Winter storms can be extremely damaging, especially in parts of the country unaccustomed to freezing temperatures. Organizations in cold-weather regions have more resources, awareness, and training to protect their people and premises from the true potential of these storms. In warmer climates, however, the opposite is true—churches, schools, and other ministry organizations in those regions are most at risk from rogue storms. This article discusses how best to be prepared for these unexpected situations and aims to reduce the loss of lives and destruction to your programs and properties.The state of Texas experienced an unforgettable event due to a winter storm February 13–17, 2021. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, the storm resulted in more than 170 million Americans being placed under various winter weather alerts issued by the National Weather Service. In addition, 9.9 million people in the U.S. and Mexico experienced blackouts, making it the largest electrical power outage in the U.S. since the Northeast blackout of 2003.
The storm contributed to a severe cold wave that affected most of North America. The storm also brought severe destructive weather, including several tornadoes, to the southeastern United States. On February 16, 2021, there were at least 20 direct fatalities and 13 indirect fatalities attributed to the storm. By July 14, the death toll had risen to at least 237, including 223 people in the United States and 14 people in Mexico.
Damages from the blackouts are estimated to be at least $195 billion, making the system the costliest natural disaster in the recorded history of Texas and the United States as a whole. It is also the deadliest winter storm in North America since the Blizzard of 1996, which killed 154 people.
This weather pattern is unusual for the South, but it could be an example of what we can expect in the future. How can we best prepare to face such changes while educating our church members, students, and staff to be better prepared? Along with the calamities described above, the church also received many claims from our institutions seeking assistance in fixing losses from frozen pipes, water leakage, roof damage, broken glass, hail damage, and other related causes.
Physical Preparation Before Winter
- Check all overgrown tree branches near roof lines and electrical power lines, and keep them trimmed so they do not fall close to the building due to wind or snow load.
- Clean all gutters and water downspouts, and ensure water will not stagnate at any point. Have a licensed roof contractor check the roof and carry out any needed maintenance.
- Drain all water from outside faucets and insulate the exposed pipes with rubber sheathing to keep the pipes from freezing when temperatures drop. This will protect the plumbing from cracking.
- Check all windows for caulking and exposed joints. Seal any cracks to protect the interior from losing heat when temperatures drop. This will also prevent water from entering the building when heavy winds and rain occur.
- Keep the building at least 55°F (12.8°C) to prevent the indoor pipes from freezing.
- Before winter, check the batteries in all smoke and heat detectors. Ensure that emergency lights are working well.
- If your facility has a vehicle or generator, consider keeping a supply of fuel appropriately stored in a separate storage area away from the main building.
- Make plans for the personnel who will be responsible for snow removal.
- Snow removal can be quite a risky exercise. Ensure your institution uses people who are strong and healthy to carry out this chore. Senior citizens and at-risk individuals should not be responsible for snow removal.
- Have plans to communicate to the congregation about severe weather conditions and advise them to stay indoors if the church/school premises will be closed.
Communication and General RecommendationsOne of the major crippling factors during the recent Texas winter storm was the absence of communication between the National Weather Service authorities and the affected residents. Because of power outages, many television and media services were offline. Cell phones were the only source of information, but many people were not able to charge their phones. Some individuals had not opted in to receive text messages from service providers, as this would add to the cost of their monthly plan. This meant many were unable to receive information and understand the seriousness of the storm. It would be wise to ensure that team members who are tasked with caring for the church or school facility are listening for and prepared to respond to changes in weather and announcements of incoming storms.
Finally, a gas fireplace is designed for visual aesthetics and should not be used for heating. Also, do not operate a generator indoors, as this can generate carbon monoxide and can lead to injury and even death.
Winter storms can cause the most damage in regions not accustomed to winter weather, which is why it is important for every church and school to have a plan in place to address these severe storms when they do occur.
- Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, October 27). February 13–17, 2021 North American winter storm. Wikipedia. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/February_13%E2%80%9317,_2021_North_American_winter_storm.
- Preliminary Estimates of Economic Costs of the February 2021 Texas Winter Storm (February 2021) https://www.perrymangroup.com/media/uploads/brief/perryman-preliminary-estimates-of-economic-costs-of-the-february-2021-texas-winter-storm-02-25-21.pdf