With the first winter storm of 2011 striking North Texas earlier this week, Somervell county residents are once again on the watch for Jack Frost. Though Texans may not consider winter storms as dangerous as our neighbors to the north do, winter in Texas can pose costly risks to personal safety and property.

Winter storms are known as deceptive killers because most deaths are not directly caused by the storm itself but by indirect events such as carbon monoxide poisoning from defective heating units and/or poor ventilation and automobile accidents. Also, prolonged exposure to the cold and hypothermia are common threats during the winter storms, especially to those who cannot seek adequate shelter on their own, such as penned livestock and companion animals. Being aware of these threats during the winter months and taking a few steps to ensure your familyís and animalís safety can ensure an enjoyable winter.

Several state and federal agencies, including the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, offer online educational material on protecting your family and property against the many environmental disasters that effect Texans throughout the year. There are several helpful steps these agencies recommend on winter weather awareness.

First and foremost, have a plan. This may sound a bit excessive for Texas winters, but if the unexpected happens, a plan can come make a winter storm less stressful. When making a winter storm plan, ask yourself several questions. How will I keep warm if I lose power? How will I care for my animals? What do I need to do to prepare if I have someone in my house with special needs and what accommodations will they need? How do I shut off my water at the meter? What supplies will I need at my house to accommodate myself and family for several days? These are just several questions you should ask yourself when making a winter weather plan.

Second, get prepared! The main concerns during a winter storm are loss of heat, power and telephone service and shortage of supplies if the storm lasts longer than a day. Make sure you have enough supplies for your family to last three to five days. Items you may consider having on hand could include flashlights, bottled water (pipes often freeze during cold temperatures preventing water flow to your home), food, battery-powered weather radio and A.M./F.M. radio, cash (ATMs may not be accessible if power is lost in town), first aid kit, heating fuel, emergency heat sources (wood, generators, etc.) and a fire extinguisher.

Third, prepare your vehicle. Always avoid travel in winter storms, however, if you must go out, make sure your vehicle is mechanically sound for winter travel. Be aware that tire pressure often decreases in cold temperatures.

Lastly, after you have taken proper steps to ensure the safety of you and your family, be sure to ensure the safety of your livestock and pets. If your animals are outside, be sure they have adequate shelter to escape the cold wind. If electricity is available, a heat lamp may be necessary during abnormally cold nights.

Wood shavings may also be necessary as bedding to keep your animals warm. Keep bedding dry and clean. Fresh water is also just as important during the cold. Routinely check water sources making sure they are not frozen over and having a water source for those long cold spells.

These are just several steps your family can follow to keep safe and warm during the Texas winter. For more information on winter weather preparedness, please visit http://texashelp.tamu.edu/. Here you will find information on many other threats that effect Texans every year.