AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As communities across Texas and the United States prepare for the holiday season, many have looked toward seasonal weather outlooks to plan for travel and recreation, and at the same time have looked for reassurance from local power authorities that their homes will have plenty of heat if the winter weather turns extreme.
In the wake of a November report released by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, in which the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and other electric reliability regions in the US were found to have an elevated risk of power outages, families and communities have been called to action to prepare for and navigate power outages amid extreme winter weather conditions.
Here’s a look at how families can prepare for and stay warm during blizzards and other winter weather events, even without electricity.
Before the freeze
Like with other severe weather conditions and bouts of extreme temperatures, the US Department of Homeland Security advises that families prepare for emergencies in advance as much as possible. This involves creating stay-at-home emergency kits as well as kits for when families may need to evacuate, as with fires or tornadoes, but some additional supplies and measures can be taken when preparing for cold weather.
Other preparation measures for cold weather and winter storms include:
- Having HVAC systems, heat pumps and electric heat systems, and furnaces inspected by professionals for safety and efficiency;
- Have a backup power generator if possible, or plan for safe alternate heat sources;
- Inspect and test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in every room of the home;
- Insulate and weather-proof homes and check for efficient caulking and weather stripping;
- Insulate and prepare pipes, and leave faucets dripping when possible, to prevent freezing; and
- Gather extra food, batteries, and other supplies such as heavy blankets and spare sets of clothes for disaster kits.
Alternate heat sources
During the 2021 winter storm in Texas in which multiple metropolitan areas spent days without power, the Texas Department of Emergency Management reported numerous cases of carbon monoxide poisoning that were caused by alternate heat sources such as cars, stoves, ovens, generators, and gas-powered heaters. The CDC also reported that more than 4,000 people each year are hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Alternate heat sources can also pose extra fire risks, especially those that are set up inside or near flammable materials like blankets, carpets, and curtains.
- Keep anything that can burn at least three feet from all heat sources – including fireplaces, wood stoves, radiators, space heaters, and candles;
- Never use an oven to heat the home;
- Ensure backup generators and fuel are always used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and attached garages;
- Never run a car in an enclosed space, such as a closed garage;
- Keep all space heaters on solid, flat surfaces and invest in space heaters with automatic shut-offs when tipped over;
- Make sure fuel-burning space heaters are indoor-safe and vented to the outside;
- Never leave a space heater running unattended – including when leaving the room or overnight; and
- Maintain heating equipment, fireplaces and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected each year.
Other alternate heating options include building a simple heater from a terracotta flower pot and tea lights, which recently grew in popularity due to visibility on social media. However, home and health reports, home improvement experts, and fire officials have warned that using flower pot heaters can be extremely dangerous, particularly when used inside.
Because the pots become extremely hot very quickly, they can cause burns to people and pets; further, the flower pot heaters and the candles used inside them can be easily knocked over, increasing the risk of burns or fires. Officials such as those with the London Fire Brigade have warned they can pose far more risk than they’re worth for the amount of heat they produce, and others have advised that those determined to use them practice extreme caution.
Instead of flower pot heaters, fire officials suggested using hot water bottles as a safer alternative.
Dressing for the cold
Body heat conservation, as noted by the DHS and the CDC, is an important part of keeping warm in winter weather and preventing conditions such as hypothermia or frostbite. In doing this, individuals and families should keep in mind where and how to use layered clothing of different materials to protect their bodies and extremities.
Clothing and materials to keep in mind while dressing for cold weather include:
- A moisture-wicking base layer next to the skin;
- Multiple, loose-fitting layers of clothing with materials such as cotton, wool, and fleece;
- Thick mittens and socks for protecting hands and feet;
- Warm shoes and a coat, if needed;
- Scarves or knit masks and hats for the head;
- Multiple thick quilts or wool blankets; and
- Utilizing small pocket warmers and hot water bottles between layers and blankets.
Camping at home
To conserve heat inside the home during winter weather and cold-weather power outages, families can take steps to focus and insulate heat into a single room of the home, as suggested by the National Weather Service.
When deciding which room to hunker down in and relocate people, pets, and plants, families might consider:
- Higher-up rooms with south-facing windows;
- Smaller rooms with less space to keep warm;
- Rooms close to a kitchen or bathroom to minimize trips away; and
- Rooms with carpets or rugs.
However, either way, the central room families will be staying in can be insulated further with blankets and quilts on the floors and towels under doors or around drafty gaps and windows. Once the room is chosen, camping tents or blankets held up by tables and chairs can be used to make even more localized areas to spend time and keep warm.
Alongside using tents, insulated sleeping bags, and blankets to set up warm spots, body heat can also be conserved by cuddling with pets and keeping babies and toddlers close with slings or carriers. Further, when possible, the CDC advises consuming warm foods and beverages and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
In the event that the home is too cold and it is safe enough to travel, families may also be able to relocate to local emergency warming centers and shelters in the community. The TDEM’s website offers a list of warming centers throughout the state of Texas, and information on shelters and community resources can also be found by calling the 24-hour 211 helpline or checking local government websites and social media pages.