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Lessons Learned from the 2021 Texas Winter Storm

2021 Texas Ice Storm

The 2021 Texas Winter Storm was one of the worst natural disasters the state has faced within the last decade. It resulted in the loss of life and extensive property damage. 

My family and I lived through the storm. As a prepper, I did my best to pay attention to what went wrong and learn from it. This article will be dedicated to the lessons that I learned from the 2021 Texas Winter Storm. I’ll also include steps that people can take to be more prepared in each area.

The Power Grid is Extremely Fragile

One of the biggest lessons learned from the 2021 Texas Winter Storm was how fragile the power grid is. Millions lost power at one point or another. Some lost it for several days on the coldest nights on record. 

The United States has three main power grids: East Coast, West Coast, and Texas. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses, however, the 2021 Winter Storm seemed tailor-made to prey on the Texas grid. Power generator operators failed to winterize their equipment. This resulted in failures at multiple power plants. 

While this was happening, homes and businesses across the state were using more power trying to stay warm. Decreased output combined with increased demand placed a ton of strain on the grid.

The grid was so strained, in fact, that it was mere minutes from failing completely. Had this happened, most of the state of Texas would have been without electricity for months.

In order to save the integrity of the grid, operators had to cut off power to millions of customers. At one point, Oncor, an electricity transmission and distribution utility, had around 25% of their customers without power. Many of these outages were meant to be short-term, but it didn’t work out that way.

Electric utility companies intended to roll the outages so that no-one would be without power for too long. However, the strain that the grid was under prevented this from happening. As a result, many customers throughout the state went without power for days at a time while others never had any disruption at all.

On top of the problems with the grid at large, the ice and snow caused extensive damage to power lines and other equipment. Fallen limbs were a big problem, especially in heavily-forested areas such as deep East Texas. 

Many of these problems weren’t fixed until after the grid had become stable enough to turn the power back on. This meant that people in these areas had to wait even longer for their power to come back on.

Steps to Take:

  • Always make sure that you have ways to provide basic energy needs off-grid. In the case of a winter storm, having a propane heater and plenty of fuel could be a lifesaver.
  • Having battery-operated lighting and a power bank to charge your phone is essential. There are many affordable options that should be doable for most people.
  • Get a generator if your budget allows. If you or a loved one rely on medical equipment, such as CPAP machines, they are absolutely essential. Generators, such as this one by Champion, are portable but still powerful enough to power devices such as deep freezers, refrigerators, and most home-based medical equipment.
  • If you have a larger budget, consider getting a standby generator. They tie directly into your home’s power system and turn on when your home loses power.

Water Utilities are Dependent on the Power Grid

One of the biggest problems that came from the 2021 Texas Winter Storm involved people losing access to clean water. This happened for a couple of reasons. The first was that water mains burst due to freezing. The second one was that blackouts caused some water treatment plants to go online.

Most of the time power outages do not result in people losing access to clean water. This is because most power outages only affect a small area. An example of this would be when a tree limb falls on a power line near your house. A situation like that would not affect your water treatment plant’s power since it is likely miles away.

However, power outages that affect large areas can knock water treatment plants off-line. This was the case near my home where attempted rolling blackouts shut down a water treatment plant. That, combined with busted water mains quickly drained the water our towns system had stored in water towers.

Within a day I watched our water pressure go from normal, to weak, and it was gone the next morning. However, it is important for preppers to know that water utilities are dependent on the power grid and can fail very quickly.

Fortunately, my family had plenty of water stored beforehand. However, many people who didn’t have water stored had to melt snow just to be able to flush their toilets. 

Steps to Take:

  • Store plenty of clean water. Have enough to last each member of your family for a week. A good goal is to have two gallons of water per day per person.
  • Be sure to have enough fuel to boil water if necessary. If you are going to rely on a stove, make sure that you have enough fuel for it and any other device that uses the same type of fuel.
  • Have multiple ways to filter water. I have a Berkey, but I am considering purchasing a Sawyer TAP filter, which you can find here. It attaches directly to faucets. This will reduce the amount of fuel that you’ll need for boiling. It will also make hand washing and brushing teeth easier.

