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Icepocalypse 2014

The end of January was a scary one for a lot of us Austinites. The couple of ice storms turned Icepocalypse that hit the city were a definite wake up call for a lot of Austin drivers. Texans are definitely not accustomed to anything cold like snow and ice and they specially know less about driving in those conditions. Driving on ice and snow is something that is learned over time and when you live somewhere where that doesn’t happen often, things are sure to get a little crazy on the road. Austin saw up to 278 crash-related incidents in a 16 hour period, according to Austin police chief; all due to icy road conditions and people not being more cautious with their driving.

This event was a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions and location, about as bad as it gets. Here’s a list of why this ice storm in Austin was as bad as it was:

  • Freezing rain: This type of precipitation causes dangerous, highly slick and hard-to-see icing on roads.
  • Impacting an area immediately after a period of warm temperatures: Winter precipitation that falls following warm temperatures causes mainly bridge icing, which has a high element of surprise, catching drivers off-guard who are traveling full highway speeds.
  • Light precipitation amounts: Because precipitation amounts were light, this was not going to be a major storm by most criteria. This often leads to a sense of complacency by drivers who are not expecting conditions to be very ‘bad’.
  • In a location where road icing is rare: This event was impacting an area that sees icy roads once a year or even less
  • In a location where de-icing infrastructure is non-existent: There are no (or very, very few) salt trucks in the region, only a ‘skeleton crew’ of sand trucks.

The last two weeks of January were filled with some definite weird weather, from snow to 70+ degree weather, to rain, to wind, to ice. The city of Austin took preemptive measures to keep the roads drivable. The Texas Department of Transportation had sprayed 2,500 gallons of de-icing mix on Austin area roads and had 131 crews start working the ice on interstates and highways. But even with their efforts there was an outstanding number of car accidents and road closures.

Some of the roads that faced closures on that Tuesday morning included:

  • The upper deck at Interstate 35 closed in both directions.
  • In Round Rock, State Highway 45 ramps
  • The bridge at Heatherwilde Boulevard and SH 45
  • Facing west bound on Braker for the bridge over MoPac
  • Blocking 2 lanes on E US 290 HWY bridge (Berkman overpass)
  • 183 SB at Burnet road blocking the SB proper
  •  Blocking on ramp to WB Ben White at 4800 block of E Ben White
  • 1 lane shut down NB 10 block North Pleasant Valley
  • Shut down the iced overpass at 6900 blk S MoPac NB over W Wm Cannon
  • Blocking NB 183 proper under 290. pushing all traffic to the service road at Cameron.
  • Eastbound Highway 71 forcing traffic off at the Montopolis Drive exit
  • S. Capital of TX NB exit ramp / W US 290 Hwy blocking NB S Cap of TX

And that’s not even the half of it. More closures and blocks were made throughout the ice day in attempt to keep people off the roads and a chance for crews to work on de-icing.

The roads in Austin became a slip and slide for all drivers who ventured out without knowing how to control their cars from sliding out. On top of all the damages from the collisions, there are still more than 2.5 million Texans that lack car insurance coverage — about 14.3 percent of all drivers. If you found yourself in a bad position due to the ice storms you should definitely get yourself insured as soon as possible because who knows what kind of weather February has in store. You shouldn’t risk getting caught in a bad storm and also being punished for not following Texas laws.