Ullrich Water Treatment Plant in Austin lost power Wednesday evening, leading to a citywide water boil notice. Power has been restored as of Thursday, and the plant is working to restore water to the city.

Anna Bryan-Borja, the Austin Water chief of support services, said the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant needs about 100 million gallons of water in storage to operate. On Friday at 11:20 a.m., the plant had around 32 million gallons.

Bryan-Borja said residents should continue to conserve water if they have it to help Austin Water get enough water in storage.

“Please be cautious because you saving water in your home is going to help your neighbor to have water returned sooner,” Bryan-Borja said.

Austin Water also released a map Friday showing what areas of Austin have low water pressure or water outages. Once the entire map is at normal operations, the citywide water boil notice can be lifted.

“Fortifying that central pressure zone is the first step to recovering our system because we feed the north and south zones off of central,” Bryan-Borja said.

Harper-Madison said four new food and water distributions locations are opening in Austin Friday: Juan Navarro High School, Dailey Middle School, Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex and Dove Springs Recreation Center.

The distribution locations need food, water and supplies, and are taking donations. Harper-Madison encouraged residents to volunteer if possible.

Harper-Madison said these locations particularly need diapers, wipes, formula, incontinence products and period products, which can all be donated.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is delivering more water to Austin on Friday, Harper-Madison said.

By Tori Duff

Thursday, February 18

5 p.m. Travis County conference 

While more people in Austin regained power today, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said water outages will continue for days, during a press conference at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Adler said energy has returned to 92% of Austin Energy customers. Now, 42,000 customers are without power, as opposed to the 220,000 people who did not have power the past few days, Adler said.

However, Adler said it will be days before running water returns to all households. The city does not know many pipe breaks there are currently because pipes are frozen, but there are expected to be many breaks which will cause water outages for an undetermined number of days, Adler said. Austin officials do not have an idea of when water will return to all households.

“Now that we have power, we’re trying to get back our water,” Adler said. “Food and water are the highest priority that we have. It’s not going to be something that happens right away, it is probably going to be a matter of days.”

County Judge Andy Brown said millions of gallons of water are on their way to Austin and should arrive in a matter of days. Adler said trucks of water are on their way to Austin from six different states.

Adler said trash, recycling and compost collection will resume tomorrow and sanding trucks are working overnight to clear roads. Drivers should avoid overpasses and driving at night, Adler said. 

Vaccines operations will also begin again this weekend with increased vaccination hours, Adler said. Austin Public Health will contact high risk individuals to schedule their vaccine and the city will give out all available vaccines, Adler said. 

Adler warned the public to follow COVID-19 guidelines amidst the inclement weather. 

“We’re still in the middle of COVID and we can't lose sight of that,” Adler said. “Please when you're around other people that you don't live with, wear your masks, social distance.”

 

  • By Samantha Greyson
  •  
  • 3 p.m.: Gov. Abbott press conference

Power has been restored to nearly 2 million homes across Texas but about 325,000 remain without power, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Thursday afternoon press conference.

Abbott addressed power outages and boil-water notices that are affecting millions of Texans and provided more details about his investigation into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Abbott also made a formal request Thursday to U.S. President Joe Biden for a major disaster declaration, which will help Texans apply for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Those without power are not without power because of the lack of ability to generate power,” Abbott said. “Instead, those without power are being impacted either by power lines that are down or the need to manually reconnect the premises to power.”

Individual power companies, not the state of Texas, must repair power lines and their connection to houses, Abbott said.

“Texas agencies will continue to work around the clock with our local partners, with residential areas (and) with industrial and commercial users until power is restored to every single location across the state,” Abbott said.

Abbott said he is focused on five tasks during the winter storm: restoring power for Texans, restoring access to water, helping Texans with broken water pipes, getting aid to Texans in need, and making sure an event like this does not happen again.

On Thursday, Abbott declared an executive order to add emergency items for the current legislative session. These include mandating the winterization of generators and the power system and calling for the funding needed to ensure winterization.

Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said he is working with local and private sector partners in FEMA to send additional water to every county in Texas.