Have Multiple Ways to Cook Off-Grid

Another lesson that I learned from the 2021 Texas Winter Storm was that you should have multiple ways to cook off-grid. These should include ways to cook both indoors and outdoors.

My primary means of cooking off-grid is a folding camp stove that uses 1-pound propane bottles. It is a good stove that has always been reliable. However, I realized that depending on it solely wasn’t a wise move.

The first problem with it is that it isn’t very safe to use indoors. Propane camp stoves can release carbon monoxide and should only be used in well-ventilated areas. Temperatures were low enough that going outside to cook wouldn’t have been ideal.

The other problem with relying solely on my propane camp stove was that I would have needed the propane bottles to operate my heater as well. Having to use my propane supplies to fuel both devices would have used up my supplies fairly quickly.

Alcohol Stoves for Indoor Cooking

Although my family was blessed to have not lost power, the possibility of it was constantly on my mind. To help my propane last longer, I decided to make a small alcohol stove from a couple of Coke cans. Alcohol stoves are some of the safest ways to cook off-grid when indoors.

Alcohol stoves can also use a variety of fuels. Denatured alcohol is the best fuel for these type of stoves, however, they can work using Isopropyl Alcohol as well. I had plenty of this in my medicine cabinet and it did burn.

Having an alcohol stove would have allowed me to heat water to prepare Mountain House meals. This, in turn, would have helped me save my propane for the heater. You can find a good-quality manufactured alcohol stove by clicking here.

Outdoor Cooking

Although outdoor cooking methods weren’t the best option during the Texas Winter Storm, they should still be part of your preps. Gas and charcoal grills can allow you to prepare tasty meals. If you have cast-iron cookware, you can prepare pretty much anything.

Related: What Every Prepper Needs to Know About Cast-Iron Cookware

Steps to Take:

  • Have cooking methods that are indoor-safe. These can include alcohol stoves or Sterno cans.
  • Store enough fuel for any devices that you plan to use. If multiple devices use the same fuel source, be sure to have enough for both.
  • Have cast-iron cookware. It can be used on electric and gas stoves as well as over open flames.

Don’t Store Preps in the Attic

One lesson that I learned during the 2021 Texas Winter Storm was not to store preps in the attic. My attic access is located in the garage and is inaccessible when a car is parked underneath.

Our driveway is on an incline. Also, the vehicle that was parked below the attic access isn’t capable of handling snow or ice. If we tried to move the vehicle out of the way, there was no way to guarantee we could get it back in. 

Fortunately, the only prep that we keep in the attic is our portable camping toilet. However, lack of access is only one reason why preps shouldn’t be stored in the attic.

Most attics aren’t climate-controlled and are subject to wide variations in temperature and humidity. Conditions such as these can quickly ruin food and damage gear. 

Attics are also more susceptible to pests than other areas of your home. Rodents can destroy food, clothing, and many other types of gear.

Steps to Take:

  • Keep you home organized so that you can keep all preps easily accessible. Reduce clutter and invest in good shelving units.

Know Where Your Water Shutoff Is

One of the biggest problems that people faced during the 2021 Texas Winter Storm was burst pipes. Cold temperatures combined with power loss resulted in pipes bursting and causing water damage to homes. Knowing how to shut off your home’s water supply could prevent you from suffering similar losses.

Insulating your pipes, using faucet covers, and dripping faucets are all good ways to prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting. However, many people don’t realize that your home’s heater also does a lot to protect your pipes. The warm air from inside your home helps to offset the cold temperatures outside.

If you have a heating system that relies on electricity, such as central heating and air, losing power will take this layer of protection away from your pipes. The most vulnerable are those along exterior walls, in the attic, and underneath the home.

