Surviving a Winter Storm in Texas
In early 2021, the state of Texas suffered through an extreme winter storm that meets the criteria of a disaster. While winter storms are considered events that should be prepared for, we do not typically consider them natural disasters. However, this particular situation moved into the disaster category quickly, and not just a natural disaster but also a man-made disaster.
The political news sources cover the epic failures that led to statewide power outages, and we will let them cover those stories. What we want to focus on is how the residents of Texas survived this ordeal. This article is a retrospective of the event and how that knowledge could help families survive future similar scenarios.
As the uncharacteristically cold arctic air system moved over the country, Texas and many other states experienced a deep freeze. Parts of Texas were below freezing temperatures for ten days. What made this a crisis was the inability of the Texas infrastructure to handle the weather conditions. The state mostly relies on natural gas, and because engineers did not winterize the power plants and pipelines, the supply chains froze.
Texas decided decades ago to maintain an independent electrical service and avoid federal regulations. This decision ultimately left the state on an island and eliminated the option to lean on the federal infrastructure.
The Polar Vortex
The polar vortex is a vast area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It typically exists near the two poles and is at its weakest in the summer. But it strengthens during winter and sends cold air down south with the jet stream.
The polar vortex generally follows a consistent pattern year over year, bringing with it extremely cold temperatures, normally kept up north and to the north east. However, an extreme shift in the northern polar vortex not only made Texas devastatingly cold, it froze Niagara Falls. It takes extreme cold to make 3,160 tons of flowing water per second, freeze completely.
If you live in an area that experiences four seasons, understanding how to survive a winter storm is potentially life-preserving knowledge. From fundamental strategies like how to conserve body heat to simple hacks like layering your clothing; you need all the wisdom you can get.
What would you do if you’re stranded in your car or snowed in during a winter storm? Would you be able to do what’s needed to stay alive?
Follow closely; these tips could save your life or that of your family’s.
It may sound cliché, but indoors is the safest place to be during a winter storm. So, if you have the good fortune of being indoors when it hits, you will want to stay inside. If you have to go out, wear appropriate winter clothes.
If the power dies – as is common in winter storms – you will need an alternative heat source. Kerosene heaters and fireplaces would come in handy. However, ensure there’s proper ventilation to prevent asphyxiation. Be sure to keep heat sources out of the reach of children, an ER trip during a winter storm is the last thing any parent needs. Read up on our carbon monoxide tips to prevent poisoning risks.
Furthermore, use one room in the house for heat and close off the rest. Let sunlight coming through the window greet the room in the day. But cover the windows in the night. This measure serves the two-edge purpose of keeping in warm air and keeping out cold air; as the sun will heat up the air in the room, but the dark night will chill the glass and in-turn chill the circulating heat.
Keep yourself and your loved ones warm at all times! Keep as many blankets and jackets around as possible to help absorb and contain heat. While thinking of the humans in the house, please don’t forget about a pet jacket for the ones with fur.
Protecting your pets from cold is just as important as protecting the humans in the Be sure to let your outdoor pets in when it gets too cold outside. When it is cold enough for snow to fall it is best to bring animals in to protect them from the severely cold temperatures. And when it hits 32 degrees (freezing) it is 100% imperative for you to bring your outdoor pets in to the home. Not only will their presents help keep you warm it will keep them from getting frostbite or even freezing to death!
Throughout the period that the blizzard may last, keep yourself hydrated and nourished. Eat regularly to keep your body working and drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration. While many may not listen, avoiding alcohol by all means because it puts you at a higher risk for hypothermia and its dehydration & intoxication effects. Coffee too because of the caffeine, which hinders your body’s heat producing mechanisms. However, if you need your cup of joe, you can try the caffeine-free alternative — chicory root.
If you have the hard luck of being stuck outside at the onset of the blizzard, seek the closest shelter. And do so immediately. Otherwise, accompanying winds can cause wind chill. Which kicks your core body temperature into lowering, potentially reaching dangerously low levels. Besides, you risk frostbite and hypothermia every second you spend outdoors in that kind of cold. Be very careful when walking snowy and icy sidewalks.
If you’re wet by the time you find shelter, dry yourself up as best you can. You may want to start with a small fire. While it may not provide adequate warmth, it’s a good start. In addition, remember don’t drink alcohol if you’re offered. Or coffee for that matter because of its caffeine content.
