AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite unusually warm December temperatures, record breaking even, we are heading towards our coldest months of the season. With that in mind, there’s a threat that many central Texans aren’t really prepared for — carbon monoxide poisoning. Meteorologist Sean Kelly spoke with David Whiting who is a retired Assistant Chief of the Columbus Division of Fire to discuss the dangers.

Carbon monoxide poisonings typically follow major storms in which people lose power and search for alternative sources of electricity; these often include generators or cars. Our historic February storm, for example, left millions of residents without power which in return resulted in one of the largest carbon monoxide poisoning events in recent United States history as people improperly used these alternative sources for energy. According to the Texas Tribune, at least 17 people were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning and more than 1,400 were hospitalized.

Back in June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law an ordinance that updated the Lone Star state’s building codes. This ordinance requires carbon monoxide alarms in homes that are built or renovated starting in 2022. “Texas is one of three states where it’s not a requirement for CO alarms. This is an opportunity for landlords to step up and make it safer for the people that live there as well as homeowners to go out and get carbon monoxide alarms to better protect themselves,” Whiting said. According to the Texas Tribune, “this new law, however, does not require carbon monoxide alarms in the state’s nearly 10 million existing living spaces. Before the legislative change, Texas was one of six states without any statewide requirements for carbon monoxide alarms. The new law still leaves Texas with weaker regulations than 29 other states that require the devices in existing residences.”

Carbon monoxide is produced by many appliances through the burning of fossil fuels. It is odorless and colorless. Think furnaces, hot water heaters, charcoal grills, generators, or vehicles. All of which produce this gas. When carbon monoxide is expelled into the home, the gas is trapped. “And when it gets cold out people tend to use generators, they move them inside, they tend to move charcoal grills inside to heat the house,” Whiting adds.

A few symptoms to look out for

“Some people will get headaches, have general tiredness, fatigue,” Whiting said. And as symptoms get worse you could get a loss of balance, develop a loss of coordination, often even flu-like symptoms. Whiting goes on to say, “Because it is an odorless gas that you don’t smell people will get drowsy and many times people will lay down and not wake up.”

Whiting encourages everyone to think about their friends and family this holiday season and to maybe buy a CO alarm/detector as a gift if you know someone who doesn’t have one.

“I always believe in the gift of safety, people are always looking for good ideas for the holidays. CO alarms like this one here are a great example of what you can get for your family to keep them safe.”