While winter in Texas is generally milder compared to many other parts of the country, many Texans know that when a particularly chilly cold snap strikes, it can really take a toll. That's why it’s essential to be prepared for the occasional cold weather and potential hazards that may arise during the winter months.
Here are some helpful safety tips to keep you safe and warm during a winter weather emergency.
Monitor the Weather and Stay Informed About Power Outages
Stay informed about upcoming weather conditions. In winter, cold fronts can bring sudden drops in temperature. Pay attention to weather forecasts and warnings, especially during freezing rain or ice storms. This information can help you plan your activities and take necessary precautions.
Winter storms can sometimes result in power outages. Have a plan in place in case of an outage, including alternative heating sources and a supply of blankets. Keep electronic devices charged, and consider investing in a portable generator if power outages are frequent in your area.
Prepare Your Home
Even in Texas, homes can get chilly during the winter months. Make sure your heating system is in good working order by scheduling a professional inspection ahead of the season. Many local providers even offer discounts or specials to get your home winter-ready.
Check for drafts around windows and doors, and consider using weather stripping or caulking to seal any gaps. Insulate exposed pipes to prevent freezing, and know how to turn off the water in case of a burst pipe.
Fireplaces can be a cozy source of heat during the winter, but it's essential to use them safely. Similar to winterizing your home, have your chimney inspected and cleaned regularly, especially ahead of the season, to prevent chimney fires. Use a screen to contain sparks, and never leave a fire unattended. Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before going to bed. Always have a fire extinguisher on hand and make sure everyone in the home knows where it is and how to use it.
As winter sets in, heating the home becomes a priority. Doing so improperly, however, can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Burning fuel produces CO, a colorless, odorless gas that, when present in high concentrations — like in a poorly ventilated room — invades red blood cells, crowding out oxygen. The condition claims the lives of more than 400 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number one sign of mild to moderate CO poisoning is a headache; other signs include weakness, fatigue, dizziness and confusion. Chest pain and trouble breathing may occur in severe cases.
A few simple precautions can help keep your family safe from CO. Arrange for a technician to service all fuel-burning appliances once a year, and if you have a chimney, get it inspected for disrepair and ventilation problems. Also, install CO detectors near all bedrooms. it’s important to ensure that your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order. Change the batteries regularly and test the alarms to keep you and your home safe.
If you develop symptoms or are suspicious of CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately, and call 911.
Dress in Layers
Texans are accustomed to warmer temperatures, even in winter. But even though you may not need more than your good old winter coat most winter days in Texas, it’s still good to have some layering pieces for when that particularly harsh winter weather hits.
Layering is key to staying warm in fluctuating temperatures. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your skin, add an insulating layer for warmth, and finish with a waterproof and windproof outer layer to protect against cold winds and precipitation.
Be Cautious on the Roads
Unlike our neighbors north of us, many Texans are not accustomed to driving in winter conditions like when the roads are wet or icy. First things first, if you don’t have to be on the road, stay home or rely on public transportation that may be better able to navigate the conditions. But if you have to drive, exercise caution, especially on bridges and overpasses, slow down — even if the roads seem dry — increase following distances and watch the car ahead of you for any signs of slipping or avoiding sections of the road, and avoid sudden movements, like hitting the brakes or swerving your wheel. Additionally, turn on your headlights to help spot icy pavement ahead and allow other drivers to see you clearer.
If you hit a patch of black ice while driving, it's important to remain calm and take specific actions to ensure safety. Here's what you should do:
- Avoid hitting the brakes and try to keep the steering wheel straight. If the back end of your car starts sliding, make a very gentle turn of the steering wheel in the same direction.
- If you skid or lose traction, stay calm and use the minimum amount of braking possible.
- If possible, do not accelerate, turn, or brake until you reach dry pavement.
Remember, black ice is transparent and can be difficult to spot, so it's crucial to remain vigilant and take these precautions to ensure your safety when driving in icy conditions.
Keep an emergency kit in your car with items like blankets, non-perishable snacks, a flashlight, and maybe even a backup battery to charge your phone in case you get stranded.
Use Caution with Space Heaters & Generators
Using a space heater may be an economical way to heat up one particular room you’re spending time in versus your whole home. However, if you use space heaters, follow safety guidelines, especially when using gas heaters. Keep them at least three feet away from flammable materials, and turn them off when leaving the room or going to bed. Avoid using extension cords with space heaters, and ensure they are in good working condition.
In the event of a power outage, some people use generators for backup power. If you use a generator, place it outdoors in a well-ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe operation.
Learn Cold Weather First Aid & Be Prepared for Outages
Keep an adequate supply of essential items, including non-perishable food, bottled water, medications, and other necessities, in case of inclement weather or disruptions to daily routines. Think of items you can eat that do not require electricity to prepare, and always keep a manual can opener on hand if you typically rely on an electric opener.
Cold weather can be deceptively dehydrating. Even though you may not feel as thirsty as you do in the summer, it's important to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to maintain your overall health and well-being.
Being prepared for winter also means knowing how to address cold-weather-related health issues. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid for conditions like frostbite and hypothermia. While hypothermia is not as common in Texas as in colder climates, it can still occur, especially during extreme weather events like the one we experienced in early 2021.
Be mindful of symptoms such as shivering, confusion, and slurred speech. If you suspect someone is experiencing hypothermia, seek medical help immediately and attempt to warm the person with blankets and warm drinks.
Stay connected with your community and neighbors. In times of extreme weather, communities often come together to support one another. Check on elderly or vulnerable neighbors to ensure they have the resources they need.
In conclusion, while winters in Texas may be relatively mild, it's essential to be prepared for occasional cold spells and winter weather hazards. By following these safety tips, Texans can ensure that they stay warm, healthy, and safe during the winter months.