“With almost every single water institution impacted not only from the frozen lines in our homes, but the frozen lines in the streets that are running institutional water, water will continue to be a challenge,” Kidd said.

Kidd said the state is partnering with companies from California and Florida to help conserve water and power. Although Texas has generators from state agencies and the federal generator package, the state will request additional generators, Kidd said.

“We will be distributing meals ready to eat with water in cooperation with our cities and counties across the state,” Kidd said.

Toby Baker, executive director for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said out of approximately 7,000 public drinking water systems across the state of Texas, around 725 are currently under a boil-water notice, affecting 13 million Texans.

“We’re currently reaching out to a number of laboratories across the state to make sure they are ready for the sampling that will be needed to lift those boil-water notices,” Baker said. “We’re also partnering with the (Environmental Protection Agency) in bringing in mobile labs from out of state to assist.”

Abbott said he is working to help restock grocery stores and restaurants and will continue to provide updates as they become available.

By Lauren Abel 

2 p.m.: Austin press conference

Power has been restored to the major Austin water treatment center, but Austin residents are still under a boil-water notice and should continue to conserve water over the next several days, Austin officials said in a Thursday press conference.

Austin Water issued a citywide boil-water notice Wednesday night after a power loss at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant. The boil-water notice is still in place, and there is not a specific timeline for when water will be restored to those without it, said Austin Water director Greg Meszaros.

“Ullrich is ramping back up for water production today,” Meszaros said. “We have to restore pressure to our system … The water in our reservoirs essentially drained out over the last day (due to leaks), and that stabilizes the system … Once we stabilize the system, we can begin the process of sampling the water and testing.”

The city has purchased water that is on the way for distribution, said Juan Ortiz, the director for the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“As soon as we are able, we will begin to distribute in the community,” Ortiz said. “However … other cities have similar needs, which has required us to purchase water out of state. So it will take time for it to be delivered.”

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, Austin Energy has restored power to about 92% of customers who experienced outages, said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy general manager. 

“We’re seeing just over 42,000 people who are waiting to be restored,” Sargent said.

City Manager Spencer Cronk said the Palmer Events Center, a warming center for residents without power, is at full capacity, but there is limited room left at Del Valle High School, Mendez Middle School and Reilly Elementary School. These facilities are open 24 hours a day. 

Warming centers are also open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Lee Elementary School, Murchison Middle School, Joslin Elementary School and Barrington Elementary School, Cronk said. These facilities have limited resources and are not open overnight.

Currently, Austin Public Works is working to identify and clear priority driving routes around Austin for safe travel. 

Austin Public Works identified 196 lane miles, which includes the number of lanes in every road mile, that need clearance, Public Works director Richard Mendoza said. About 60% have been cleared using sanding spreaders, dump trucks, motor graders and front-end loaders in place of snow plows, Mendoza said. They plan to have all priority routes cleared overnight, Mendoza said.

Brandon Wade, assistant chief of operations for the Austin Fire Department, said the department has responded to numerous emergencies caused by carbon monoxide issues due to people trying to stay warm inside. 

“We are urging the public to only use approved fireplaces that are working in their residence to only burn either the approved fire logs or firewood, not any other type of combustibles,” Wade said. “We are asking the public to call 911 immediately upon seeing fire.”

By Tori Duff

Wednesday, February 17

3:30 p.m.: Gov. Abbott press conference 

Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to address the state’s response to the dangerous inclement weather, which is named Winter Storm Uri.

Over the last three days, millions of Texas residents have gone without power due to energy infrastructure failures and power demand outpacing supply. On Wednesday, energy was added to the Texas grid that started to provide power for households that had been out for days, Abbott said.

“Since 12:01 a.m. this morning, 6,000 megawatts have been added to the Texas grid,” Abbott said. “That equals power for about 1.2 million households.”

Additional operations from coal-produced power have provided energy to approximately 400,000 homes as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning. The state also issued an order Wednesday requiring producers of natural gas to ship to Texas power generators.

Abbott declared an investigation into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas as an emergency item for the current legislative session as a result of the council’s failure to provide power to Texans across the state for more than 36 hours in freezing weather. 

Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said they are prioritizing clearing roads to make access to critical infrastructure. 

