A strong arctic cold front is expected to push through Southeast Texas on Thursday, ushering in some of the coldest temperatures seen in many years across the region.

According to the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, forecasts indicate low temperatures from Thursday night through Sunday morning that could drop well into the teens across the Lakes Region with upper teens to middle 20s across lower Southeast Texas. 

In addition, high temperatures on these days will only reach the 30s and 40s, leading to many hours of below freezing temperatures similar to the bitter cold experienced in February, 1996.

Along with the cold temperatures, gusty north winds are expected behind the arctic cold front from Thursday into Friday. These winds combined with the bitter cold could cause dangerous wind chills in the single digits and teens from Thursday evening into Friday morning.

Some precipitation may occur but is expected to end by Thursday afternoon northwest to southeast with falling temps during the day Thursday. Forecast soundings still show a slight change over to a rain/snow mix before ending, however, no major problems are expected.

Protective clothing will be needed for anyone expected to be outdoors during this time. Exposed water pipes should be wrapped or they could be damaged. Sensitive plants and outdoor animals will need to be brought indoors or given extra protection from the extreme cold. Frequently check on the elderly to ensure they are warm. Use extra caution when utilizing space heaters and ensure that flammable objects are kept well away to prevent fires.

The arctic air will be rushing southward under the influence of a departing upper trough and the pressure rises behind it. This will make for strong winds (25-35 mph) Thursday in addition to the extreme cold. 

Wind chills may be near the lower teens or single digits by Thursday and Friday morning.

Temperatures are expected to remain at or below freezing for about 60 hours, or two and a half days. 

The NWS recommends you check your antifreeze and battery water levels (if possible, some batteries do not allow this); it’s also a good idea to fill up your gas tank as water in the bottom of the tank may freeze given these temperatures.

Protecting pets from the cold

According to Pets Inc. President Pat McQueen, with the frigid temperatures lately pets should never be left outside. This is especially important for older animals, those with short coats, puppies, and undernourished animals. McQueen also says temperatures below 40 degrees can be hard to handle, even with cover like doghouses, with or without insulation.

Here are a few tips from the Humane Society to help keep your pets safe this winter:

    1. Keep your cat inside if you can. Outdoors, cats can freeze, become lost or stolen, injured or killed.

  2. During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can become injured or killed by the fan belt. To avoid death or injury, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine.

  3. Never let your dog off of the leash on snow or ice. Dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure your pet always wears ID tags.

  4. Thoroughly wipe off your dog’s legs and stomach when he comes inside after being in sleet, snow, or ice. Road salt can be dangerous to animals.

   5. Never shave your dog down to the skin during winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth.

    6. 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.

   7. Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to train in the winter. You may opt to paper-train him or her inside.

    8. Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him or her, and its fur, in top shape.

  9. Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.

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

  11. Active dogs and outdoor dogs may require a more calorie-dense food to help them fight the elements. For more tips, click here visit the ASPCA Web site.

Protecting plants from a freeze

Southern winters may be so mild there’s little or no frost, and when this happens, even tender plants such as impatiens and crotons may pull through. But gardeners should keep an eye on forecasts to be prepared for a freeze.

Follow these steps to help your plants survive freezing temperatures and rain:

• WATER: If rain has missed your garden, water. Move potted tender plants indoors, including tropical hibiscus, plumeria, young or tropical fruit trees and bromeliads.

• MULCH: Give your plants a “blanket” of mulch. Together with moist soil, this helps protect their roots.

This is adequate protection for many shrubs that can withstand freezing temperatures, including abelia, azalea, boxwood, eleagnus, hawthorn, holly, ligustrum, loropetalum, mahonia, nandina, roses, wax myrtle and yaupon.

Duranta, hamelia, angel’s trumpet and root-hardy hibiscus may lose all or some of their tops in a hard freeze. But water and mulch, and they will likely return from their roots in spring. Covering them is optional.

• PROVIDE COVER: Many shrubs, trees and winter annuals tolerate cold, but to try to save blooms, cover flowering azaleas, camellias and fruit trees with row cover, sheets or blankets. Anchor the covers with bricks or stones.

Use nursery pots or cardboard boxes to create minigreenhouses for smaller plants.

Sky-blue forget-me-nots will show freeze damage without cover. Snapdragon blooms tolerate slight dips but show damage unless covered when it drops into the 20s. Uncovered petunia and primrose blooms tolerate short drops to the upper 20s. Alyssum, calendula, cyclamen, pansies and stock survive a mid-20s dip without cover.

When freezing rain is forecast, cover plants with sheets and blankets, then cover these with a heavier plastic and secure with bricks and stones.

• AFTER A FREEZE: Do not wash frost/ice off plants the morning after a freeze. This raises the temperature too quickly and usually damages the plant’s cell tissues.

Wait until the ice thaws, then assess plant damage. Hire a certified arborist to remove large or heavy broken branches from trees. If one-third or half of the major limbs are broken, or the trunk is split, decide whether first aid is practical or whether it is best to remove the tree.

Provide support for young trees bent with the weight of ice.

After a freeze, remove soggy, damaged parts on soft-stemmed plants such as impatiens and crinums. Do not prune woody plants such as garden hibiscus and hamellia. Leave the freeze-damaged wood to protect live wood farther down the branch. Prune to green, live wood in the spring, after the threat of freezes has passed.

In the spring, fertilize to encourage new growth and rejuvenate damaged plants. Water during dry periods, especially during the summer. Mulch.

A few more tips

To keep your pipes warm the city Water Department recommends wrapping exposed water lines and faucets with Styrofoam, fiberglass, rags or other insulating material. If possible, attic vents and exhausts should be sealed to prevent heat loss. Contrary to popular belief hot water pipes will freeze, even before cold water pipes. Officials recommend people planning to leave their homes overnight turn off water at private connections, then drain the plumbing system.

Be careful when using a space heater. Set the heater at least three feet from anything combustible and don’t let clothing get too close to the heater.

Do not use kitchen ovens, stoves or barbecue grills as heaters.
Pets should be kept inside if possible. As an alternative, increasing their food by at least 50 percent will help them generate extra body heat.

Tropical or frost-tender plants in containers should be brought inside during severe cold. If they are placed in a garage, a heat lamp will help. If plants must be left outside, cover them with sheets or a light blanket. If they are left uncovered, as soon as the thermometer moves above freezing, take a hose and wash the ice off. Some plants will not survive a hard freeze without cover.