NWS Austin to start issuing ‘Ice Storm Warnings’

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The National Weather Service Austin/San Antonio office announced on Wednesday that an alternative warning may be issued in the event a significant ice storm is being forecast.

Previously, that office had chosen not to issue Ice Storm Warnings in favor of Winter Weather Advisories or Winter Storm Warnings for impactful or disruptive winter weather, including ice caused by freezing rain.

Late January into early February 2023 saw a crippling ice storm impact Central Texas. By Monday morning, Jan. 30, 2023, Winter Storm Warnings were in effect for most of the 15 counties KXAN covers, with significant icing specifically mentioned as the primary threat.

Winter Storm Warning in effect from January 30-Feb 1
Winter Storm Warning in effect from January 30-Feb 1, 2023

Avoiding “Ice Storm Warning”

NWS Austin/San Antonio had avoided the use of “Ice Storm Warnings” in the past with the belief that “Winter Storm Warnings” are sufficient to warn ahead of multiple types of wintry precipitation and getting *only* ice (not sleet or snow) is very rare.

In addition, NWS Austin/San Antonio Warning Coordination Meteorologist Paul Yura wrote “most times we have felt that as long as the messaging is consistent with partners, the Winter Storm Warnings can be the “Go To”  winter product when accumulations of ice are significant and will get major impacts (travel and power outages).”

In late January’s major ice storm, some neighboring offices decided to issue “Ice Storm Warnings,” while NWS Austin/San Antonio stuck with the Winter Storm Warning product. In total, Austin’s Camp Mabry received 0.69″ of ice accumulation, enough to cause significant and widespread power outages and tree damage.

Ice Storm Warning will be an option

After a post-storm collaboration with public and private partners, NWS Austin/San Antonio will now issue Ice Storm Warnings under certain conditions going forward. Generally, when the expectation is that a quarter-inch or more of ice accumulation would cause significant power outages over counties in their warning area, they will issue an Ice Storm Warning. Power outage numbers drastically increased when Austin reached 0.25″ of ice accumulation back in January/February 2023.

For future issuance of Ice Storm Warnings, this won’t be the only criteria. If impactful snow and sleet are expected to mix with ice then they may default to Winter Storm Warnings. The coverage (isolated vs. widespread) of ice greater than a quarter inch may also be a factor, but this gives them another messaging tool going forward.

Of course, the KXAN First Warning Weather Team will pass along any warnings or advisories for winter weather as soon as they are issued. Make sure you have the KXAN Weather App downloaded to sign up for alerts where you live.

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