Prepare your people, property for another chilly Texas winter

These tips could help your county avoid thousands of dollars in damage


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The forecast for Texas this winter sees chilly conditions with near normal temperatures, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. The periodical predicts frigid weather in January, similar to what we saw earlier this year.

“Hopefully, [the weather] won’t be as robust, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared,” the forecast said.

February’s historic winter storms thrust many Texans, including those in charge of county operations, into uncharted territory — preparing for icy and snowy conditions.

The Texas Association of Counties Risk Management Pool (TAC RMP) received upward of 90 claims this past winter — most of them in February. Typically, TAC RMP members collectively file 15 to 20 claims per month during the winter.

One of the biggest lessons that TAC Risk Management Services staff want to pass on to counties is to make sure that interior temperatures do not dip below 45 degrees during winter weather. Because the winter storms in February crippled the state’s electrical grid, many counties lost heating, causing pipes to burst. Therefore, it’s also important to shut off water at the source when freezing temperatures hit and power goes out.

“If you can shut off water at the source, it mitigates major damage from occurring,” said Risk Control Manager Clem Zabalza.

Ice accumulation on roofs and overhangs can also damage properties, so counties must perform frequent checks of their counties’ facilities. Dry snow weighs about 7 pounds per cubic foot, and the same volume of wet snow can weigh up to 20 pounds, so proper draining is critical to keeping roofs and overhangs from collapsing, Zabalza said. Dammed-up water from snow can also cause roof leaks.

Risk control consultants can help counties develop a winter plan and conduct property assessments. Find your consultant at www.county.org/County-Risk-Management-Map.

Other tips to prepare your people and property for winter weather:

  • Clear walking surfaces of snow and ice and spread de-icer as quickly as possible after a winter storm to prevent falls.
  • Watch for low hanging or damaged power lines due to ice and/or snow buildup.
  • Carry a safety kit in your vehicle for emergencies — flashlight, jumper cables, abrasive material (sand, kitty litter, even floor mats), shovel, snow brush and ice scraper, warning signs or devices (such as flares, LED lights) and blankets.
  • Always steer into a skid to avoid losing control.
  • Be aware of increased stopping distances on snow and ice.
  • Vehicle fuel tanks and above-ground fuel storage tanks also require special attention when temperatures drop: Water condensation can occur during a temperature drop leading to fuel contamination that could damage vehicles and other equipment.
  • Open the doors to sink cabinets and other areas with water pipes to allow warm air to circulate.
  • Inspect fire sprinkler systems, especially those that use antifreeze to protect pipes from freezing. Antifreeze deteriorates over time and needs to be checked to ensure continual protection.