“Texas Military Department will bring on additional aircraft C-130s and helicopters to be able to fly water, cots, blankets and whatever we need into places that are still hardened by the state’s transportation network,” Kidd said.

United States President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration Sunday that made federal emergency aid available to the state of Texas. The Texas Division of Emergency Management is also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to increase public assistance and individual assistance for Texas residents following Biden’s emergency declaration.

“We have storage facilities in the state, so they’re doing maximum withdrawal out of their storage facilities to make sure we have gas available,” said Christi Craddick, member of the Texas Railroad Commission.

Craddick said residents should not heat their homes with gas stoves or sit in running cars in enclosed spaces as there has been an increase in carbon monoxide poisoning cases during the storm.

Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said boil water notices in effect across the state cannot be lifted until water treatment plants perform bacteriological sampling to verify cleanliness in water systems, which can take up to 24 hours. As of Wednesday, more than 7 million Texans are under boil water notices, Baker said. 

“We will continue to connect local water systems with those labs, but it is an ongoing issue, and these numbers are probably going to grow over the next day or two,” Baker said.

Texans with questions or concerns about resources and warming centers in rural areas can call 2-1-1 for assistance, and those in urban areas can call 3-1-1, Kidd said.

By Lauren Abel

1:30 p.m.: Austin press conference

City officials encouraged community members to stop dripping faucets and not use water demanding appliances due to a city-wide water shortage during the Austin Emergency Management press conference Wednesday afternoon.

While the City of Austin originally told the public to drip their faucets to stop pipes from freezing, Austin Water director Greg Meszaros said the city needs customers to stop dripping faucets to conserve water. Meszaros said residents should also stop using appliances such as dishwashers and washers and not fill bathtubs to hold on to water. He said the water supply is being strained, and stopping these activities will assist in regaining water levels. 

Meszaros said the only situation where there would be a boil water notice is if the water pressure drops below a certain level making it unsafe to consume. There is currently a water boil notice in southwest Austin and the Lost Creek neighborhood due to low water pressure. 

"Whenever pressure drops below minimums, we issue a boil water notice to make sure that customers that are consuming water stay safe,” Meszaros said.

At the time of publication, there is not a water boil notice for Riverside, North Campus or West Campus areas. The Texan will update UT community members if this occurs. 

Jackie Sargent, general manager for Austin Energy, said the company is operating to help ensure a collapse of the statewide system does not occur. Sargent said if community members still have power, they should use as little as possible.

“We are now dealing with two critical situations,” Sargent said. “We're continuing to respond to the ERCOT needs for the electric grid and ERCOT is operating at an extremely low reserve margin …  We are also being affected by additional severe impacts from ice storm events.”

Sargent said the storm is causing tree limbs to fall and damage equipment, which is impacting many customers, including some who had their power restored overnight. 

Sargent said they restored power in all of the places they can, and are prioritizing restoration for the people who have been without power longest. 

When asked why the City of Austin is struggling more than other areas in Texas, Sargent said Austin has more power demands than other cities.

“We have a large amount of medical facilities,” Sargent said. “We have government facilities that have vital communication infrastructure that are needed to be able to communicate statewide.”

City manager Spencer Cronk said if someone is unable to shelter in place and must travel to one of the shelters in the Austin-area, they need to contact 311 to arrange transportation. However, Cronk said the public is asked to reserve transportation resources for the most vulnerable populations, especially those who require power for their medical devices. 

By Sheryl Lawrence

11 a.m.: ERCOT media call

A spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said they will restore power to affected areas over the next few days as the weather warms in a press conference Wednesday morning.

Dan Woodfin, the senior director of system operations at ERCOT, said warm weather reduces the demand for energy because people are not consuming as much power.

“The best case at this point is that today or tomorrow we are able to get (outages) back down to the point where all consumers are experiencing outages that are no longer than 30 minutes to an hour at a time,” Woodfin said. “That’s the best case. I don’t think it’s likely that we’re going to have enough (energy) available based on information that we’re getting in from the generator.”

