How Can I Prepare for a Winter Storm in Texas?
Compared to what northern cities like Minneapolis, MN or Chicago, IL experience, Texas winters are mild. Much of the state usually enjoys winter daytime highs in the 50°F range (or higher!) with night time lows only reaching freezing temperatures on occasion. And that doesn’t even account for the warmer temperatures you’ll find in Houston, San Antonio, and South Texas.
That doesn’t mean the occasional snow and ice storm don’t hit the Lone Star State. They do! As the recent January 2017 ice storm in the Panhandle showed, heavy ice can break power lines, leaving thousands of households without electricity or heat. And even though the cold weather usually leaves in 48 hours, freezing conditions can linger in Texas as far south as Houston for several days.
The best way to get through a winter storm is to prepare for it ahead of time. If your home is equipped with a generator, simply make sure you have enough fuel on hand, and you’ll be set. If you don’t, you need to know what to expect so you and your family can react appropriately (and safely!) if you have a power outage.
Make a Plan
Before a winter storm is even forecast, make a plan that fits your situation, This will help determine whether you can shelter in place or need to evacuate, whether to a community shelter or a warmer climate. In your plan, you must account for the following:
1) How well your home retains heat. Many well-insulated homes can retain heat for 8 to 12 hours. If there are drafts, take steps to block these up and also look for ways to air seal your home.
2) The status of your emergency preparedness kit. If you don’t have one already, just build one!
- One gallon of drinking water per person per day for at least three days (and don’t forget your pets)
- At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- A box containing kitchen and eating utensils and a manual can opener
- Flashlights, electric lanterns, radio, and plenty of fresh batteries
- Food for pets
- Adequate stock of your prescriptions and other medications
3) How to drive in bad conditions. As in, DON’T! Most fatalities during severe winter weather come from driving accidents in snowy and icy conditions. But if a storm is coming, make sure your vehicle is fueled and equipped with gloves and mittens for the riders, blankets, a shovel, car ice scraper, winter-grade windshield washer fluid, and a bag of sand (for traction) in case you need to evacuate your home. To learn more about driving in treacherous winter conditions in Texas, please read this post from the Texas Department of Transportation.
4) Check that your emergency garage door release works. Most automatic garage doors have one of these in case the power goes out. Look for a red cord with an attached handle.
5) The condition of the infants under one year old and elderly adults in your home. These folks lose body heat rapidly, and once body temperature falls below 95°F, they can develop hypothermia. If first aid is required, cover them with blankets, keep them warm, and provide them with warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages. If circumstances become such that you are worried about keeping them warm, immediately evacuate them to a place they can stay warm such as a community shelter.
6) Assess the status of your electronics. Be sure to charge any technology to capacity – cell phones, tablets, laptops, or basically anything that can keep you informed about weather conditions (and also summon help if you need it).
Sheltering in Place
If you choose to stay in your home in case a winter storm causes a power outage in your area, your first order of business MUST be to conserve heat. A properly sealed and insulated home will retain heat at a comfortable level for 8 to 12 hours.
As the house begins to get colder and less comfortable:
- Have everyone put on warmer clothing such as sweaters, long pants, and thick socks.
- Close off upstairs rooms as well as rooms far from the center of the house. At night, distribute blankets, and keep everyone in the center areas of the home where the bulk of house’s heat is retained. Humans put out a lot of heat, so by concentrating your family together in a small and central part of your home, you can stay more comfortable longer.
- Hang spare blankets over windows and entrances to slow the loss of heat.
- In case municipal or home well pumps may lose power, Fill several buckets of water for washing dishes and for sanitation.
If conditions make it difficult to keep warm (such as your home’s temperature falls below 45 °F and stays there), then move to a community shelter. Use your hurricane evacuation kit in this situation, and add warm clothing.
Food and the Fridge
If a power outage occurs, the food in your fridge will begin to warm to the ambient temperature of your house. Even in winter, you need to monitor the food’s temperature and avoid opening the fridge door. If foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers warms up to 40°F for more than two hours, you should throw them out. Fortunately, if it’s cold outside, you can take advantage of this by packing these perishable foods into sealable coolers and placing them on your deck / patio or inside your garage (as long as the temperature is below 40°F)
It’s also important to stay nourished and remain active, as this will help circulated your blood and keep you warm. Avoid getting overheated outside, because sweating can quickly lead to hypothermia. To stay dry, dress in layers, wear a warm hat, and wear clothing that wicks moisture from your skin.
Lighting and Heating Dangers
- Battery-powered flashlights and lamps are the safest way to light your home. New LED equipped lamps are inexpensive, use little electricity, and many can be recharged by the sun.
- Candles and oil lamps are less safe to use. They should never be left burning unattended or in a room where someone is sleeping. Make sure everyone knows where the fire extinguishers is located.
- NEVER use an outdoor propane or charcoal grill to heat the inside of your home. In addition to producing sparks and other fire hazards, the carbon monoxide gas produced is highly lethal.
- DO NOT try to heat your home with with a gas range or oven, as they pose a threat for fire or explosion.
- If you use a kerosene heater, be sure to know how to use it safely and provide it with proper ventilation. ONLY USE 1-K grade kerosene fuel since using or mixing other fuels with kerosene increases the chance for explosion and fire.
For more information on how to stay safe this and every winter, check out NOAA’s “Winter Storm Safety Tips and Resources” page.