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Preparation is key as Oklahomans brace for cold temperatures

Chris Ainsworth

As extremely cold weather moves into the state this week, many Oklahomans are looking for ways to keep themselves, their homes and their vehicles safe and warm. Local officials and businesses offer tips for weathering the cold.

The National Weather Service in Norman has already issued a Wind Chill Watch for 48 Oklahoma counties from Thursday morning through Friday morning. The NWS projects wind chills as low as -25˚F in northern Oklahoma and -15˚F in southern and central Oklahoma. According to the NWS, this bitter cold could cause frostbite on exposed skin in just 30 minutes.

Keep indoor pipes warm

Water expands when it freezes, which can put pressure on pipes and even cause them to burst. The City of Norman shared tipsfor preventing pipes from freezing and steps to take in case they do.

  • Open the cabinets under your sinks so that heated air can reach the pipes.
  • Leave your faucet trickling, so water doesn’t have a chance to freeze in your pipes.
  • Keep an eye on how water flows from your fixtures—if a flow slows down or stops, it could mean a pipe has frozen. You can also check for frost or bulging on any visible pipes.
  • If you believe a pipe has frozen, turn off your main water supply.
  • You can attempt to thaw frozen pipes with a hair dryer or space heater. If you turn the water back on after it’s thawed, do so slowly and keep a careful eye out for leaks or bulging in the pipes.

If you’re traveling during the freeze, it’s important to take precautions before you leave. “You could, in theory, be gone when your pipes burst,” said Leslie Gamble, AAA’s Oklahoma spokesperson. “And there's an awful mess that's there for a few days if you happen to be traveling over the holidays.”

Insulate outdoor faucets

Photo Provided by Christy Wheeler
Christy Wheeler
Insulated outdoor faucet cover

Water pipes are even more vulnerable where they’re exposed to the elements

  • Disconnect hoses and other attachments from outdoor faucets.
  • Make sure sprinklers are not set to run when temperatures are below freezing.
  • Cover outdoor faucets, so heat can’t escape through them. If you don’t have a Styrofoam insulator designed for outdoor spigots, you can tightly wrap several layers of dry material (like rags, t-shirts or newspaper) around the spigot, cover the bundle with a few plastic bags and seal the bag openings with tape.
  • If you know where your outdoor valve supply is, you can also shut off water to your outdoor faucets. Once the valve is turned off, you can turn on the faucets to purge all the water from the pipes. It’s still a good idea to insulate the outdoor faucets and valves even if the water is off.

Prepare vehicles

Extreme cold can also bring harm to vehicles; car batteries and tires are especially vulnerable to low temperatures. AAA projects that over a million people will travel more than 50 miles on Oklahoma’s roads in the coming week. Those holiday travelers will need to be prepared for the extreme temperatures.

  • Check your car battery, especially if it’s more than three years old. Even if you’re not using your car, cold can drain a battery’s energy.
  • Make sure your tires are at their recommended pressure. Air pressure decreases at low temperatures and can leave tires prone to skidding and blow-outs.
  • Check fluid levels and windshield wipers to make sure they’re in good condition.
  • Be prepared for a roadside emergency in the cold. Have a charged cell phone, blankets and other supplies available in the car.

Bundle up if going outside

Temperatures in the single digits and wind chills in the negative double digits aren’t quite record breaking; it was colder last year. But they do present a risk that isn’t around all winter: frostbite.

Wind chills under negative 16 degrees threaten frostbite after only half an hour outside.

Oklahoma emergency management officials are urging everyone to stay inside. But spokeswoman Keli Cain says if you do have to go out, "just obviously bundle up, wear layers and dress as warmly as possible and, you know, just limit your time outside."

Layers help protect from frostbite. The air between those layers acts as an insulator. The Mayo Clinic recommends choosing mittens over gloves, and to look for moisture-wicking clothes for bottom layers.

Utilities say they're better prepared for winter blast

Oklahoma Gas and Electric and Oklahoma Natural Gas say they are prepared for this week’s arctic blast.

A spokesperson for OG&E said the company has made several improvements to the power grid since the winter storm of February 2021 that left thousands in the dark. The utility company touted smart grid technology that has the ability to reroute power automatically to minimize outages.

Oklahoma Natural Gas said in a statement they’ve been working to secure natural gas supply well ahead of the extremely cold temperatures. The utility company said that about half of their supply is stored before the winter season.

Overnight shelters open up overflow beds

On a normal night, Oklahoma City’s eight community shelters are able to provide around 850 beds. But with temperatures dipping below freezing, some of the organizations that run the shelters are opening up overflow beds.

Kinsey Crocker with the Homeless Alliance said Salvation Army, City Care andCity Rescue Mission will provide about 145 additional beds. However, she said even those will likely fill up.

The Homeless Alliance plans to open up its Day shelter Thursday through Saturday at night to aid 80 people and their pets. The Homeless Alliance is working with EMBARK and coordinating transportation to their Day shelter and the night shelters in preparation for the cold.

    Keeping pets warm

    Chelsea Ferguson

    Keep your pet inside whenever possible. Make sure your pet has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.

    • If you keep your pet outside, ensure they have a warm, covered place to escape from rain and snow. Pay attention because water in their dish can freeze quickly.
    • During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
    • Thoroughly wipe off your dog's legs and stomach when he or she comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice after a walk. Dogs can ingest salt, antifreeze or other dangerous chemicals while licking their paws, and their paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
    • Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in colder months, completely dry him before walks. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
    • Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
    • If your dog enjoys spending of time outside, give him or her more food than usual to give the dog more protein, which helps grow a thick fur coat.

    Stay connected and informed

    As weather-related problems start to arrive, it’s crucial to stay informed and in touch with your community.

    “Most of the messages about things that you need to do or prepare for—you're gonna be able to find those on social media or on the news,” said Erin Hatfield with the Department of Environmental Quality. “So just make sure you have a way to access that.”

    A charged cell phone can also be a lifeline for people who experience car trouble and find themselves stranded.

    But our smart devices aren’t impervious to the cold, which can slow touch screen functionality and sap battery life.

    In a press release, U.S. Cellular recommended people use extra layers and body heat to keep their phones warm. If a device stops working, warm it up before trying to use it again.

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    Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
    Kateleigh Mills was the Special Projects reporter for KOSU from 2019 to 2024.
    Bekah Fountain joined KCCU in fall of 2022 as the station’s News Director.
    Nyk Daniels is KGOU’s Morning Edition host.
    Catherine Sweeney was StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter from 2020 to 2023.
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