ERCOT oversees more than 650 generating units across Texas. As of Wednesday, 185 have tripped out and are no longer supplying energy, ERCOT president Bill Magness said. 

ERCOT gave Austin Energy permission to restore power to 16 circuits in Austin at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday. Austin Energy tweeted they will provide energy to those who have been without power the longest, but customers should not expect to have power indefinitely once it is restored. 

Austin Energy said they will begin rotating outages among the 16 circuits if they stabilize. The company said customers without power should unplug and turn off all lights and electronic appliances to prevent the circuit from overloading and causing another outage once power is restored. Customers should also give the circuit time to power up before turning up the thermostat or using electronic appliances, Austin Energy said.

As of Wednesday morning, ERCOT forced 46,000 megawatts of energy offline to create a balance of supply and demand to restore power to Texas consumers, said Leslie Sopko, the communications manager for ERCOT. About 39% of this energy is renewable, and about 59% is thermal, Sopko said. 

Magness said they made the decision to begin rotating outages on Monday night to avoid a complete, statewide blackout.

“We had to reduce the demand to get the supply back in balance,” Magness said. “Getting those resources back on the grid is the central solution to getting people their power back because we need to maintain a power balance.”

Many people have experienced outages for longer than 36 hours, rather than rolling outages. Woodfin said transmission providers, which are subunits of ERCOT that distribute electricity in Texas, are challenged by the need to rotate and also maintain stability. 

“We will communicate to the transmission providers (that their share of the energy will be turned off), and that is an amount that can be moved around their territory,” Woodfin said. “The challenge those transmission providers have faced … is that when you give such a large obligation to these transmission utilities, it is difficult for them to move them.”

Woodfin said the generators ERCOT purchased are made to deal with overly-hot climates, and they intentionally buy generators that do not protect against cold weather because of Texas’ warm climate. Woodfin said they are not capable of generating energy in cold weather the same way they do in colder states. 

“Most of our generation is during the summer because of all the air conditioning consumption,” Woodfin said.

By Tori Duff

Tuesday, February 16

7 p.m.: Mayor Adler press briefing

Austin Mayor Steve Adler held a press conference Tuesday night discussing COVID-19 numbers, winter storms and vaccine distribution updates. 

Adler said ERCOT notified Austin Energy that since they typically use 3.6-3.7% of the state's total generated power, they will give Austin Energy below that percentage. Austin Energy initially set up a plan to rotate between cutting powers to certain parts of the city for 40 minutes to an hour, but many have been without power for longer.

However, as the temperatures began to get as low as 18 degrees, Adler said that the wind chill factor started to cause uneven distribution. He said that even with the reductions that ERCOT was intending, they were going to need to generate more power.  Austin Energy then made the decision to cut the circuit off every part of the city that didn’t have a piece of critical infrastructure.

“Every circuit that is on right now is a circuit that also ties into a hospital or a police station or a fire station,” Adler said. 

Because of this, Adler said Austin Energy isn’t able to turn back on circuits that were turned off because that would require them to turn off the critical infrastructures’ circuits. He said the ability to turn on the circuits is dependent on the state.

“We don't know when the power is going to come back on,” Adler said. “We're told that it's going to be tomorrow, but it could be Thursday, it could be Friday, it could be into Saturday. So we're going to need people to plan accordingly.”

Despite rumors of Austin needing to go into a water boiling emergency, Adler said Austin’s water isn’t in any kind of jeopardy. 

Adler said he urges those with power to drop their thermostats to 68 degrees, unplug all non-essential electronics and appliances and avoid using large appliances such as laundry machines.

"Bottom line, if you have power, conserve and try to live as if you don't,” Adler said. “Try to make sacrifices for the greater good. People who have power need to conserve as massive amounts as possible." 

Adler said those without power can go to warming centers around Austin which will be open for the night, including Palmer Events Center, Mendez Middle School, Northeast Early College High School and Del Valle High School.

Austin Public Health only has the vaccine doses that were delivered last week, Adler said. The vaccine doses for this week have been delayed and no vaccines will be given for this week to ensure people's safety during the winter weather.

As of Feb. 15, Adler said Austin saw a drop in new cases and hospital admissions down to 279 and 16, respectively. However, he said that number could be artificial because people are having a hard time traveling.

