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Winter Weather

While Southeast Texas is known for high heat and humidity, winter on the Bayou can be just as severe. Ice, cold wind and rain can be dangerous. Know what to do during severe winter weather and keep you and your family safe.

What threats are there during the winter season?

Ice Storms

Severe winter weather normally takes the form of ice storms which can blanket the city is layers of ice, making commuting dangerous. Bridges, overpasses, some highways, and airports may have to be closed due to ice. These storms also have the capability of disrupting communications and electrical services as ice accumulates on utility poles.

Below Freezing Temperatures

Coupled with the wind chill factor (rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the combined effects of wind and cold) residents should protect themselves by wearing sufficient clothing, including a cap and gloves when outside, to help retain body heat.  Do not forget the 4 Ps; protect exposed Pipes, People Pets and Plants.

Home Heating

Loss of lives and damage to houses caused by fire tends to increase during the winter due to the unsafe use or operating condition of home heating systems.  If possible, have your home heating system checked to be sure it is in proper working order prior to the start of winter.  Installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in yoru home is also encouraged. Read more from the National Fire Protection Association.

What can I do to protect my home and family during severe winter weather?

Home Maintenance

  • Extend the efficiency of your heating by adding insulation to your home, including in walls, attics as well as caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows. 
  • Insulate pipes with insulation or newspaper and plastic, and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing.
  • Clear rain gutters and cut away tree branches that could fall onto a home or structure during a storm.
  • Learn how to shut-off water valves in case a pipe bursts.

Vehicle Maintenance

    • Check your antifreeze levels
    • Make sure your battery and ignition system are in good working condition
    • Make sure breaks are in good working condition- check for wear and proper fluid levels
    • Verify that your exhaust system is in proper condition - carbon monoxide is deadly and often gives no warning.
    • Ensure heaters and defrosters work properly
    • Check lights and flashing hazard lights
    • Check Oil levels
    • Maintain proper washer fluid levels
    • Make sure your tires are in good condition, and able to navigate in icy conditions
    • Make sure you maintain at least a half tank of gas during winter to avoid freezing.

    Protecting People

    • Check on the elderly and those who may have functional or access needs to make sure that they have sufficient warmth to get them through the cold weather
    • Watch for signs of hypothermia, which include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and exhaustion.  If you feel the person is suffering from hypothermia, get them to a warm location, remove any wet clothing and warm the center of the body first, giving warm, non-alcoholic beverages to the victim if conscious.  Get medical help as soon as possible.
    • Be sure that space heaters are properly tested and are placed a safe distance from flammable materials. If using a kerosene or propane-powered heater, be sure to maintain ventilation to prevent the build-up of toxic fumes.  Never refuel canisters inside.

    Protecting Pipes

    • While pipes generally do not freeze until the temperature drops into the 20s, pipes exposed to windy areas could experience cracking.
    • Be sure that pipes are properly insulated, wrap newspaper or clothes around outside faucets, or in cold areas of homes.
    • Let sensitive faucets run at a slow drip to allow for water to move, which helps prevent freezing. 
    • If you think a pipe might be frozen (you open a tap and  no water comes out), don't take any chances, call a plumber and leave your tap open until they arrive. Also, turn off the water main to your house to avoid shifting ice and flooding.

    Protecting Plants

    • Plants should be covered on cold nights with fabric to help keep them somewhat insulated during a freeze.
    • You can also create windbreaks around sensitive plants to keep the cold air from "burning" them.
    • Keep your plants hydrated, which helps fight off drying due to cold winds.

    Protecting Pets

    • During extremely cold weather, pets should be kept indoors.
    • Don't shave your pet's coat all the way down during winter, exposed skin can easily lead to hypothermia and frostbite. If your dog is short-haired, consider getting him a coat or sweater for the winter weather.
    • Never leave your animal in a car during the winter.  They can act as refrigerators and can result in hypothermia.
    • More from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

    How do I get information on school closures during severe winter weather?

    Primary and Secondary Schools: Visit, collaborative project that allows for school districts in the Harris County to notify parents about school closures.

    Colleges & Universities: Look for official messages from your College or University.  Click here for links to official emergency communication channels for colleges and universities in the City of Houston.

  • Have a family emergency plan that includes evacuation of your home in the event of a fire.
  • Make sure you have a working fire extinguisher placed near places where fires could start, and at least one on each floor of your home.  Remember, different types of fire extinguishers are used for different types of fires - so make sure they are appropriate.
  • Know how to use a fire extinguisher, remember to PASS
    • Pull - Pull the Pin
    • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
    • Squeeze the handle while standing 8 feet away
    • Sweep the nozzle back and forth at the base of the fire
  • Never use space heaters in your home unless necessary.  If you must, make sure to keep space heaters 3 feet away from combustibles, remember, "Space Heaters Need Space"
  • Have chimneys and fireplaces inspected by licensed chimney sweeps every year to prevent the build up of fire-causing creosote, or debris.
  • DO NOT overload electrical outlets, or "daisy chain" splitters  to make more outlets
  • After a Fire

    Home fires can be devastating for families, help ensure your family's safety by following these tips:

    • Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible, your agent might be able to arrange for immediate repairs, or temporary housing.
    • If you are renting your home, contact your manager, the owner or the owner's insurance agent.
    • If you need temporary housing, food or clothes, contact the American Red Cross at 713.526.8300
    • Do not attempt to re-establish utilities until a qualified contractor or building inspector has cleared the building to help prevent further damage or injury.

    Fore more detailed information, download and print a copy of the Houston Fire Department's Fire Prevention & Life Safety Guidebook