Temperatures are expected to fall to 7 degrees Feb. 15 with a potential for sleet, freezing rain, snow or some combination of the three, said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo at a Feb. 12 press conference. The weather conditions expected to hit Houston have not been seen in the city since December 1989, which also saw a low of 7 degrees.
"To be clear, what we’re about to see is not your typical, annual hard freeze," Hidalgo said. "This is a historic cold spell that has the potential of causing tremendous disruption to our region and of being potentially deadly."
Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District, said the county will be monitoring weather conditions to determine if dangers will persist beyond Feb. 16. Frozen rain can be deceptive in that it can make roads look wet when they are actually covered in ice, he said.
"It may look wet on Monday. ... Do not get in your car and think you can drive," he said. "Do not be fooled by the look of pavement when it may look wet but it’s actually ice."
Hidalgo likened the event to a hurricane in the potential for road closures, dangerous driving conditions and power outages if frozen rain weighs down power lines. She urged residents to use the next 48 hours to prepare, including by having phone chargers, food, water, blankets, medicine and flashlights on hand. Additionally, residents should ensure pets are inside, plants are protected and the main shutoff valve for water supply is located in the event of a pipe burst. Travel on roads should only be done in a "dire, critical situation" such as a medical emergency, officials said.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said residents should leave water running at a slow drip, which he said can lower the chances of a pipe freezing and bursting as they thaw. He also warned of the dangers of fire hazards and carbon monoxide poisoning when heating devices are used improperly.
Residents should not use stoves, ovens or open-flame grills inside the house for heat, he said. If a generator is used, it should be at least 20 feet away from any window or entrance to the house.
"Carbon monoxide is tasteless and odorless, and you can’t see it, but it is an ever-present hazard," Peña said.
The county plans to activate its emergency operations center Feb. 14, Hidalgo said, and will open warming sites across the county for people in need of shelter with details on the locations of those sites to be announced. All vaccination appointments at county and city sites Feb. 14-16 have been canceled and will be rescheduled.
The Texas Department of Transportation, the Harris County Toll Road Authority, the city of Houston and local teams with each county precinct are preparing to treat roads starting Feb. 12 and 13, Hidalgo said. The treatment is expected to lower the freezing point of the roads, but will not lower it enough for them to be safe to drive on, she said.
The city of Houston will also open a warming center at the George R. Brown Convention Center starting at 2 p.m. on Feb. 14, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. All services provided by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County—including rail, bus, METROLift, and high-occupancy vehicle and toll lanes—will be suspended Feb. 15 and 16 and possibly for longer if conditions remain dangerous, he said. Garbage and recycling services will also be delayed Feb. 15, he said.