AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County is asking people to prepare for a winter storm expected to hit Central Texas later this week. The storm is expected to bring the coldest temperatures of the season and the possibility of ice.

During Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners court, emergency management coordinator Eric Carter asked the public to prepare for tough driving conditions starting Thursday morning. He also urged people who will need to be outside for extended periods of time to break out the right clothes.

“Now’s the time to dust off your winter wardrobe if you haven’t already,” Carter said. “If you don’t have an emergency supply kit we encourage you to do that always.”

Here’s a list of ways you can prepare for this week’s winter storm:

Stay up-to-date with alerts

  • Warn Central Texas will send emails, texts or call with emergency alerts from the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG). Those are similar to the reverse 9-1-1 calls people with landline phones receive including evacuation notices, information about shelters, water boil notices and prolonged power outages. Carter urged people to sign up to get emergency alerts on Warn Central Texas’ website.
  • KXAN’s First Warning Weather team will also be working around the clock to bring you up-to-date weather coverage of this storm. Sign up for our daily forecast newsletter at kxan.com/newsletters. Download the KXAN Weather app to get the latest weather forecast: Apple | Android
  • As part of the county’s ‘prepare Travis County’ initiative, leaders also recommended connecting with utility providers prior to a winter weather event. That includes making sure all of your contact information and address is up-to-date, writing down important phone numbers, following your utility companies on social media and subscribing to alerts.

Build a kit

An emergency kit should include food and water that will last several days, along with tools in case your power goes out. Here are some things that should be included:

  • Food and water for several days
  • Pet food and supplies
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and phone chargers in case power goes out
  • Prescription medication and glasses

Meteorologist Kristen Currie spoke with Wes Rapaport from Texas Division of Emergency Management about what you need in your kit ahead of a storm and steps you can take to make sure you’re kit is safe. You can watch the full interview in this KXAN story.

You can also find a checklist from the Federal Emergency Management Agency here.

Get your home ready

What are some basic things you can do to protect you home? Examples include:

  • Leave your heat and water on to ensure it continues operating when you need it
  • Jennifer Herber with Austin Energy recommended keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees, if you can. During a really cold storm, this can help save energy, thus potentially preventing the need for rolling outages or causing even more outages in your area.
  • Keep your faucets dripping to avoid your pipes freezing and bursting
  • Keep cabinet doors open so the warm air can keep the pipes warm
  • If you are one of the hundreds, not thousands, of Texans who recently purchased a home generator, make sure it is placed safely outside and away from your home. Placing it inside, or too close to an air vent can cause the fumes and exhaust to enter your home.

Meteorologist Kristen Currie spoke with Sean Burgess from the insurance company Lemonade to learn some basic tips you can use to keep your home safe from the cold. You can watch the full interview in this KXAN story.

Know the lingo

Do you know the difference between a winter storm watch and a winter storm warning? Understanding what a watch is and how it becomes a warning can be a little tricky and it will come into play during this storm.

Watch this First Warning Weather University lesson where Chief Meteorologist David Yeomans explains the difference between a watch and a warning and why it is important to understand the difference.

Don’t forget your pets

Specifically younger pets, like puppies and kittens, as well as older pets can develop mild hypothermia symptoms with temperatures in the 50s, according to Dr. Samuel Morehead, owner of the Leander Vet Clinic explains.

Even healthy pets, if they spend a majority of their lives inside, can be susceptible to hypothermia.

Texas law requires animal owners to provide necessary food, water, care or shelter. When the temperature drops, the Austin Animal Services Office says outdoor pets should be brought inside if possible. If they can’t come inside, they should have shelter like a doghouse or shed with blankets or straw inside.

If you see an animal you suspect has been left out in the cold and aren’t able to first talk to the owner about it, the Humane Society says you should contact local law enforcement or animal control. In Austin, the recommended first step is to call 311.

For more information from Dr. Morehead on how the cold can impact pets, check out this story from KXAN meteorologist Mark Peña.

Other tips

  • OchsnerHealth advises you to check your smoke detectors to ensure they’re working. Change the batteries ahead of time
  • If you have one, have a professional look at your fireplace and clean it every year. Keep flammable materials away from the fire and do not burn trash or cardboard boxes in it
  • Don’t use your oven or stove as a heating source. This poses a fire hazard and can release dangerous gases, the health provider said
  • Keep a safe perimeter around electric space heaters. Check for faulty wiring as well that could create an electric shock or fire. Keep an eye on children and pets around the heater, and turn the heater off before leaving the room or going to bed, OchsnerHealth advises
  • If you see a downed power line, assume it is energized and do not go near it or drive over it. Call 311 to report it, and if you see sparks, call 911 immediately
  • Cover your plants: You can use blankets, drop cloths and even bed sheets to go over them, but the key is to create some space between the cover and the plant itself. In that empty space, that air will stay warmer, thus helping to protect your plant