(CNN) — Texas is colder than it has lived in decades and is one of at least 25 states under a winter weather warning during this week’s historic cold outbreak.
But as Texans struggle to stay warm, power outages have begun across the state due to high demand.
Millions of customers in the US have lost power, and most of those outages occur in Texas. Power outages can be dangerous for those unprepared for severe winter cold.
If you’re in the middle of a power outage or expect that to happen sometime this week, here’s what you need to know to stay warm and safe.
Stay at home
Staying indoors is the best option for staying safe during a winter blackout, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you can, stay off the roads; icy conditions can lead to car accidents. Last week, at least nine people were killed in winter storm car accidents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including six who were killed in the 133-car crash in Fort Worth.
Take stock of the essentials
In case the power outage lasts a few days, you should have the following on hand:
- Extra food and water – a three to seven day supply is a good standard
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Battery powered radio
- Additional medications
- First aid supplies
If you need to take a trip outside, keep it as short as possible and put on several layers of clothing, the CDC says. Check with your local emergency authorities to make sure it is safe to drive or ride in the cold.
Wear several layers of clothing, it will be cold. In extreme cold conditions, the Houston Office of Emergency Management recommends wearing at least three layers of blouses, plus an outer layer to block the wind and two layers of pants. A hat, gloves, and a warm mask are also a must.
The CDC recommends warming yourself with extra blankets, sleeping bags, and winter coats.
However, it is not safe to keep blankets and other flammable materials near alternative heat sources, such as a portable heater. Keep heaters in an area free from flammable fabrics.
If you use a fireplace, first make sure it has adequate ventilation to the outside and that there are no gas leaks in your home. You should keep it stocked with dry wood, not paper, the CDC says, during the blackout.
To keep warm, close blinds and curtains and close bedroom doors to avoid “wasting heat,” recommends the National Weather Service. Placing towels in the gaps under doors can keep the cold from entering your home, and eating and drinking during the power outage will help keep your body warm.
Take care of your water and food supply
Avoid opening your refrigerator or freezer during the power outage to keep food cold. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a refrigerator can keep food cold during a power outage for about four hours, and a freezer will maintain its temperature for about 48 hours.
Fill coolers with ice, if necessary, to prevent food from spoiling.
Some water purification systems may not fully function when the power goes out, the CDC warns. You can check with local officials to make sure the water is safe; they should give specific recommendations for water treatment in your area.
Be careful with carbon monoxide
Generators can release poisonous carbon monoxide if you use them inside your home. If you’re using one this week, keep it outside, about 20 feet from your home, the CDC advises.
You should never use a gas stove or oven to heat your home, according to Ready.gov, the US government’s online disaster planning resource.
If it is safe, move to a warm place
If it is safe to travel to a shelter, be sure to wear a face mask or two-layer masks and bring extra in case your stay is extended. These locations should be well ventilated, although social distancing is still recommended, according to Ready.gov.
Know the signs of hypothermia
Babies, older adults, and the homeless are the most vulnerable to hypothermia. If you’re concerned about people in these groups, look for the signs: confusion, chills, slurred speech, drowsiness and muscle stiffness in adults, and bright red skin and low energy in babies, according to the CDC.
If you fear someone in your household is hypothermic, seek medical help. If they can’t get there right away, try to warm them with blankets, food and water, and an alternative heat source.
Save energy if you still have
Start by turning off and unplugging lights and nonessential appliances, and don’t use large appliances like ovens or washing machines if you can help it, suggests the Houston Office of Emergency Management.
Lower the thermostat to 68 degrees or less; If too many people turn up the heat, the demand could trigger another blackout.
During the day, if it’s sunny, open the blinds so the sun warms your house, but close them at night to avoid losing heat.
Call your loved ones
When it’s safe to do so, check in with the people around you to make sure they’re okay.
Those who have medical equipment that requires power, such as respirators, should be taken to places with generators or to the home of a friend or neighbor that has not been affected.
Take care of your pets
Don’t leave pets outside when it’s cold. Take them indoors to a warm shelter, advises the Humane Society of the United States.
If you are walking your dog (although the outdoor activity should be brief), consider wrapping it in a sweater or coat; pets can get hypothermia too.
Check your pet’s paws for rock salt or other chemicals used to melt ice. Those chemicals can irritate your pet’s paws, so wipe them off with a warm, damp towel when you return home.
If you have a reptile or other pet that relies on external sources of heat, you can do so with hand warmers, a generator (again, it’s only used outside your home), or snuggling, says PetCoach, a Petco online veterinary database. .
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism