By Alexandra Becker
Winter is about to hit Houston—hard—with even a rare chance of snow on Monday. But for those of us used to 60-degree Decembers, a forecast in the 20s and 30s can be daunting. Here are our top tips for staying safe during Texas’ version of an “arctic blast.”
Dress in warm layers.
Be sure to dress your family in several layers of loose-fitting clothing, including a warm coat, gloves and a hat when venturing outdoors. Make sure your feet stay warm and dry as well, since keeping your extremities from the cold is one of the best ways to protect yourself from hypothermia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypothermia, defined by abnormally low body temperature, is caused by prolonged exposure to the cold and can affect brain function. Pay close attention to young children and the elderly to make sure they are properly clothed, and don’t forget your furry friends! If possible, bring pets inside or create a warm and enclosed space for them near the home. Finally, remember to wear your mask, which has the added bonus of protecting your face from the frigid chill while preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Know the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Cases of carbon monoxide poisoning rise during the winter months due to the increased use of furnaces, fireplaces and stoves to help keep homes warm. Carbon monoxide can cause sudden illness and death, and it is especially dangerous because it is an odorless and colorless gas which often goes undetected. Carbon monoxide is produced anytime a fossil fuel is burned, so you should never use a generator, grill, camp stove, or any other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, according to the CDC. You should also never heat your house with a gas oven or run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house. If you are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated and suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, you should go outside immediately for fresh air and call 9-1-1 for medical help.
If you lose power due to a winter storm event, the safety of your food could be at risk.
If your power is out for more than four hours, certain refrigerated food may no longer be safe to eat. The Texas Department of State Health Services suggests that you should keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible during a power outage to keep your food at the appropriate temperature, but if the interior temperature exceeds 40 degrees, meat, eggs and dairy products should be thrown out. You should also throw out any food with an unusual color or texture to avoid foodborne illnesses.
Know how to safely thaw your pipes.
Ahead of freezing temperatures, people should wrap their exterior pipes, leave faucets dripping overnight, and open cabinets to keep interior pipes warmer. However, if your pipes do freeze, never use an open flame or torch to try to thaw them, as this carries with it risk of severe injury. Experts suggest trying a hairdryer instead, with the warning to avoid standing water during use, which could lead to electric shock.
Check in on your neighbors, the elderly and people experiencing homelessness.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, there are safe ways to ensure your neighbors and other at-risk populations are safe during freezing events. Put on your mask and knock on your neighbor’s door to ask if they have everything they need, ensuring you remain six feet apart during the conversation. Check in on elderly friends or family members who may need help preparing their house for the cold-front, and offer to help them stock up on groceries and supplies if they are running low. Finally, now is the perfect time to donate old winter clothes or warm blankets to charities and shelters who can help distribute them to those most in need.