How to prepare for a winter ice storm in Texas

January 30, 2023

Learn helpful tips to prepare for a winter ice storm in Texas

Winter ice storm in Texas

While the brutal heat can seem to last forever, winter always makes its way down to Texas. Sometimes, that just means some cold, blustery days, or even cold wet days, but in some cases it can come in the form of an ice storm. 

Snow and rain both present their own challenges, but nothing is quite as problematic as a thorough layer of ice coating everything around you! Ice can cause hazardous driving conditions, damage your property, and even cause power outages.

Icy weather can be concerning, but as with all weather scenarios, preparation is key! If you see winter weather in the forecast, follow our guide as we show you how to prepare for an ice storm in Texas! 

What's an ice storm and how do they happen? 

When a large cold air mass moves down from the north, any precipitation that comes along with it can cause a variety of wintery weather precipitation.

In some cases the cold front meets a warm, moist air mass from the Gulf. The warm air is lifted on top of the cold air as the two collide and begins to condense and form clouds as it reaches the bottom of the atmosphere. At this point of collision, you have a place where a wedge of warm air is actually sitting on top of a wedge of cold, freezing air. 

South of this line, cold rain will fall, but will remain liquid because the air is above freezing from the clouds to the ground. North of this line, snow will fall because the air is freezing from the clouds to the ground. However, right in the middle where the warm wedge rests atop the cold air wedge, ice storms occur. 

This happens because the precipitation from the clouds melts as it passes through the warm air, but then freezes on or near the ground as it falls into the cold, freezing air near the surface. Rather than simply having snow or water, we instead have ice accumulation - on everything.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take much ice to cause problems, both for driving conditions and power systems. As little as a quarter inch of ice build up can cause power lines to sag and fail, or tree branches to bend and break, disrupting power locally in either case.

Add in hazardous driving conditions, and situations can go from bad to worse very quickly. But as with all weather, the right course of action is preparation.  

Stay weather aware

We've said it before and we'll say it again - stay weather aware! Tune in to your local weather station or find their website online for updates on the progress of an active winter ice storm situation. 

You can also visit the NOAA/NWS site, for a full list of active winter weather warnings and advisories for your county. These advisory bulletins can give you an idea of what to expect in the coming hours or days. 

Lastly, if you have an app on your phone with weather capabilities, this can be a great way to monitor the situation as well as receive updates on watches and warnings. 

How to prepare your home for an ice storm

1. Be prepared for a power outage. While storms like the February 2021 Polar Vortex are exceedingly rare, your garden variety winter ice storms can cause localized power outages, too. Of course, these aren't likely to last anywhere near as long as those during that storm, but being prepared is still a good idea all the same. 

Make sure to have blankets, coats, flashlights, batteries, food, and water on hand. Keep devices, like your phone, charged as often as possible. If you have a way to safely burn wood for heat in your home, stock up on firewood. 

2. Winterize. Take all necessary steps to winterize your home. This means covering outdoor water faucets, draining hoses, and so on. For a more in-depth guide, check out our blog here

3. Clear gutters and trim trees. Although you're probably not going to go out and do any yard work during an ice storm, if you can monitor the forecast and plan ahead, cleaning out your gutters and trimming trees can go a long way to protecting your property. 

When leaves, sticks, and other detritus block up your gutters, it forms a sort of dam that collects water - water that eventually freezes, causing water to collect even further. This water can eventually leak under your roof into your home, causing significant damage. Make sure to clear your roof and gutters out whenever possible to prevent this type of accumulation.

Furthermore, when ice collects on limbs and branches of trees, they sag and sometimes break. Of course, this can be dangerous for people should they find themselves beneath a tree, but it can also damage your property, like your cars, roof, fence, garage, and so on. Do your best to trim trees away from your property before the winter storm coats them in ice. This will also potentially protect your home from wind storms and fires, too! 

If you notice any limbs hanging dangerously close to power lines in your area, contact your electricity provider and notify them. They often make rounds to trim trees away from power lines.
4. Make sure to keep outdoor animals safe and warm. Animals are particularly vulnerable in ice storms, so make sure to have a plan to provide shelter and warmth for your pets and livestock. Even if you have a pet bred for colder temperatures, the cold and wet can be fatal if they don't have somewhere warm and dry. However, when creating a warm space for your outdoor animals, be wary of creating potential fire hazards when combining things like heat lamps and flammable bedding, like straw.

5. Plants. If you have a green thumb and a lot of greenery outdoors to prove it, do your best to bring potted plants indoors or cover those that are stationary. Freezing temperatures and ice accumulation can quickly kill just about any plant. 

6. Make sure you're ready to safely heat your home. Staying warm is essential, but where there is heat, there is always the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Follow our guide for safely heating your home during the winter to make sure that you minimize the risks.

7. Gas up your generator. Many Texans already own a gas generator, and many more purchased one after the February 2021 winter storm. Again, a standard winter ice storm isn't likely to cause power outages that last days, but even outages last 12-24 hours can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous in some cases. 