“I’m not sure what’s going to be happening with respect to viruses given what’s happening with the weather,” Adler said. “Are more people isolating by themselves because they can’t travel? Or are we forcing more people into congregate situations where they are closer to other people?”

By Kevin Vu
 

4 p.m. : Austin City Council press briefing

The energy emergency in Austin will continue until the power grid can be stabilized, an Austin Energy official said in a Tuesday Austin City Council press conference.

“Until this weather event clears and more generation units across the state are able to come online, there will not be enough capacity to meet all energy consumer demands,” said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy general manager.

Sargent said Austin Energy started restoring energy to some customers by reaching out to large consumers and asking them to power down their facilities and use backup generators instead.

Austin Energy identified nonessential circuits to redirect energy from in case they need to prioritize power to buildings such as hospitals, 911 control centers and fire departments. 

These areas will not experience outages unless it is an “absolute last resort.”

Travis County Judge Andy Brown said he will sign an order this afternoon that requires places with lots of exterior lighting, such as large buildings and sports arenas, to turn off lights unless they serve an essential function.

This order will also prohibit businesses from price gouging certain goods, such as hotel rooms and essential supplies. 

“If you happen to see evidence of price gouging going on in Austin or Travis County, or anywhere in Texas, I would encourage you to document it and then report it immediately to the Office of the Attorney General,” Brown said.

People without power can go to warming centers the city opened for residents. The Palmer Events Center is currently the primary warming center, but the city opened additional centers at Mendez Middle School and Northeast Early College High School.

Austin city manager Spencer Cronk said he encourages residents to try to stay home if possible to keep shelters open for the most vulnerable residents. The Austin Police Department and CapMetro are currently providing free transportation to these locations. Residents can call 311 for these rides.

Cronk also said individuals who are COVID-19 positive and experiencing outages can call 311 to get to COVID-19 isolation facilities.

Mayor Steve Adler said residents should stay home if possible, as road conditions will likely worsen tonight due to the freezing rain forecast.

“We’re urging residents to stay home … to keep the roadways cleared for first responders and those that are seeking shelter,” Adler said.

By Tori Duff

3:30 pm: ERCOT press briefing

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Electric Reliability Council of Texas president Bill Magness said controlled power outages are necessary in an attempt to bring balance back to the electricity grid.

Inclement weather and low temperatures caused electricity demand to surpass supply, and 45 megawatts of electricity went offline, said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for ERCOT. Woodfin said ERCOT lost gas, wind and solar power due to the winter storms. 

Woodfin said ERCOT predicted the winter storms as early as Feb. 8 and made the necessary preparations. However, Monday morning's extreme weather conditions changed their plans, Magness said. Two to three million Texans are still out of power. 

“This one is a little beyond our normal weather," Woodfin said. 

Woodfin said when ERCOT implemented a "weatherization" checking process in 2011, they had never seen weather like this. Woodfin and Magness have no prediction for when controlled outages will end. 

“We are trying to manage the electric grid so we can get those folks back on their service quickly,” Magness said. “We are seeing the loss across the various generation types and those losses came at the same time we saw these storms sweep through.”

In order to bring the balance of electricity supply and demand back to the electric grid, Magness said ERCOT implemented controlled power outages. Magness said ERCOT tells certain regions how many megawatts of power they need returned to the electric grid and Texas cities decide where outages take place. Many Texans have experienced multiple days without heat and power

“The biggest variable (in predicting a timetable for outages) is that we are relying on the ability to get that supply and demand in balance by getting more generation on the system," Magness said.

By implementing rotating power outages, ERCOT is hoping to prevent an uncontrolled energy blackout, Magness said. Magness said that acting prematurely to stop outages or "speed the resolution," could lead to a blackout, which could last months.

“These controlled outages have been extremely difficult,” Magness said. “What we’re protecting against is worse.”

The temperatures on Wednesday are not expected to be as severe as previously in the week, Magness said, so power outages are not expected to worsen. Magness said higher temperatures will help decrease outages, by promoting solar energy and increased gas supply. 

By Samantha Greyson