If you’re unable to find shelter, you could dig a snow cave. Deep snow can serve as protection from blowing winds and cold temperatures. Cover your mouth when digging to protect your lungs.
Even if you can’t get food at first, don’t worry, but you do want to stay hydrated at least. However, do not eat snow as a substitute for water. The reason being your body will waste the heat you need to stay warm on melting the ice. The best thing is to melt the ice using indirect body heat or a heating source before drinking.
Stranded in Your Vehicle?
It’s unsafe to drive when a winter storm hits. Apart from the significantly reduced visibility, the road condition also becomes perilous. You will want to avoid black ice. If a blizzard hits when you are in the middle of a drive, it’s safest to stop immediately, even if you have to stop on the side of the road. When you do stop, don’t try to step out of your vehicle, even if it’s to walk to safety. Blizzards can be rather tricky.
Inside of your car is the safest place at that point as it protects you from extreme cold. It would be best if you stayed in your vehicle because rescuers are more likely to spot a car than a person, especially with extreme snowfall.
The only reason you should step out of your car is to tie a bright-colored cloth on the antenna, being sure to close your car doors to preserve heat (don’t lock yourself out). Red is the preferred color if possible, but any other light or bold color will work in a pinch. This will help improve visibility and increase your chance of being found by rescuers.
Turn on your car engine for ten minutes every hour for warmth. The exhaust pipe should be kept clear at all times to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. You can open the window intermittently to allow in air. Or you can keep a window that’s away from your seat slightly open.
Keep your body parts moving. Your car may not have enough room for this, but you want to try. You can start by clapping your hands. Stomp your feet. Wriggle your torso. Do this at least once every hour while you’re stranded to keep your body producing internal and frictional heat.
Drink water and eat food (could be snacks) if you happen to have them in your car. Nutrition is an important part of survival. If possible you should always have a go bag in your trunk with essential items like water, food, change of clothes, etc. Now is a great time to ensure you have an emergency supply kit in your car -- stock it with shelf-stable items that have a long expiration. If including canned goods, make sure to also include a can opener.
When the blizzard stops, pop your car’s hood to signal distress, in addition to the streamer you attached to your antenna.
So how could the residents of Texas have been more prepared? How can you be more prepared? Knowing how unprepared the Texas infrastructure is, some might say, move to a more prepared state. However, uprooting your family and migrating to another state is no easy change. Additionally, Texas has a lot of pride, and the residents’ love for their state is strong, eliminating this suggestion as an option for most.
The preparation requirements are defined by the resources that were necessary to survive this crisis. In this case, power, water, and warmth are all in high demand.
Electrical power is usually the first thing that gets knocked out during winter storms. This will instantly render your light bulbs, heating system, and landlines useless. All the while, you may be trapped in your house for a couple of days or over a week. Here are some things you take note of when packing your blizzard kit:
- Get battery-powered flashlights and extra batteries. While you will be stuck inside, you don’t want to also be in the dark.
- You also don’t want to be cut off from the world. So, pack a transistor radio and a battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio to receive emergency updates.
- Charge all your devices that require charging. Then, pack alternative power sources, such as power banks, for when they die.
- Don’t forget to unplug appliances and electronics when the power goes out. This will help prevent a surge to your outlets when the power returns.
As you’re stocking your pantry with non-perishable food and pet food, ensure you add enough bottled water. Water is the most important item to stock. You should have at least one gallon per person per day when gathering your preps.
Even though the water pipes tend to freeze below -7C, you can do your bit to keep the water running. One: prevent freezing by wrapping the interior pipes with foam insulation. Two: allow your faucet to run, but at a very slow drip (this should help prevent the pipe from bursting or freezing completely). Three: Run the (cold) water at the lowest point in the house as it’s less likely to freeze there.
Note: Do not run hot water!
Start by packing adequate winter wear for each member of your household. Gloves, hats, warm coats, waterproof boots. Thrown in at least one blanket for each person. Also, pack a bag of warm dark clothes. You’ll need them to draw in heat by placing them on the windows. Another handy tool is disposable hand warmers which create heat for hours and are extremely effective and portable.
You should also have an alternative heating source like a fireplace, kerosene heater, or wood stove. Do well to ensure proper ventilation and proper safeguards. Keep all flammable objects far from heaters. Always refuel your kerosene heaters outdoors.
A hot beverage can also come in handy here. As has been mentioned before, coffee is not a great fit during a blizzard. A hot cup of chicory root can serve as an adequate replacement, as it is known to taste similar to coffee.