Jack Frost doubled down on Central Texas this month — not with extreme cold, nor extreme rainfall, but with temperatures primarily 30 to 32 degrees and every drop of moisture freezing. This layered on our already stressed woody plants from Mother Nature’s onslaught over these past two years and brought them to their breaking point. Long-timers in this area were in total agreement of never having experienced such widespread destruction.
Texas, long used to hurricanes and tornados, experienced broad assault from this cold front, Winter Storm Mara, with up to 1.5” of ice on roads. Trees tumbling and being stripped of large branches downed power poles and lines, and blocked roads. Darkness ensued. Life was jolted back for many to 1880, although those hardy settlers were better prepared for those conditions.
Although several customers were still struggling Feb. 10 in those no-power areas where extensive repairs were needed, Austin Energy finally restored power to all remaining customers Saturday, minus those who needed electrical home repairs.
On Jan. 31, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell issued a local disaster declaration for our county. Later, the governor issued a disaster declaration for Texas. What does that mean for us citizens? Almost nothing.
First, damage estimates and costs to address the disaster must pass thresholds for the county, then the state. While the county has passed its threshold, the state is near $48 million for its threshold of $51.5 million, which could mean funds for disaster response work and costs incurred, and possibly some assistance for qualifying residents with property damage, not debris pickup.
All involved need to generate and maintain careful records and receipts: costs for fuel, overtime, salaries, damages to buildings and equipment or any other related costs. Our Williamson County auditor is ensuring county employees are reporting all possible eligible reimbursements. Other entities such as independent school districts, emergency service districts and cities must do the same.
Note: We did all this for the tornados in 2022 and didn’t reach the necessary damage thresholds for county or state and received no FEMA reimbursements for expenses incurred by the county. Much of the damage was within Round Rock. Individual property owners who applied received financial assistance for damage to their homes, outbuildings such as barns and sheds, and businesses. The FEMA-determined threshold for Wilco is $2.7 million based on $4.14/person from the 2020 census of 609,017 residents. Reimbursement of expenses does not exceed 90% of costs incurred. If we’re lucky, reimbursements for the ice storm could start within six months.