Winter Weather Preparedness

Extreme winter weather events are becoming more and more frequent across the state of Texas. Extreme winter weather can last for days, cut off heat, power, and communication services, and puts the elderly and children at elevated risk. Make sure these severe weather events never catch you off guard! 

Preparing for Winter Weather

Making a plan before winter weather strikes is crucial to being prepared. 

Prep an emergency supply kit for your car including:   

  • Jumper cables: flares or reflective triangles are great extras
  • Flashlights: Replace the batteries before the winter season starts and pack some extras
  • First Aid Kit: Also check your purse or bag for essential medications
  • Baby, special needs gear: If you have a baby or family member with special needs, pack diapers, and any special formula or food   
  • Food: Stock non-perishable food such as canned food and a can opener, dry cereal, and protein-rich foods like nuts and energy bars  
  • Water: Have at least 1 gallon of water per person a day for at least 3 days  
  • Basic toolkit: Pliers, wrench, screwdriver   
  • Pet supplies: Food and water   
  • Radio: Battery or hand cranked    
  • Cat litter or sand: For better tire traction   
  • Shovel: To dig out snow 
  • Ice scraper: Even if you usually park in a garage, have one in the car.   
  • Clothes: Make sure you dress for the weather in warm clothes, gloves, hat, sturdy boots, jacket, and an extra change of clothes for the cold 
  • Warmers: Pack extra for body, hands, feet 
  • Blanketsor sleeping bags: If you get stranded in traffic on a lonely road   
  • Charged Cell Phone: Keep a spare charger in your car as well  

Weatherproofing Your Home and Vehicle

Prepare your home for the cold with insulation, caulking, and weather stripping along windows and doors. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups. Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power such as food, water bottles, medications, and pet food. Be sure to have batteries on hand for radios and flashlights.

Prepare your car by airing up tires, checking your battery, filling up your gas tank, and reviewing your emergency supply kit.  

If you must drive in a winter storm, first check that your route is accessible on DriveTexas. Then, follow these tips: 

  • Account for extra travel time: Winter weather is sure to slow you down on the road. Leave early and drive safe
  • Remove snow and ice: Use an ice scraper to clear the windows and windshield completely
  • Buckle up: Secure yourself and children before leaving
  • Drive slow: If you're uncertain about the condition of the road, drive 10 miles under the speed limit
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly: Try not to slam on your brakes or rev your engine
  • Do NOT use cruise control: You always want to be in control of your vehicle.
  • Watch for black ice: Thin, transparent ice that blends in with the color of the pavement, commonly known as black ice, is especially dangerous because it’s hard to spot. The best way to handle black ice is to let up on both the gas and brakes, and keep the wheel straight.

Protecting Pipes in Cold Weather

According to the American Red Cross, water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the strength of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break. Pipes that freeze most frequently are those exposed to the severe cold outdoors, water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and kitchen cabinets, and pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.

Protect your pipes by:

  • Draining water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines: Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping
  • Removing, draining, and storing hoses used outdoors: Leaving hoses connected through winter weather, can cause the water to freeze inside the hose bibs, which can cause them to burst
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate 
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during the day and at night 
  • Add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces: Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas
  • Locate water supply lines in unheated areas: Check the garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets for hot and cold water pipes and insulate those
  • Insulate with newspaper or products designed to insulate pipes: Newspapers can provide protection to exposed pipes – even 0.25" of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes: Relocating exposed pipes can provide increased protection from freezing

If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home and make sure pipes are drained.

Staying Safe During Winter Weather

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have these recommendations for staying safe indoors during winter weather.

Heat Your Home Safely

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Turning on the stove for heat is not safe; have at least one of the following heat sources in case the power goes out:

  • Extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter coats
  • Fireplace: Use fireplaces, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak gas from the flue or exhaust into the indoor air space. Do not burn paper in a fireplace
  • Portable space heaters: Keep heat sources, like space heaters, at least 3 feet away from drapes, furniture, or bedding. 
    • Never cover your space heater
    • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water
    • Never leave children unattended near a space heater
    • Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard, but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs
    • Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater
    • If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it
  • Use electric space heaters with automatic shut-off switches and non-glowing elements: Make sure to keep them away from any flammable materials, like curtains or blankets.

Light Your Home Safely

If there is a power failure:

  • Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles: Candles can lead to house fires.
  • Candles: If you do use candles, never leave lit candles unattended

Conserve Heat in Your Home

  • Some gas-fueled heaters, such as ventless gas fireplaces, require some ventilation. Otherwise, if you don’t need extra ventilation, keep as much heat as possible inside your home
  • Avoid unnecessarily opening doors or windows
  • Close off unneeded rooms
  • Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors
  • Close draperies or cover windows with blankets at night

Outdoor Safety During Winter Weather

The National Weather Service (NWS) and CDC have these recommendations for outdoor safety during winter weather.

Dress Warm and Stay Dry

Layering up helps to hold body heat and prevents outer layers from absorbing moisture. Wool, silk, or polypropylene will hold more body heat than cotton. An insulation layer will help you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Natural fibers, like wool, goose down, or fleece work best. The outermost layer helps protect you from wind, rain, and snow. It should be tightly woven, and preferably water and wind-resistant, to reduce loss of body heat.

Clothing recommendations include:

  • Hat
  • Scarf or knit mask: These should cover the face and mouth
  • Sleeves: Make sure sleeves are snug at the wrist
  • Mittens: Mittens are warmer than gloves
  • Water-resistant coat and boots
  • Loose-fitting clothing: Several layers are recommended

 Stay dry—wet clothing chills the body quickly. If you are sweating, remove extra layers so you do not lose more body heat. 

Watch for Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite can happen in minutes, especially on the extremities such as fingers, toes, nose and ears, but can affect any area of exposed skin. If you suspect frostbite, immediately move inside to a heated location and begin warming the affected areas using warm water or body heat. Do not use hot water or radiant heat such as a fireplace since affected areas can be easily burned. Seek medical attention for severe frostbite.

Know the signs of frostbite:

  • First degree: Ice crystals are forming on your skin.
  • Second degree: Skin begins to feel warm even though it is not yet defrosted.
  • Third degree: Skin turns red, pale or white.
  • Fourth degree: Pain lasts for more than a few hours and skin may develop dark blue or black.

Learn more about frostbite.

Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below 96°F and can be fatal. If your temperature is 96°F or less, you feel cold and sluggish, or are having trouble thinking clearly, see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.

Learn more about Hypothermia.

Sources and Additional Resources

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
National Weather Service (NWS)
Center for Disease Control (CDC)
American Red Cross