If you have a generator, be sure that it is gassed up and in working order before things get too icy. Additionally, brush up on your generator safety and make sure you don't have it set up in a potentially dangerous place where carbon monoxide poisoning may be a threat. 

How to prepare your vehicle for an ice storm

First and foremost, if your area is under a winter weather advisory or warning of some kind, it's important to stay off the road if at all possible. Icy roads make accidents far more likely and it becomes much more dangerous for emergency personnel to get to you.

Still, emergencies happen, so you'll want to make sure your vehicle is prepared for the conditions. 

1. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Driving with under-inflated tires is never good, especially when there is a possibility of snow and ice on the road. Check your owner's manual, or look on the tire itself for the proper PSI.

2. Check your tire tread. If the roads become icy, you'll need all the traction you can get. Check your tire tread with the "penny test" by inserting a penny between the tread on your tire with Lincoln's head facing down. If the tread covers the top of his head, you're in good shape.

3. Check your brakes. Routine brake maintenance is important year-round, but that goes double when winter weather is upon us. You probably won't be going out to change your brakes during freezing weather, but it's not a bad idea to try and make a habit of checking them before the colder months roll around. If you begin to hear grinding noises when you step on the brakes, your pads are probably worn thin and it may not be safe to drive in winter weather conditions. 

4. Check your windshield wiper blades. A lack of visibility is one of the most dangerous elements a driver can experience in wintery weather. Take a few minutes to inspect your wiper blades and replace them if needed.

5. Replace wiper fluid with low-temperature fluid. Most windshield wiper fluid freezes at the same temperature as water. However, you can find fluid with a lower freezing point designed for winter conditions.

6. Check engine coolant and antifreeze levels. The coolant in your vehicle doesn't just keep the engine from overheating - it has antifreeze that prevents it from freezing, too. Check the levels to make sure they are adequate.

7. Keep your gas tank full. As the temperature of the air inside your gas tank begins to drop, water can condense into droplets, which can cause all sorts of problems such as freezing fuel lines. If you have a full tank of gas, there's less room for air, and therefore a lower chance of building up condensation.

8. Test your battery. Colder temperatures can decrease the effectiveness of your battery, so make sure it's good to go. Most auto supply shops can quickly and easily test your battery for free.

9. Keep your vehicle covered. If you've ever experienced an ice storm in Texas, you know that exposed vehicles can become encased in a shell of ice, making it incredibly difficult to get into and drive. Whenever possible, keep your vehicle in a garage or under cover to avoid ice accumulation. 

If you don't have a garage or carport, you can use a makeshift cover, like a towel or rug, to prevent certain parts from freezing over. Some suggest using a de-icing spray solution, such as silicon spray, on your door the day before the ice storm comes. The spray prevents water and ice from sticking and accumulating. 

If you do find no alternative to driving, keep the following pointers in mind. 

1. Avoid driving unfamiliar vehicles. If you've spent enough time behind the wheel of a variety of cars, you know that every vehicle handles a little differently and it can take a little getting use to when driving a new one. Icy winter roads are not the best place to learn! If at all possible, drive a car that you have experience with in the event that you need to travel. 

2. Avoid distracted driving. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents, so it's essential to keep your eyes and attention on the road - especially when it is potentially icy. 

3. Drive defensively. Defensive driving is extra important when road conditions are poor. Give other drivers lots of room, accelerate and brake slowly, and keep your max speed down. If you have to get into the right lane to allow others to pass, that's okay!

4. Remove all ice before driving. If your car is covered in ice, it is essential that you remove every piece of it before driving anywhere. This is not just for your safety, but the safety of everyone else on the road. Large chunks of ice from your roof, trunk, bumper, or hood can break off and become dangerous projectiles or obstacles to those sharing the road with you. 

If you have to break your car out of an icy prison, do not use hot water - the rapid change in temperature can crack windshields! Warm and even room temperature water works just fine. Focus on freeing the door first so that you can get in, turn your car on, and crank up the heat. It may take a while, but it will eventually melt the ice. Then, use a purpose-made ice scraper to gently and carefully remove the ice. 

5. Avoid bridges and overpasses. While precipitation may take longer to freeze on roads with solid ground beneath them, sections with open air beneath, like bridges and overpasses, often become icy much faster. They are also generally places where it would be much more dangerous to lose control, so exercise extreme caution. 

6. Pack a winter roadside emergency kit. If your car breaks down during a winter storm or when conditions are cold, even a minor hassle can be dangerous. That's why it's so important to make sure your vehicle is packed with a winter roadside emergency kit that contains the necessary items for winter weather. This could include emergency blankets, extra gloves, hand warmers, rain gear, and so on.

Ice storms in Texas can certainly cause problems - we've seen our fair share of winter nightmares in the past. But with a little preparation ahead of time, you and your family will be able to ride out whatever the chilly wind blows your way!

Stay warm out there! 

Winter ice storm covering car

To learn how Germania Insurance works hard to help Texans protect what they've worked hard to build, request a free quote online or reach out to one of our Authorized Agents today! 

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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