Houston experts share best ways to protect people, pets, plants, pools, and cars from the upcoming freeze
Houston may not quite see a white Christmas, but it will no doubt be frigid, as the city prepares for yet another winter arctic front. CultureMap news partner ABC13 reports that the front will arrive on Thursday, December 22, with temperatures likely falling to the 20s by 9 pm.
Friday may stay below 32 degrees all day, and ABC13 meteorologists predict that Sunday, December 25 may be among the top-three coldest Christmas mornings in Houston history.
Experience tells us to safeguard the four Ps: people, pets, pipes, plants. As Houston is a car town, getting the ride ready for the plunging temps is also crucial.
With that in mind, CultureMap enlisted some local experts to assist harried Houstonians prep for our sudden freeze. Some tips are elementary, some are refreshers, and all are helpful to prevent headaches later.
Clearly, residents are advised to stay indoors as much as possible. The City of Houston generally opens the George R. Brown Convention Center or other large venues to those without shelter, as well as warming stations.
Houston nonprofit the Coalition for the Homeless recommends concerned locals donate to these nonprofits to aid in rescue and shelter for those who have no home:
- The Coalition for the Homeless
- SEARCH Homeless Services
- Avenue 360
- Star of Hope
- The Harris Center PATH
- U.S. Vets (veteran-specific)
Tragically, animals — especially dogs and cats — suffer brutally during extreme temps. “When the temperature drops, the absolute best thing you can do for your pet is to bring them inside — remember, dogs and cats can get frostbite and hypothermia just like humans,” Tena Lundquist Faust, co-president of Houston PetSet, tells CultureMap.
Tama Lundquist, co-president of Houston PetSet, reminds Houstonians who witness animal abuse or a dog cruelly chained or tethered outside in the elements to contact their law enforcement agency or file a report with the Harris County Animal Cruelty Taskforce online — or call 832-927-PAWS.
“It is now required by law to provide adequate shelter that will protect dogs from the elements. If you see dogs left outside without shelter, please report it,” she says. “With the temperatures dropping, that call could save that dog’s life.”
Animal-loving Houstonians can also leave cat or dog food — and water, after the freeze — outside for wandering strays who may need some nourishment. Consider donating to local shelters, rescues, and on-the-ground animal assistance groups as well.
- Tap your hood. Warm engines attract cats and small animals, who nestle under the hood but can get seriously hurt if a car is running. Tap your hood before starting your car to scare them out.
- Check their paws. Check and wipe paws after walks to protect against harsh weather and salt after outdoor walks.
- Sweater weather. Consider a warm dry coat for your pet when outdoors.
- Watch for chemicals. Antifreeze is poisonous - keep it out of reach.
- Stay indoors. Keep poty breaks quick and monitor your pet while outside.
- Be alert. Keep an eye out for signs of hypothermia such as shivering, whining, lethargy, decreased heart rate, and trouble walking or breathing.
- Put out fresh water in various size bowls, checking frequently to break it up if it freezes or keep it from freezing with a heated bowl or heating device.
- Leaves, sticks, and straw provide nesting materials and shelter for wildlife to stay warm.
- Put out whole or shelled nuts for squirrels.
- Place birdseed in sheltered areas such as under bushes, carports, or umbrellas, to protect from harsh winds.
- Keep your cats and dogs indoors.
Don't be surprised to see wildlife at unusual times. They may deviate from their normal schedule to seek food at the wamest time of the day.
Those with a green thumb have no doubt tended to their floral family. For those who need a little help, Zach Buchanan, owner of Buchanan’s Native Plants in The Heights, offers some tips — and encouragement — after the freeze ravages our planted flora.
“The top of the plant may die, but that doesn't mean the plant is necessarily dead,” says Buchanan, who adds that owners shouldn’t necessarily rip out plants that seem “brown and dead,” as they may regenerate in the spring.
Adding incandescent lights under the blankets which will raise the temperatures on the ground and around the plant, he notes. Then, cover with frost cloth or blankets. Buchanan advises against plastic, as it can burn leaves, unless it’s on top of the blankets. “But it’s best just to avoid plastic,” he adds.
If time, Buchanan says mulching flower beds adds extra insulation for plants and helps guarantee a spring return.
Master plumber and owner of All The Time Plumbing Thomas Moreno says that the No. 1 freeze prep for pipes is to turn off and drain the backflow preventer to the yard's sprinkler. "All you really need is a flathead screwdriver to drain it and it will stop the plastic diaphragm from breaking," he tells us. Cover pipes with insulation or old towels and and wrap with duct tape.
Inside, open cabinets that house plumbing fixtures to allow hot air to get into cabinets and let faucets trickle if they face an outside wall on the other side.
Those who won't be home or are prepping additional homes or rentals should shut the water off and drain all faucets.
Leaving and turning off the water? Don't forget to flush toilets to get all water out of the tanks. "During the 2021 freeze, a lot of toilet tanks froze because people weren't there," Moreno says, "but the tanks cracked. We must've replaced 50 toilet tanks."
Houston real estate expert Paige Martin enlisted Nabors Pools for some freeze tips.
Pools that have automation such as Pentair Easytouch, Hayward OmniLogic, or Jandy Aqualink, should have freeze protection already built into the system. If equipment is properly set up with functional censors — and electricity is running — no action is needed.
Check pools with timers and a variable speed pump with a display or control panel (located at the back of the pump) for freeze protection (if enabled).
For pools with timers and a single-speed pump without Wi-Fi control, app, remote, panel, or alternative control mechanisms, adjust the pump to run continuously during freezing temperatures to avoid damage.
Important reminder: Water temperature is more important than the air temperature. If water temperature is well above freezing, no action is needed. When in doubt, keep the water moving, circulating, and pumps running for safety.
In the event that the area loses electricity, turn off all breakers and drain the equipment — if it's safe. Those unsure of how to do this can watch this video.
Matt Burrage of Texas-German Autohaus reminds drivers to flush out water from their wipers and fill washer fluid — compatible for freezes — and run it for one minute.
Keep cars in garages if possible, and ensure that coolant systems have actual antifreeze and not just water. "Freezes make the water in those systems expand," says Burrage, the result is cracked parts that overheat when the car finally drives — and the car overheats.
Don't surprise to see low-tire warning after the freeze (cold air compresses air in tires.) Burrgage notes that local Discount Tire shops have seen 200 cars at a time in line for the tire pressure station. Owners of older cars should ensure batteries are tested and oil has been changed — preferably to synthetic.
Speaking of cold, cars, and animals: it's always smart to honk the horn or beat the hood to warn and critters in the car that have sought shelter.
"Nine years ago, a man called us and said he heard a cat meowing in his car," says Burrage. The man (for some reason) drove 25 minutes to Burrage, whose team extracted a kitten that had desperately clung to the transmission for warmth.
Thankfully, the story has a happy ending: A (rather annoyed) Burrage gave the cold, lonely, terrified kitten to a staffer, who adopted and named it — fittingly — Mercedes.