The winter storm of 2021 took Texans by surprise. Here’s how to prepare this year

The 2021 winter storm marked a severe weather event unlike any other Texan had seen in decades, leaving millions of people without power and in freezing conditions. Within days of the onset of the storm and its aftermath, a real water crisis also emerged, 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, though a BuzzFeed analysis last year found that storm-related deaths could have been higher than 750. The state attributed the majority of deaths to hypothermia, but other causes included carbon monoxide poisoning, fires and falls.

“The severity and reach of the statewide storm in Texas and its duration surprised all of us, myself included,” said Monty C. Dozier, disaster assessment and recovery program manager 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 experienced its first severe winter cold snap, and with the thickness of the winter season still approaching, Texans can do a lot to prepare in case an extreme weather system crosses the state again.

Harsh winter conditions may be new to some Texans, so here are some tips to prepare.

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 thing about winter storms (is) they are very hurricane-like,” he said. “We’ve got a bit of a stretch (where meteorologists) are predicting we’re going to have freezing temperatures and snow accumulations, so that gives some 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.

“When we went through the Uri winter storm in February, that would have meant we needed about six to eight days of water in parts of the state,” Dozier said.

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

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

Texans taking prescription medication should make sure they have enough supplies to last through a severe weather event, Xie said.

“If you’re on dialysis or have another medical implant, just talk to your doctor about a plan in case the power goes out (or) in case you can’t travel easily,” she said. .

Prepare your home

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 home infrastructure, the main thing that comes to mind is, what about my water, my pipes?” Dozer said.

Before the harsh winter weather, homeowners should consider insulating their pipes and placing covers on their outdoor water pipes. It can also help to turn off and drain outdoor faucets before temperatures reach extremely low levels. For someone with a private water well, it might be a good idea to invest in an insulating blanket that can fit over the top of a water tank to protect it from freezing, Dozier said.

Make sure you know where your main water valve is so you can shut off your water in an emergency, like a burst pipe. In residential areas it is usually located outside near the water meter.

When temperatures drop, it’s helpful to open cabinets, especially in the kitchen and bathroom, to ensure heat is flowing properly through your pipes to prevent them from freezing.

Access to water for non-drinking purposes also became a big concern during last year’s winter storm. Filling tubs with water before bad weather can provide a good supply of water for toilet flushing in case running water becomes unavailable. Melted snow can also help flush toilets.

Watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide is produced when fumes from burning fuel are not properly vented.

One of the worst episodes of carbon monoxide poisoning in recent history occurred during last year’s storm, when some houses and apartments were not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. Before new legislation was enacted in June, Texas was one of six states without statewide requirements for carbon monoxide alarms.

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

According to the CDC, signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, chest pain, or fatigue.

“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 may be blocking proper ventilation.

Car engines should never be left running in a garage and neither 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 give off carbon monoxide and should not be used inside homes.

Sign up for emergency alerts

Xie suggests residents familiarize themselves with their local governments and ensure they are signed up for local alerts and emails. Cities and counties may have some alert systems already in place, and residents can visit 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 Bexar, Comal and Guadalupe counties
  • AlertHouston for the City of Houston
  • Harris County Ready Alerts
  • 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 Town of Brownsville
  • E-Dalgo Emergency Alerts for Hidalgo County
  • El Paso Emergency Alert System for the City and County of El Paso
  • Town of McAllen Emergency Management for the Town of McAllen

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

Erin Douglas contributed to this report.

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