Hard freeze on New Year’s Eve thins crowds at Austin outdoor bash

Dec 31, 2017
Jay Janner
Maddie Romero, 8, puts on her earmuffs after getting her face painted at the New Year’s Eve celebration at Vic Mathias Shores on Sunday. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Frigid temperatures kept crowds small Sunday at Austin’s New Year’s Eve party along Lady Bird Lake as a hard freeze warning by the National Weather Service was in effect for Central Texas counties until Wednesday.

Missing amid the temperatures that slipped below freezing Sunday night were the throngs who would crowd the shores early to get a good spot to watch fireworks scheduled for 10 p.m. At 4 p.m., with the temperature downtown at a biting 33 degrees, a little more than 100 people had come out for the free event.

Alexis Martinez laid a blanket down on the grass, one of the few setting up early to prepare for the nighttime show.

“This is OK for now,” she said. “If it gets any colder, I don’t know.”

The hard freeze warning meant that forecasters were expecting temperatures to drop into the 20s at night and stay at or below 32 degrees during the day. Despite the warning, handfuls braved the winter weather, arriving at Vic Mathias Shores bundled head-to-toe.

Randy and Tina Parsons, who showed off their six layers, gloves and earmuffs, had traveled from West Palm Beach, Fla., to catch some live music instead of heading home to the Northeast.

“And we’ve got our nice New England weather,” Tina Parsons said in good spirits.

“It’s all about the music,” Randy Parsons said.

At the other end of the park, Chastity Francis wrapped her two daughters in blankets. Both seemed unfettered by the cold.

“The girls, they love live music,” Francis said. “I didn’t factor in the moisture, though.”

A chilly mist hung in the air as bands played to sparse crowds at the festival’s four stages.

On the east end, a family of seven huddled around one of only a half-dozen lighted space heaters along the lake to hear Austin performer James Junius play.

“We live a few blocks away, so it wasn’t bad for us to come down here,” said Stuart Sullivan, who was sure he wouldn’t stay for the fireworks. “The cold will drive us away. It’s a bummer.”

“I guess the warmth is all in our hearts,” Junius said as he strummed his guitar.

In the eight years Austin has thrown the free New Year’s Eve party, the city canceled only in 2015, when there was a threat of freezing rain, spokeswoman Alicia Dean said. This year, the city monitored the weather and decided to move forward with the celebration, despite the fickle December weather, she said.

The alcohol-free event is a draw for families hoping to make it home before midnight, Dean said.

An employee at Roppolo’s Pizzeria, one of about a dozen food vendors at the event, said people might make their way to Vic Mathias Shores from the bars by nightfall.

Brad Sutton, the pizzeria’s general manager, recalled how at this time last year, when daytime temperatures were in the 70s, they had a crowd of nearly 60 people lining up for food.

“Only time will tell,” Sutton said. “It’s Texas. If it’s below 60, the city shuts down.”