The mayor of Austin, Texas, responded to mounting criticism and apologized Friday for a lack of communication with residents as a winter storm coated the city in ice and cut power — and heat — to thousands of residents for days.
The weather finally started to moderate Friday and bring some relief to frustrated Texans, particularly in Austin, where at any given time 30% of customers in the city of nearly a million were without electricity since the storm hit early this week.
“The city let its citizens down. The situation is unacceptable to the community, and it’s unacceptable to me,” Mayor Kirk Watson, a Democrat, said at a news conference. “And I’m sorry.”
Nearly 122,000 customers remained without power late Friday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.
Texas wasn't the only state where the lights went dark. About 82,000 Arkansans experienced winter weather-related outages on Thursday. Read more about that here.
Meanwhile, a new wave of frigid weather that forecasters warned could be the coldest in decades began rolling into the Northeast, leading communities to close schools and open warming centers. Wind chills in some higher elevations could punch below minus 50 (minus 45 Celsius).
In Texas, Austin officials compared damage from fallen trees and iced-over power lines to tornadoes as they came under criticism for slow repairs and shifting timelines to restore power. Nearly 240,000 customers across the state lacked power early Friday, down from 430,000 on Thursday, according to PowerOutage.us.
“Our heat source is our fireplace ... and we’ve been in bed, snuggled up under like five or six blankets,” Edward Dahlke, of Spring Branch, southwest of Austin, told KSAT-TV. “Just think that our utility companies need to do a better job making sure our infrastructure is maintained properly.”
Thursday night, officials in Austin backtracked on early estimates that power would be fully restored by Friday evening. Damage was worse than originally calculated, they said, and they could no longer provide an estimate.
The outages recalled the 2021 blackouts in Texas, when hundreds of people died after the state’s power grid was pushed to the brink of total failure because of a lack of generation. There have been no reports of deaths from this week's power outages, though the storm and freeze have been blamed for at least 12 traffic fatalities on slick roads in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Two fatal crashes occurred in Fort Worth as streets refroze overnight. Lows on Friday night could reach freezing again and potentially glaze over the streets again.
In New England, temperatures began plunging Friday morning.
“The worst part of the upcoming cold snap is going to be the wind,” which has already topped 80 mph (129 kph) in higher elevations, said National Weather Service lead forecaster Bob Oravec. Frigid wind chills — the combined effect of wind and cold air on exposed skin — are expected Saturday.
The worst wind chills in the populated areas of the Northeast shouldn’t go lower than minus 40 (minus 40 Celsius), he said.
Wind gusts began cutting power Friday to some homes in New England, and many communities opened warming shelters, including in Maine and Connecticut.
Some ski areas in the two states scaled back operations, eliminating night skiing or reducing lift operations. In Maine, a popular weekend pond hockey tournament was postponed, and the National Toboggan Championship pushed Saturday’s races back by a day.
Schools closed Friday in Boston and in Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city. “In these conditions, frostbite can develop in as little as 30 minutes," an announcement on the Manchester district's website read. "This is simply too cold for students who walk home.”
Some of the most extreme weather was expected atop New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest peak and home to a weather observatory, where winds gusted to nearly 100 mph (160 kph) and wind chills could reach minus 100 (minus 73 Celsius).
The system is expected to move out of the region Sunday.