In 2021, Texas faced an unprecedented freeze. The freeze caused damage and devastation throughout the state. The chances of another storm of that magnitude occurring again anytime soon are slim, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. If it happened once, it could happen again, so it is a good idea to be ready. Below you will find information on preparing for a freeze, tips on what to do mid-storm, and advice on how to recover from any damage.
Prepare Your Home for a Freeze
Winterizing your home will help prevent possible damage, and as a bonus, make your home more energy-efficient. This will help keep you comfortable inside while the storm rages on outside. One of the most important things you can do is to make sure your insulation is up to par. You should also have enough material to insulate exposed pipes to prevent them from freezing. Having your chimney cleaned regularly will help prevent possible fires that may occur due to soot build-up. It’s also a good idea to ensure your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working. Better yet, consider installing backups to be safe. If prolonged freezing weather is in the forecast, be sure to refill your prescriptions before the weather hits. It is best to have ten days to two weeks’ worth of medication at home should traveling become treacherous or places close due to freezing weather or power outages.
Create an Emergency Kit
An emergency kit can be helpful for many reasons. From having things on hand in case your power goes out for an extended amount of time to having a bag prepped in the event you need to evacuate to a safer (or warmer) place. This kit should have everything you need, but keep in mind that it should be light enough to carry. Think about things you wish you had last February and include those items in your kit as well. Other things you should have are:
- Battery-operated light sources (and extra batteries), like a lantern or flashlight, so you don’t have to rely on candles that could potentially start a fire
- Battery pack to charge your phone
- Ice scraper and brush to clear snow off of vehicles.
- Also, consider keeping sand or cat litter just in case your tires start spinning and you need traction
- Weather radio
- Enough water and nonperishable food for two to three days
- Blankets, socks, and other clothing to keep you warm
- A list of phone contacts in case your phone dies
- Cash in case credit cards don’t work.
- Something to help you stay distracted, like a deck of cards or a book
Find a more detailed list here.
Create (or Buy) a First Aid Kit
Having a first aid kit during a winter freeze might not seem necessary, but accidents can happen at any time. Someone could slip and fall on the ice. Someone else could experience chest pain but have to wait for emergency services to make it through a dangerous situation to get to them. Many other scenarios could happen where a first aid kit could be useful. You can buy a fully stocked one from the store or create your kit. Some things the American Red Cross suggests you have are:
- Absorbent compress dressings
- Adhesive cloth tape
- Antiseptic wipes
- Emergency blanket
- Hydrocortisone ointment
- A roll of gauze
- Gauze pads
Find a more detailed list here.
Many of us lost power for days during last year’s freeze. Having no heat for an extended period can be dangerous so consider investing in a generator. However, be sure to use caution when running the generator because they produce carbon monoxide. A generator should never be used inside and should be kept at a safe distance from the house. There are two other options that, while more costly upfront, are much safer. Consider installing a permanent generator or installing solar panels.
Meet Your Neighbors
When it becomes too dangerous to travel, or in other times of crisis, your neighbors can become your lifeline. Forming a community with those that live near you can also create a sense of security during challenging times as you help each other get through it.
- Facebook and Nextdoor are excellent ways to communicate with your neighbors and stay in touch
- Keep your neighbor's phone numbers somewhere handy
- If one of your neighbors is elderly, disabled, or otherwise vulnerable, consider giving them a walkie-talkie so you can stay in contact should the power go out
- If you are worried about someone, consider having them stay with you, or you stay with them during the duration of the crisis
Stock Up on Food & Water
Food and water are necessary for survival. Food can keep you warm and your energy up, while water keeps you hydrated. Water is also needed for basic sanitation. Remember these tips when stocking up on food & water:
- Food with protein and fiber keep your energy up and your gut healthy
- Ramen with a fried egg, boxed macaroni and cheese, and rice and beans are all simple and filling meals that can keep you energized
- Lost power? Shelf-stable milk and tofu, beef jerky, meal kits, and canned or packaged tuna are excellent options if you are unable to cook
- Consider investing in a propane camping stove to boil water and cook food, but remember to use these stoves outside to prevent inhaling the deadly fumes
- If you stock up on food, remember it does expire! Set a reminder to check every few months or twice a year and pull out the food that expires soon to use up
- Keep some water stored at your house, either by purchasing bottles at the store or storing water from the tap in food-grade containers
- Old water can become unsafe. If you buy bottles from the store, keep an eye on their expiration date. If you fill water from the tap, switch the water out every six months. Use the “old water” to water your plants.
- If you know a prolonged freeze is coming, consider filling your bathtub with water. That way, if your pipes freeze, you can still have water to wash dishes or flush the toilet.
Find more information here.
