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How to Deal With Below-Freezing Temperatures in Texas

You’re gonna need more than a sweater.

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Illustration by Anna Donlan

How are you doing, Texas? Did you put on an extra sweater today? Has that guy who wears shorts year-round finally put on long pants? Are you worried about what your heating bill will look like next month? We get it—it’s cold outside.

It’s rare that shiver-worthy weather reaches all corners of the state at once, but Texans all over are feeling the chills. It’s 24 degrees in Dallas, 28 degrees in Austin, and 32 in San Antonio. Sub-freezing temperatures in the bright light of day are unusual in any of those cities, let alone all at once.

It’s even colder in the Panhandle: in Amarillo, they’ve got a whopping 12 degrees to play with, while out in Abilene, it’s still pretty miserable at 21 degrees.

Even parts of the state that are usually cold-resistant, like the Valley, are shivering. In McAllen, they’re looking at 38 degrees, and if you’re beach-combing on South Padre Island this January day, we hope you packed a big coat, as the wind coming off of the Gulf will make 42 degrees feel even chillier.

In general, the weather out there is significantly colder than the average—about 10 to 15 degrees colder than the usual lows in January in most parts of the state. (El Paso, meanwhile, is within a few degrees of the wintertime average at 37 degrees.) We’re still not close to record-breaking cold, though: Amarillo’s 12 degrees is still a lot warmer than the -11 degrees in the winter of 1984, and descending to Austin’s bone-chilling January low of -5 in the winter of 1949 would presumably start riots at the city’s many coffeeshops.

For this kind of unusual cold, cities prepared ahead of time. In Austin, the city established temporary homeless shelters in advance of New Year’s Eve, anticipating an oncoming rush of people looking for a warm place to sleep. At the Houston Zoo, keepers prepared for the weather by wrapping the exotic bird habitats in heavy plastic and maintaining comfortable temperatures with heat lamps. In the Panhandle, ranchers work long hours breaking up ice, keeping feed stores high, and hoping that the winterizing they started earlier in the season is sufficient.

Our friends up north are presumably shaking their heads as they read about the poor Texans freaking out in the cold, but it’s important to remember that we aren’t set up for this. When temperatures frequently dip below freezing, cities invest in an abundance of salt trucks and heavily insulated outdoor pipes. But an unusually cold spell, like Texans are experiencing, leaves residents without the built-in support.

All of which means that there are a couple of things Texans ought to do in a cold snap. Dripping faucets, annoying as it is to hear the constant drip (pro tip: put a sponge under the faucet), is genuinely important to prevent damage to pipes. A single overnight freeze may not cause too many problems, but in much of the state, the weather hasn’t gotten above freezing in 36 hours, with another day or more of cold weather to come.

Keeping pets safe is important, too. If you’ve got an animal that normally lives outdoors, it’ll be susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, which means that this week you’ll want to find a space for it to spend time indoors—even if that means creating a shelter for them in the backyard, if the pet we’re talking about is more of a roaming neighborhood cat than a beloved family dog. For the latter, when you do take them out on a walk, now is the time of year when a puppy sweater is a legitimate safety decision rather than a humiliating torment.

In other words, it really is cold out there, and while there are other parts of the country where the temperature has fallen below zero, residents of Indianapolis and Buffalo know how to navigate it. Here in Texas, we’ve got to take care of ourselves.

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  • St. Anger

    Austin schools still open tomorrow?(that is a question, don’t quote me)

    I get it; we only get snow days when it is above freezing and dry. Since it is currently freezing and wet with ice on the roads, better proceed with school tomorrow.

  • Dan on the River

    Protips:
    1. Wrap pipes, cover faucets etc BEFORE it gets cold and BEFORE the hardware store runs out of insulation foam. It ain’t like winter does not come every year.
    2. Buy 0oF windshield washer fluid before the freeze. Due to environmentalists concerns most “day to day” washer fluid is water and freezes at 32oF. Make sure it says 0oF on the jug or go to CVS/Walgeens and get a bottle of 70% Isopropyl alcohol and mix with the regular fluid.
    3. Layer your clothes. Hard to get a pair of long underwear under some skinny jeans. Buy accordingly.
    4. If it’s icy stay HOME. I don’t care if you have 4WD. It doesn’t help you stop. And all you Northerners – maybe you THINK you can drive in those conditions, but we natives cannot. You’ve been warned.

    • Tejasguitarman

      The most dangerous thing on wintry roads are Texans who think they’re 9 ft tall & bullet proof in their humongous 4WD SUV’s. I can’t speak for all Northerners but all New Englanders with the exception of some urban dwelling Massholes KNOW how to drive in tough winter conditions even without 4WD or AWD.
      Noo Ham’sha Live Freeze & Die!

      • Dan on the River

        Massholes!! Love it.
        Like I said If it’s icy stay home.

  • Donald Baker

    Guess if you really feel cold, you could get fraudulent hustlers like Al Gore to come down and tell you how warm it is.