The winter storm in February took the Texans by surprise.  Here's how to prepare for this year.

The winter storm in February took the Texans by surprise. Here’s how to prepare for this year.

AUSTIN, Texas (TEXAS TRIBUNE) – Last February’s winter storm marked a severe weather event unlike any Texans had seen in decades, leaving millions of people without power and in freezing conditions. Within days of the storm and its aftermath, a real water crisis also arose, along with supply chain shortages and major food disruptions.

A recent report from the Texas Department of State Health Services updated the death toll from the winter storm to 246, although a BuzzFeed analysis last year found that deaths related to the storm could have been above 750. The state attributed the majority of deaths from hypothermia, but other causes included carbon monoxide poisoning, fires and falls.

The “severity of the storm and its statewide reach and duration took many of us by surprise, including me,” said Monty C. Dozier, director of the assessment and recovery program. disaster at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. A service.

Weather experts say a similar winter storm is unlikely but still possible this year. The state has already seen its first strong winter cold spell, and with the bulk of the winter season still approaching, Texans can do a lot to prepare in case an extreme weather system sweeps through the state again.

The harshness of winter may be new to some Texans, so here are some tips to prepare yourself.

Have a winter kit handy

Many Texans are used to preparing for hurricane season. The same mindset should apply during the winter months, Dozier said.

“The problem with winter storms (is) they look a lot like a hurricane,” he said. “We have a bit of a prolonged period (where meteorologists) predict that we’re going to have freezing temperatures and snow drifts, so that gives a bit of time to prepare.”

Nick Hampshire, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, suggests having a “winter survival kit” on hand with a one to two week supply of non-perishable food and water for your family and pets. A good rule of thumb is to have one gallon of water per person per day.

“As we weathered winter storm Uri in February, that would have meant we needed around six to eight days of water in parts of the state,” Dozier said.

Dozier recommends stocking up on bottled water for human consumption. If people don’t have access to bottled water, Texans should consider buying large containers to hold several gallons of drinking water, said Selena Xie, president of the Austin-Travis County EMS Association. , in an interview with the Texas Tribune.

Winter kits should also include blankets, extra warm clothing, a first aid kit, portable lights, and extra batteries. Dozier said a battery-powered radio for listening to weather forecasts and news is another good buy. And you might want to keep some emergency supplies in your car like sleeping bags, drinking water, a shovel for digging snow, jump cables, and something to create traction on your tires like sand or kitty litter.

Texans who take prescription drugs need to make sure they have a sufficient supply to last through a severe weather event, Xie said.

“If you happen to be on dialysis or have another medical implantation, just talk to your doctor about a plan in the event of a power outage (or) in case you cannot travel easily,” a- she declared.

Prepare your house

It’s not enough to have supplies on hand – Texans also need to make sure their homes are prepared and equipped to withstand the extreme cold.

“When you think of the infrastructure of the house, the main thing that comes to mind is, what about my water, my pipes? said Dozier.

Before the harsh winter, homeowners should consider insulating their pipes and covering their garden hoses outdoors. It can also help shut off and drain outdoor faucets before temperatures drop to extremely low levels. For someone who owns a private water well, it might be a good idea to invest in an insulating blanket that can fit over a water well tank to protect it from freezing, a declared Dozier.

Make sure you know the location of your main water valve so you can shut off the water in an emergency, such as a broken hose. In residential areas, it is usually located outdoors near the water meter.

When temperatures drop, it helps to open cabinets, especially in the kitchen and bathroom, to make sure heat is circulating properly through your pipes to keep them from freezing.

Access to water for non-potable purposes also became a major concern during last year’s winter storm. Filling tubs with water before inclement weather can provide a good supply of water for flushing the toilet in case running water is no longer available. Sleet can also help flush the toilet.

Watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide is produced when vapors from fuel combustion are not properly vented. carbon monoxide detectors. Before new legislation was enacted in June, Texas was one of six states with no statewide requirements for carbon monoxide alarms.

It’s important to check carbon monoxide detectors and make sure they contain fresh batteries, Xie said. Detectors should be replaced every five years and can be purchased at home improvement stores.

“Often they look like the flu, but there is no fever,” Xie said.

If you have a chimney in your home, consider having it inspected to make sure it doesn’t need repairs and remove any debris or soot that might be blocking proper ventilation.

Car engines should never be left running in a garage, nor should gas generators, which should not be used indoors and should be placed away from homes where they can have adequate ventilation. Gas and charcoal grills can also release carbon monoxide and should not be used indoors.

Xie suggests that residents familiarize themselves with their local governments and make sure they are signed up for local alerts and emails. Cities and counties may already have certain alert systems in place, and residents can search their county’s emergency management office online to sign up for emergency emails and texts.

Here are some local emergency alert services that Texas residents can sign up for:

  • Notify Central Texas for Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties
  • AlertSA for the counties of Bexar, Comal and Guadalupe
  • AlertHouston for the City of Houston
  • Harris Alerts Ready for Harris County
  • Dallas alert for the city of Dallas
  • East Texas Council of Governments Emergency Alerts for Anderson, Camp, Cherokee, Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Panola, Rains, Rusk, Smith, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood counties
  • Brownsville Emergency Alert for the City of Brownsville
  • E-Dalgo Emergency Alerts for Hidalgo County
  • El Paso Emergency Alert System for the City and County of El Paso
  • City of McAllen Emergency Management for the City of McAllen

Major telephone providers participate in the Federal Wireless Emergency Alert System, which enables federal, state and local authorities to broadcast alerts to mobile devices. Checking your phone settings can make sure these alerts are turned on. They are often labeled “Government Alerts” or “Emergency Alert Messages”.

Erin Douglas contributed to this report.

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