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Winter Storm Drenches San Antonio Region As South Texas Prepares For Freezing Weekend

Ice encases leaves in Llano County. This week's powerful winter storm coated most of Texas in snow and ice.
Courtesy of Will Leverett
Ice encases leaves in Llano County. This week's powerful winter storm coated most of Texas in snow and ice.

Thunderstorms drenched the San Antonio region on Thursday as a strong winter system poured an arctic airmass into South Texas. The storm promised to push temperatures into the teens and threatened a damp Valentine's Day weekend with freezing rain, sleet and even snow.

Bright bolts of lightning added a jarring effect to the storms as they swept torrents of heavy rain across downtown San Antonio.

The sun broke through the thick layers of gray cloud cover by late Thursday afternoon, but temperatures remained in the mid-30's.

Highs in the Alamo City were expected to remain in the 40's through Sunday. A freeze was likely Saturday night into early Sunday. The best chance of snow for San Antonio might be between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Monday.

The Austin/San Antonio office of the National Weather Service warned people to stay off the roads, starkly tweeting: "This cannot be overstated today: PLEASE, DO NOT TRAVEL in the Hill Country and Northern I-35 corridor. Conditions will continue to deteriorate as elevated roadways ice over first followed by other roads."

A winter storm warning was in effect until midnight for portions of the Hill Country, and by midday Thursday the NWS included Bexar County in its winter weather advisory.

Ice accumulations of a tenth of an inch in northern Bexar County to a quarter of an inch to the north and northwest in the Hill Country were expected Thursday night.

Forecasters predicted moderate to heavy rain from the Hill Country to Deep South Texas throughout Thursday. Forecasters also warned that ice accumulation on trees and power lines could lead to power outages.

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative reported no serious problems in the Hill Country as of Thursday afternoon.

Junction saw half-an-inch of ice accumulation on Thursday, and crews with the Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT, pretreated I-10 for icing.

A high pressure system will continue to send cold surges of air into the Hill Country and San Antonio area through early next week.

Lows near ten degrees are in the forecast for Sunday night into Monday and Monday night into Tuesday for some Hill Country towns, north and northwest of San Antonio.

The weather service reports Sunday night through Tuesday could easily be the coldest air experienced in a few years.

A deer sculpture greets visitors to Llano with ice sickles. Llano bills itself as the deer hunting capital of Texas.
Courtesy of Briley Mitchell / Llano Chamber of Commerce
A deer sculpture greets visitors to Llano with ice sickles. Llano bills itself as the deer hunting capital of Texas.

Homeless shelters in San Antonio were prepared to take in anyone in need of a warm place to stay during the cold and rainy days ahead.

A statement on Wednesday explained that new clients should present to Haven for Hope at 1 Haven for Hope Way between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Households with children are welcome at Haven for Hope any time of the day or evening, 24/7.

The Salvation Army Dave Coy Men’s Shelter provides overnight shelter at 226 Nolan St. Nightly enrollment begins at 3 p.m. daily through 8 p.m.

The South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH), in partnership with the City of San Antonio Department of Human Services, organized a collection drive for cold weather materials, including jackets, blankets, socks, and more.

Those items are available for street outreach workers and those in need at the San Fernando Homeless Resource Hub located at 319 W. Travis St.

Community members wishing to donate new cold weather gear can drop off donations at the San Fernando Homeless Resource Hub from Monday to Friday between 1 and 4 p.m.

Pet owners also had to prepare for the colder weather. Animal Care Services urged San Antonio residents to take steps now to protect their pets by bringing them inside.

If pets can't be in the home, then they should be placed in a warm space that protects them from the elements. They will also need extra food.

ACS warned residents that shielding pets from the cold weather was the law in San Antonio, and violations during extreme weather could result in $300 fines per violation. Residents may report violations in their community by calling the city's 3-1-1 customer service line.

The San Antonio region and the Hill Country were not the only parts of Texas impacted by the winter weather. The Laredo area, Rio Grande Valley, and the Coastal Bend also braced for the effects from freezing rain and plummeting temperatures.

Laredo and Corpus Christi faced precipitation through Monday. Lows in those cities will dip into mid 20s before dawn on Tuesday.

It will drop to the upper 20’s in Brownsville before dawn on Tuesday.

Officials in Corpus Christi rushed on Wednesday and Thursday to implement measures to ensure freezing temperatures would not affect essential services in the Gulf Coast city.

In a statement, officials also explained that they were "working with multiple local homeless agencies to ensure shelter, food, blankets, and clothing are provided for those in need during the severe cold and inclement weather. The Salvation Army has been identified as the lead agency in providing emergency shelter." City officials were also preparing warming centers for the homeless within city limits.

The city also called on its partnerships with Nueces County and with an array of other agencies, including the Texas Department of Emergency Management, TxDOT and the American Red Cross, as part of its preparations for winter weather.

The winter storm proved deadly to North Texas commuters on Thursday. NPR reported a 130-car pileup on I-35 W killed at least six people and injured dozens.

Officials said cars slid and were unable to stop before crashing into one another, including an ambulance that was hit by another vehicle as it arrived at the scene.

Multiple people were trapped in their cars and had to be extricated when workers arrived at the scene. The bad weather made rescue efforts even more challenging.

"This crash involves upwards of 100 vehicles, rolled over tractor trailers, just a complete annihilation of many of these vehicles." explained Matt Zavadsky, the public information officer with MedStar EMS in Fort Worth.

He said it could take a day or two or even longer to clear the crash site of damaged and entangled vehicles. Police said the accident could also take a long time to investigate.

Daniel Segura is a Fort Worth police officer.

"Please keep in your prayers the families who have lost a loved one in this massive fatality accident," said Daniel Segura, a Fort Worth police officer. "Again, in my almost 20 years in service, this is the first time ever that I see anything like this in Fort Worth."

Four police officers were also injured -- three on their way to work and one working at the scene -- but all have been released from the hospital.

Segura also reminded motorists to watch their speed and keep their distance from other vehicles.

In the midst of the worsening weather, some looked ahead and evaluated the consequences of the freezing conditions.

NWS Meteorologist Rick Hallman said on Thursday that the Rio Grande Valley had not seen temperatures this cold since December1989.

He said heavy losses to citrus tree orchards, agave farms, and non-winter vegetables are probable late Monday into Tuesday.

But peach grower Jamey Vogel of Vogel Orchard in Fredericksburg believed the local crop would weather this cold snap.

He said the rains before the coldest weather hydrated the trees, and the frozen branches could protect buds yet to bloom, since most trees are still in dormancy.

He said most Hill Country peach varieties can withstand hundreds of hours of freezing temperatures when scattered across an entire winter.

Vogel's parents started selling roadside peaches in the 1950s to grow their family orchard. He said roadside vending typically draws visitors from San Antonio and Austin and elsewhere in Texas in May.

KERA's Rebekah Morr and the Texas Newsroom's Stella Chavez contributed to this report.

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