In a situation such as this, the best way to protect your plumbing system may be to shut it off and drain it. This will reduce the amount of water in your system and the amount of pressure that can build up in your pipes.

To shut off your water system, find your water shutoff valve. It could be inside the water meter box or separate near the cleanout access point. Turn the valve until it is completely shut. Then drain the water from all spigots and faucets.

When turning your water supply back on, do so slowly. This will allow the water pressure to build back up gradually and prevent damage to your pipes or faucets. Turning it on too quickly can result in something called a “hammer” where water rushes back through your pipes and collides violently with the inside of faucets and spigots.

Steps to Take:

  • Find out where your water shutoff valve is. Mark its location with stakes in case it is covered with snow.
  • Determine if your water shutoff requires the use of a special tool. If it does, purchase one and keep it somewhere that you can get to easily.

Be Aware of Fire Dangers

Another thing that we learned from the 2021 Texas Winter Storm was to be aware of fire dangers. Many people lost their homes due to fires caused by trying to stay warm or thaw out pipes. 

A house just one block from our home caught on fire when someone tried to use a heated blanket to thaw their pipes. As the pipes thawed out water came into contact with the blanket. This resulted in a short with caused a fire. The house didn’t appear to be a total loss but it did suffer damage. 

People also tend to use things such as candles and oil lamps during emergencies such as these. Unfortunately, these can cause fires as well. People, as a whole, don’t use them very often and aren’t familiar with the dangers they pose.

When using any sort of flame-based heating or lighting, always have a fire extinguisher nearby. Doing so can prevent a small accident from destroying your entire home.

In many towns, a lack of water made it more difficult to fight fires. Fire hydrants are connected to the same water system that homes and businesses are. When the system loses pressure there is no way to deliver water where it is needed to fight a fire.

There were even instances of firefighters being forced to stand by and watch structures burn to the ground. There was no way for them to extinguish the fire. All they could do was ensure that people didn’t get too close.

Steps to Take:

  • Purchase one or more high-quality fire extinguishers. Keep them close by when using open flames.
  • Make sure that there are no flammable materials near open flames.
  • Don’t leave candles, oil lamps, or other similar items unattended.

Hypothermia Can Happen Inside a Home

One of the saddest lessons learned from the 2021 Texas Winter Storm was that you can die from hypothermia, even inside of a home. Small children and the elderly are the most at-risk of this happening.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature falls below 95 degrees. This can happen quickly if you are outside in a cold and/or damp environment. However, it can also happen inside dwellings when temperatures are extremely low

In one instance, an 11-year-old boy died in his own bed. His parents are currently suing ERCOT for 100 million dollars.

If your home loses power during cold weather, you must take steps to keep yourself and your loved ones warm. Fortunately, there are ways to do this even if you don’t have something like a heater.

Ways to Keep Warm During a Power Outage

Wear Multiple Layers

Having multiple layers of clothes will help create dead air space that traps your body heat. Even doing something as simple as wearing two pairs of pajama pants can make a huge difference. Keep your head and neck covered as well since you lose a lot of body heat from these areas.

Reduce Drafts

Prevent cold air from entering your home by covering windows and drafty doors. Masking tape is a great tool to use to seal doorways. Blankets or plastic sheeting can be used to cover windows.

Keep Everyone Together

My plan for my family was to keep up all together so we could benefit from each other’s body heat. This could mean huddling together for warmth or just keeping everyone in the same small room. This is especially important if you have small children or elderly family members. 

Related: Prepping with a Baby- The Complete Guide

Reduce Your Living Space

If you have ever been camping in cold weather, you know that a big tent isn’t the best idea. It allows heat to dissipate, reducing its effectiveness at keeping you warm. 

Apply the same logic to your home during a winter power outage. Close off nonessential areas of your home and try to stay in one place as much as possible. This should be somewhere that has a fireplace or can be heated safely using some other means. 

You can use a tent or blankets to make rooms smaller. This will give heat less room to dissipate, helping you stay warm while using as little fuel as possible.

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