Winter Storm URI

Written by  BILL HALE, P.E., CHIEF ENGINEER, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

A FEW DAYS BEFORE VALENTINE’S Day this year, something more than love was in the air. A bone-chilling, record-breaking winter storm invaded Texas, putting millions in the dark, leaving many without running water and forcing families to hunker down. TxDOT crews were out working—before, during and after the big freeze—plowing snow from impacted roads, blading ice-laden bridges and serving Texans when they needed it the most.

TxDOT’s call to duty started long before temperatures dropped and icy precipitation covered the state. Leading up to the storm, personnel monitored the impeding weather and checked employee and equipment readiness. Eventually, the breadth of the storm engulfed every one of the state’s 254 counties from the Panhandle to the Valley and points east and west. And by the time the several-day weather event was over, half of TxDOT’s nearly 12,000 statewide workforce would be called in to help keep Texas roads and bridges clear.

When the first wave of cold temperatures hit the state, TxDOT crews began pretreating roads to help improve traction and stave off ice accumulation. Those low temperatures eventually brought sleet and freezing rain to portions of Texas, quickly followed by freezing rain and snow. For days, the cycle repeated itself—sleet, freezing rain and snow—and for days, TxDOT crews were out with their snowplows and motor graders to blade snow and ice, aided by several contractors who provided equipment and operators to help in the mission.

As the storm lingered, TxDOT eventually went into 24-hour operations—employees working 12- to 13- hour shifts at a time—to prevent damage to the state’s roads and bridges. Personnel from Austin headquarters divisions staffed the department’s Emergency Operations Center and the State Operations Center round-the-clock to help coordinate department personnel, equipment and materials.

Keeping department operations up and running during the storm was not an easy feat. At one point during the storm, nearly 6,000 roadway sections were affected by snow or ice - in every one of the department’s 25 districts.

When temperatures dropped in southeast Texas, some department brine makers froze. Employees in our Beaumont District resorted to shipping in brine from other areas of Texas. When a maintenance office in the district lost water—a key ingredient in making the brine solution—necessity became the mother of invention and employees hooked up a pump to the Trinity Bay to keep the water flowing.

When Texas residents and businesses lost power during the storm, TxDOT offices were not exempt. Many TxDOT locations kept operations going with backup generators. And many employees went beyond the call of duty, helping stranding motorists who had run out of gas or had lost control of their cars on snowy and icy roadways. TxDOT employees also assisted in clearing and maintaining routes to multiple critical infrastructure facilities, helped agencies and local governments clear roads as requested, and provided fuel to the Department of Public Safety, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Animal Health Commission.

But it wasn’t just TxDOT’s boots-on-the ground who were helping Texans affected by the storm. Equally important to our mission of keeping Texans safe is our roadway condition line and website, DriveTexas. org. During this past winter storm, more than 96,900 calls were made to the dedicated line, and more than 3.6 million sessions to DriveTexas.org.

The winter storm of 2021 certainly tested everyone’s mettle, but TxDOT’s commitment to Connecting You With Texas stood strong.



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