While Texans might have previously enjoyed the novelty of a dip in temperatures, the past few winters have understandably left folks feeling a little skittish. In February 2021, we struggled through an extended deadly freeze and grid failure that left 11 million Texans without power for days. Two years later, another ice storm (albeit milder and more localized to Central Texas) again plunged tens of thousands into the cold and dark for days on end, with many feeling that they were on their own.
Looking ahead to the arctic blast forecast for early next week, familiar harbingers of extreme Texas weather have surfaced: ERCOT began to trend on X (formerly Twitter), Texans shared photos of their stockpiles and garden-coverage setups, and national news outlets turned their focus to the state’s incoming weather. The words “test the grid” were thrown around more blithely than those previously affected would likely appreciate.
“I know a lot of people are concerned, ‘Is the power going to stay on?’ ” Governor Greg Abbott said during a news conference on Friday. “We feel very good about the status of the Texas power grid and ERCOT to be able to effectively and successfully ensure that the power is going to stay on throughout the entirety of this winter storm episode.” He also assured residents that the freeze period is not expected to last as long as it did in 2021. Nor, crucially, is much precipitation expected.
ERCOT has issued a “weather watch” for Monday through Wednesday, but the organization has repeatedly said that the grid is stable and ready to handle the increase in demand brought by freezing conditions. It did, however, warn Friday of the possibility that ice could damage power lines and cause localized outages. Ice was to blame for last year’s blackouts in Central Texas after the region’s beloved oak trees, weighed down by a heavy layer of ice, lost branch after branch—and took power lines down with them. All of which is to say: local outages can still cause damage and dangerous, powerless conditions.
Texans have been through this before. We’ve overexplained to Northerners online that it’s less about the conditions or temperatures themselves and more about our state’s ability to handle them. We’ve familiarized ourselves with how many gallons of water a person really needs (one per person per day, if you’re wondering) and what number of canned goods is “right,” and pondered where we’ll go and how we’ll get there if our power stays out for days at a time. We’ve considered how we’ll keep our babies and our seniors warm and comfortable, plus how we’ll keep medications in stock and medical devices running. We’ve bought, considered buying, or lamented that we can’t afford generators. We’ve checked the forecast. We’ve checked the forecast again.
We’ve done it all in an effort to stay safe, but also to achieve some base-level peace of mind. Below, we’ve compiled some well-circulated tips on how to prepare for freezing weather and keep your plants, pets, and pipes safe and functioning. The peace of mind is harder won—but you’re fighting for it alongside your fellow Texans.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with your plants’ hardiness. Some plants, including native species, can withstand freezing temperatures—especially for limited periods of time. That said, your plants will only thank you for erring on the cautious side. You can easily find a particular species’ hardiness by searching for it online, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a thorough database for any harder-to-find native species.
For smaller potted plants that can be easily brought inside, consider a cozy green sleepover surrounded by flora. Potted plants that are not easily movable should be covered with a tucked sheet or tarp or, if possible, brought closer to the house and under an eave or porch that offers some level of protection. Keep in mind that potted plants are uniquely susceptible to freezing conditions because their roots lack the insulation that comes with being planted in the ground.
For plants in the ground, consider adding an additional layer of mulch ahead of freezing weather to protect roots and keep foliage warm. Plants that are rooted outdoors should also be covered to protect from any freezing precipitation. You can use plant covers specifically designed for this purpose, but a length of fleece also works. A material that is wind resistant and also light enough to sit atop a plant without causing damage is ideal.
Time spent outside should be limited for pets during freezing conditions. If at all possible, bring a pet normally kept outside inside. If not possible, make sure pets kept outdoors have a shelter available to them, and frequently check for signs of hypothermia. Dry blankets and fleece bedding can help keep a pet warm during a freeze, as can a shelter that is raised off the ground. Otherwise, wiping your pets’ paws when they come in from outside can help keep them comfortable.
Checking under the hood of your car before starting it, or giving it a few good thwacks, can help keep stray cats that have taken shelter there safe. (It happens more often than you might think!)
To ensure that your pipes don’t freeze and burst, you can do a few easy things: open the cabinets under your sinks so that the pipes are hit by the warmed air circulating in your home, and use items like towels or sheets to wrap any exposed pipes that might be in your garage or attic.
If your power goes out or you aren’t able to heat your home, you should let your faucets drip to keep water circulating through the pipes. If these conditions persist for more than a day, or if a pipe does burst, turn your water off entirely.
Peace of Mind
It helps to have distractions in the form of board games, a pack of cards, or a favorite cozy movie or TV show. (Last year our writers took comfort in the gentle, PG-rated delights of Paddington.) And while keeping up with the news is important, know when to tune out, too. If the headlines are stressing you out, log off and crack open a good book.