As published in the Lake Travis View, February 2021.
For the first time in history, the entire state of Texas was recently placed under a record-setting Winter Storm Warning when a frigid arctic blast gripped much of the U.S. Across the state, thousands of residents suffered hardships due to loss of power, water pressure, and communication (internet and phone) services. Roads were quickly encased in ice, making emergency services slow to respond and personal travel nearly impossible. But hope was found in the hard working professionals going above and beyond to restore these services as well as neighbors helping neighbors: sharing what supplies and services they could offer. Although this extreme, rare storm was unpredictable, what can we do to better prepare ourselves when emergencies arise? As an essential services provider, it is a question we address with our team on a regular basis to help protect our infrastructure, staff, and customers.
“Infrastructure in this part of the country is not built to withstand the extensive periods of below freezing temperature we recently experienced,” said Raf Mendoza, LMUD’s Water Department Supervisor. “When we talk about extreme weather, our focus has been withstanding extreme heat, drought, flooding, and wildfires. Rarely do we discuss extreme cold because all predictions indicate our climate is getting warmer, not colder. Thankfully, Lakeway’s water infrastructure is fairly new and well-maintained, compared to a lot of systems across the United States, so materials used and regulations followed during the installation process are built to withstand severe weather common in our area.”
“The first step in emergency preparedness is knowing the likelihood of various threats in your area,”
– Earl Foster, LMUD General Manager
“The first step in emergency preparedness is knowing the likelihood of various threats in your area,” said Earl Foster, LMUD’s General Manager. “Our data comes from climatology studies, industry and regional planners, as well as the personal experience of our staff. We make improvements to our system as well as provide staff training based on these findings so we can be better prepared rather than just react in a crisis situation.”
“We’ve learned, however, that our own preparedness can only take us so far. It’s really a continual community effort that helps keep the impact of disasters to a minimum,” said Stephanie Threinen, LMUD’s Public Information Liaison. “For a small utility, we publish a lot of information to help educate our customers about maintaining their home’s plumbing system because it can greatly impact our ability to continue providing reliable water and wastewater services. For example, putting grease down drains cannot only clog a home’s plumbing, but if it reaches our mainlines, can cause a clog that impacts a whole neighborhood! Conservation is also key; all of our raw water comes from Lake Travis and with predicted hotter temperatures and longer periods of drought, there could easily be water shortages.”
Emergency preparedness is something everyone can do to help protect their assets and family. Knowing which threats are more likely in your area during different times of year can help you know how to prepare. For example, in Central Texas severe weather threats typically include:
- Extreme heat has the highest weather-related fatality rate. Texas summers are long with highest average temperatures occurring in July and August, often reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit for several days in a row.
- Flooding is common near rivers and low-lying areas. In fact, some meteorologists proclaim Austin and the outlying Hill Country as “Flash Flood Alley,” the worst area in the country for intense flooding. The wettest months of the year are April and May with average annual precipitation ranging from 21 to 35 inches.
- Drought in Texas is much more likely during La Niña. La Niña, or the cooling of South Pacific Ocean water temperatures, translates to warmer, drier atmospheric conditions for much of the South that peak through fall and winter seasons. Because of these dry conditions, much of western Austin and Travis County are at high risk for wildfire. Lake levels can also quickly drop with too little precipitation to replenish them.
- Thunderstorms can bring dangerous lightening and damaging hail. These storms can happen any time of year, but are most common in the spring.
- Tornados are possible, but not common. “Tornado Alley” stops short of Central Texas. The most likely time to see a tornado in Texas is March, April, and May.
The old Lone Star adage, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a day, it will change” rings true, but as we recently experienced, the aftereffects of a few short days can last a much longer time. Stay prepared, neighbors and plan ahead!
Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for the Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD). Earl Foster is the general manager of LMUD.