Winter storms in Texas are especially dangerous because they’re not common. The February 2021 storm enveloping the state has caused massive electricity outages across the state, some of it in an effort to control usage and protect the most Texans.
Storms can feature blizzards, ice storms and freezing rain, wind chills, sleet, and black ice. Or they can result, like the current storm, in sustained freezing temperatures. Your residence may lose power and your pipes could freeze. Plus, there is the prospect of hypothermia, frostbite, and dangerous roads.
To minimize damage to your home, take time to prepare it and your family for extreme winter weather, starting with a couple of definitions:
- Winter storm watch: Conditions are possible within 36 to 48 hours. It’s a good idea to review your storm plan during this time.
- Winter storm warning: Severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.
If the second is issued, it’s time to take action. “People in a warning area should take precautions immediately – it’s critical to stay alert and to listen to the advice of local officials,” says Tom Heneghan, senior manager of Community Preparedness Education for the American Red Cross..
Before the threat of winter storms
One of the first steps to take, Heneghan says, is to make sure you have plenty of heating fuel on hand. You also should ensure that alternative heating sources are functional – and safe. “Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces and chimneys inspected annually by a professional and cleaned if necessary,” Heneghan says.
One major reason this is important: This is also the time of year when house fires increase. The National Fire Protection Association says about half 50 of all home heating fires happen during December, January, and February. It’s vital to keep children and pets away from these heating sources.
If you must venture outdoors during a winter storm, Heneghan advises that you dress in layers and wear a hat and mittens or gloves. Layers also can help if there is a power outage and you don’t have an alternative heat source. That means equipping yourself and your family members with gloves, mittens, hats, heavy coats and extra blankets to help weather the outage.
Keep emergency supplies on hand
Another preparation that’s necessary is keeping an emergency supply on hand throughout the year. It is helpful both for winter storms and summer/fall hurricanes. Early December is a good time to update your emergency stock.
Your preparedness kit should include:
- Water – one gallon per person per day, with at least a three-day supply.
- Food – nonperishables that don’t have to be refrigerated and can be eaten with little to no preparation. Again, at least a 3-day supply.
- Flashlights and extra batteries.
- A weather radio and extra batteries.
- First aid kit
- Medications (7-day supply) and necessary medical items.
- Cellphones and chargers. Keep charged as much as possible. A car charger also is useful.
- Copies of keys and personal documents
- Food and other supplies for your pets.
If you lose power during a storm, remember to unplug large appliances to prevent harmful power surges once electricity is restored.
If you’ve lost power, try to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as you can. “An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours,” Heneghan says. Or, “surround your food with ice in a cooler or in the refrigerator to keep food fresh for a longer period of time.”
Once the storm has passed
Even if you believe the extreme conditions have passed, continue to monitor local broadcasts or listen to your weather radio for updates and further information. “Access to some parts of the community may be limited or roads may be blocked by snow or emergency vehicles,” Heneghan says. He recommends limiting driving until you’re positive that conditions have improved. Winter storms often are followed by even colder conditions, Heneghan says.
One other thing is to check on your neighbors, especially if they’re elderly, disabled, or have small children.
Once the worst of a storm is over, you might want to clear the snow and debris around you, but Heneghan warns against trying to do too much. “Heart attacks from shoveling heavy snow are a leading cause of death during the winter,” he says.
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