19 tips to help you prepare for a polar vortex in Texas

February 12, 2021

Use these 19 tips to prepare your home, vehicle, and family for a polar vortex in Texas


Snow and ice covered barn during a polar vortex in Texas

Texans are no strangers to cold temperatures. As hot as it gets, we have our fair share of wintery weather, too. We've learned to prepare for it and we take it in stride. However, every so often Mother Nature throws an icy curveball our way, called a polar vortex.

With wind, rain, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures, this mass of cold air packs a punch and we'll need to be on our frostbitten toes. So how can us warm-blooded Texans prepare for this arctic event? How do we prepare our homes, ourselves, and our families? What is a polar vortex, anyway? Bundle up and read on as we share 19 tips to help you prepare or a polar vortex in Texas!

What is a polar vortex?


A polar vortex might sound like something ominous or novel, but it's actually something that always exists. Polar vortices are low-pressure systems that exist tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere above the Earth's poles. In the summer, they shrink, and in the winter, they expand, but they're always there. 

In the north, this system is more or less held in place by the jet stream, which is a strong current of wind that circles the globe. However, when certain circumstances arise, the low-pressure system can start to weaken, which can cause the jet stream to become unstable, or buckle. 

When this happens, pieces of the polar vortex can separate from the larger mass and travel south. As it does, it brings with it extremely low temperatures and a bitter brand of winter that Texans don't often experience. 

Preparing your home for a polar vortex


While polar vortices aren't a regular or yearly occurrence, they are not rare in the United States. However, the intense blast of arctic air can present many challenges to those of us in the more southern parts of the country who may not always be prepared for temperatures this low. 

The following are some important tips you can use to make sure that your home is prepared for the coming cold:

1. Be prepared for a power outage. Strong winds and ice can easily knock down power lines, leaving your home without power for extended periods of time. Make sure to have blankets, coats, flashlights, batteries, food, and water on hand. Keep devices, like your phone, charged as often as possible. 

2. Winterize. Take all necessary steps to winterize your home. This means covering outdoor water faucets, draining hoses, and so on. 

3. Make sure to keep outdoor animals safe and warm. While a simple dog house may be enough for normal winter conditions, the extremely low temperatures of a polar vortex may require further measures. However, when creating a warm space for your outdoor animals, be wary of creating potential fire hazards when combining things like heat lamps and flammable bedding, like straw. 

4. Make sure you're ready to safely heat your home. Staying warm is essential, but where there is heat, there is always the risk of fire. Follow our guide for safely heating your home during the winter to make sure that you minimize the risks. 

Preparing your vehicle for the freezing weather of a polar vortex


As you bundle up and hunker down inside, you may not spare a second thought to your vehicles. However, in the event that you have to brave the cold, you'll want to make sure that your vehicle is prepared. 

1. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Driving with under-inflated tires is never good, especially when there is a possibility of snow and ice on the road. Check your owner's manual, or look on the tire itself for the proper PSI. 

2. Check your tire tread. If the roads become icy, you'll need all the traction you can get. Check your tire tread with the "penny test" by inserting a penny between the tread on your tire with Lincoln's head facing down. If the tread covers the top of his head, you're in good shape.

3. Check your brakes. It's always a good idea to keep up with your routine brake maintenance, and you'll need your brakes if the roads become slick.

4. Check your windshield wiper blades. A lack of visibility is one of the most dangerous elements a driver can experience in wintery weather. Take a few minutes to inspect your wiper blades and replace them if needed. 

5. Replace wiper fluid with low-temperature fluid. Most windshield wiper fluid freezes at the same temperature as water. However, you can find fluid with a lower freezing point designed for winter conditions. 

6. Check engine coolant and antifreeze levels. The coolant in your vehicle doesn't just keep the engine from overheating - it has antifreeze that prevents it from freezing, too. Check the levels to make sure they are adequate

7. Keep your gas tank full. As the temperature of the air inside your gas tank begins to drop, water can condense into droplets, which can cause all sorts of problems such as freezing fuel lines. If you have a full tank of gas, there's less room for air, and therefore a lower chance of building up condensation. 

8. Test your battery. Colder temperatures can decrease the effectiveness of your battery, so make sure it's good to go. Most auto supply shops can quickly and easily test your battery for free. 

Driving safety in a polar vortex


As the cold air blows in, it is often more than just cold air; it frequently comes with frigid precipitation, which can create hazardous driving conditions. Let's take a look at a few ways you can prepare for the possibility of icy roads in Texas. 

1. Don't drive if you can avoid it. This might seem like a given, but it's certainly worth repeating. Do your best to take care of any errands and grocery shopping before the vortex blows in. Ice and freezing precipitation can prove dangerous for even those most seasoned drivers. 

2. Avoid driving unfamiliar vehicles. Every vehicle is a little different when it comes to safety features, handling, and braking and it often takes a little driving to get used to it. If you have to drive, make sure that it's a vehicle you're familiar with. A polar vortex isn't exactly the best time to get a feel for how a vehicle handles!

3. Avoid distracted driving. Of course, you should always avoid distractions and give the road ahead your full attention, but that goes double in wintery, possibly icy, conditions. 

4. Drive defensively. Play it safe! Give other vehicles plenty of room, accelerate and brake slowly, and keep your speed down.

5. Avoid bridges and overpasses.  While precipitation may take longer to freeze on roads with solid ground beneath them, sections with open air beneath, like bridges and overpasses, might be icy. 

6. Pack a winter roadside emergency kit. If your car breaks down during a polar vortex, a common inconvenience could become dangerous. Before you head out into the cold, make sure your vehicle is packed with a winter roadside emergency kit that contains the necessary items for winter weather. This could include emergency blankets, extra gloves, hand warmers, rain gear, and so on. 

7. Roadside assistance. Lastly, if you have access to roadside assistance services, make sure to keep that contact information on hand. Roadside assistance can be a lifesaver, but only if you know what number to call!

Bundle up, stay warm, and stay safe! 

Ice-covered branches during a polar vortex in Texas

When you're filing an insurance claim, chilly customer service just won't do! Since 1896, Germania Insurance has been the Insurance Texans Trust for great coverage and warm, friendly customer service.  

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.