How to Spot a Leak and What to Do
It is not uncommon for pipes to leak after a harsh freeze. Water expands when it freezes, causing pipes to expand, which can lead to them bursting. How do you know if you have a leak? Signs of a leak are low water pressure or water where it shouldn’t be, such as a wet wall. You can also keep an eye on your water meter. If you notice the meter is spinning even though you haven’t used water in the past hour, then you probably have a leak. If you believe there is a leak in your home, the first thing you should do is contact the City of Robinson to request the water to be shut off to the property. However, in Snowmageddon 2021 some customers found themselves in emergency situations where they had a need that could not wait on city staff. In emergency situations like that, the customer can turn the water off to their home. However, it is important to be mindful that there are two water shut-off valves to your home, one belonging to the property and the other to the city. It is unlawful to tamper with or adjust the city’s water valve, which can lead to associated fines. In preparation, customers should investigate ahead of time to determine if the property has a private water shut-off. Sometimes these can be located beside or in the general area of the city’s valve. If this is the case, customers can request a visit by city staff to help determine which valve is which.
The main message here is to use what we learned from last year to make preparations for future events.
What to Do if You Need to Evacuate
It may become necessary to evacuate your home if conditions become unbearable. If you evacuate due to loss of power, be sure to unplug all appliances and shut off the electricity to your home. This is to prevent a possible fire if there is a power surge once electricity comes back on. Also, consider contacting the City to shut off your water.
How to Stay Warm
Maybe you lost power and don’t have a generator. Or maybe it’s just so cold out you can’t get warm in your house. There are a couple of different things you can do to keep warm.
- Do NOT use your oven or car to heat your house because this could cause carbon monoxide poisoning
- Layer, layer, layer when it comes to clothes
- Wear a base layer or thermal underwear
- Close doors to conserve heat in one room
- Close blinds and pull curtains (or hang blankets or sheets if you don’t have curtains) so the heat doesn’t escape
- Huddle with family and pets under blankets
- Sleep in insulated sleeping bags
Keeping Your Pets Warm & Safe
Spot and Fluffy probably hate the freezing weather just as much as you do. It’s important to keep them warm and safe too! Be sure they have plenty of food, water, and a warm place to sleep.
- Outside animals should be brought inside, even if it’s just the garage.
- If you can’t bring an animal inside, make sure they have someplace warm to stay and add hay or straw for warmth. They will also need access to freshwater that hasn’t been frozen
- If your house is a bit chilly for you, it might be a bit chilly for your pets as well. Place their little coats on or wrap them in a warm blanket.
- Too cold for them to go outside and potty? Consider placing a pee pad in the garage or clear an area in the grass right outside the door for them to do their business
Keep an Eye on the Weather
Weather can change rapidly, so keep an eye out to know what to expect. Local stations are an excellent resource when it comes to staying informed. The National Weather Service is also fantastic. In addition, you can also sign up for the Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management emergency alert system to receive weather alerts directly to your phone.
Thawing Frozen Pipes
Frozen pipes can be a homeowner's worst nightmare. When water freezes, it expands, forcing the pipes to expand to accommodate it. Expanded pipes can rupture. The good news is, if only a portion of your pipes are frozen, there is a simple solution! The first and hardest step is to find the frozen pipe. Turn each faucet on, one at a time, to see if water is still running through it. Any faucet that doesn't work is connected to frozen pipes. Next, follow the plumbing lines until you feel the frozen pipe (it will be ice cold). After locating the frozen pipe, contact the City of Robinson to turn off the main water supply to your house. Turn all the sinks on and flush all the water in the pipes out. Don’t forget to flush the toilet to drain those pipes as well. After draining all of the water, you will need to apply heat to the frozen pipe. You can use a hairdryer, heat lamps, or a heating pad. You will want to begin thawing the pipe a section at a time at the end closest to the sink. That way, when it does begin to thaw, the water can escape. After thawing the entire pipe, contact the City of Robinson again to turn the main water supply back on. Go back to where the frozen pipe was and check that there are no leaks and that it didn’t rupture. If there are leaks, turn the water back off and call a plumber.
Clearing Debris & Repairing Tree Damage
When ice or snow accumulates, it becomes heavy and can damage or break tree branches. In the case of another hard freeze, you will want to keep an eye on your trees. A large branch falling on your house or car is the last thing you want to worry over. If you see any damaged branches, be sure to remove them. If you are in doubt about which branches are dead and how much to prune, it doesn’t hurt to hire someone.
Assessing Structural Damage
Structural damage from a storm may not always be evident. Be wary of downed power lines, sparks, broken or frayed wires, or broken glass. If you have gas appliances, check for the smell of gas to make sure there's not a leak. If you have a leak, vacate the area and call the gas company. When surveying your home for damage, look for bulges, leaning walls, and cracks in the masonry (especially near corners and under and around doors and windows) which may be signs of problems with the foundation. If possible, inspect the roof from a distance. Look for missing or damaged shingles, and check for potential leaks. Also, check for wet insulation and replace any that is necessary.
Handling Food & Drink
Losing power also means the possibility of losing food and drink. Try to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. If the doors stay closed, food will be safe up to four hours in the fridge and 48 hours in a full freezer (this drops to 24 hours for a half-full freezer). If you have a cooler and ice available, you can move food and drink to it. Once power is restored, you’ll want to check your food. NEVER taste food to determine if it is still good. When in doubt, throw it out. Throw out any food or drink with an unusual odor, color, or texture. If you kept food in a cooler, check the temperature of the food. Throw out any food over 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Find more information on food safety here.