Soon temperatures will make their way toward freezing, accompanied by the opportunity for snow and ice – making this a good time for Oklahomans to become winter weather prepared. Toward that effort, Gov. Brad Henry has proclaimed Tuesday, November 10 as Winter Weather Preparedness Day. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM), Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), and the National Weather Service (NWS), along with other state and local agencies have teamed together to share information designed to assist the public in taking action now to ensure they are better prepared for the season.
With winter weather comes the need to prepare your home, automobile and family to deal with the colder temperatures, as well as the possibility for snow and ice. “It’s especially timely to review winter weather travel safety plans since more people will be on the roads during the holiday period,” explained OEM Director Albert Ashwood. “Before setting out on a holiday trip we encourage families to make sure they have prepared their vehicle. Packing blankets, emergency food and water, flashlights, a radio and cell phone with extra batteries will help you and your family, should you become stranded because of the weather,” he said.
If you must travel during a snow or ice event, allow extra time to reach your destination, and make sure you have plenty of fuel. Be particularly cautious on bridges and overpasses as they will be the first to freeze.
“ODOT has over 500 trucks available statewide to clear snow and ice” ODOT State Maintenance Engineer Kevin Bloss said. “If you happen to be on the road during snow or ice conditions, we ask motorists to drive cautiously and stay at least 200 feet behind our sand and salt equipment in order to keep everyone safe.”
It’s also important to remember to protect your home. Adding weather stripping and insulation, keeping furnaces clean and ready to use, and being aware of cold temperatures and vulnerable pipes that might freeze mark just some of the actions that can help prevent major and costly winter weather-related damage.
In recent years Oklahoma has been pounded with ice storms. Since 2007, ice storms were responsible for more than 55 deaths and power outages to more than 640,000 homes and businesses across the state. Infrastructure damage to cities, towns and counties alone exceeded $250 million.
“By following some simple tips and monitoring your local weather during times of severe weather, Oklahomans stand their best chance at not becoming a victim,” said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS Office in Norman.
Information regarding hazardous winter weather, including watches and warnings, is available on the NWS Web site at http://www.weather.gov, on NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio and on local radio and television stations. Sign up now to receive OEM’s weather alerts and receive NWS watches, warnings on your cell phone or other email address at http://www.ok.gov/OEM/.
Below are some additional winter weather preparedness tips. For more information on how to cope with winter weather, contact your local emergency manager.
- Know what winter storm and blizzard watches and warnings mean.
- An NWS Winter Storm watch is a message indicating that conditions are favorable to a winter storm.
- An NWS warning indicates that a winter storm is occurring or is imminent.
- A blizzard warning means sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 mph or greater and considerable falling or blowing snow are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
- Depend on a reliable weather information source (the Internet, NOAA Weather All Hazards Radio, local television and radio stations) for the latest weather information.
Plan for a Winter Storm:
- Develop a Family Disaster Plan for winter storms. Discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together when a winter storm hits.
- Understand the hazards of wind chill. A strong wind combined with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature of 35 degrees or colder.
- Check on family, friends and neighbors, especially the elderly. Make sure they are prepared.
- Don’t forget about the pets. Make sure they have good food and water supplies and a place to seek shelter.
- Have your car winterized before winter storm season.
Protect Your Property:
- Install and check/replace batteries in smoke alarms.
- Make sure your home is properly insulated. If necessary insulate walls and attic. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windowsills.
- Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
- To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of old newspapers. Cover the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture.
- Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
- Know how to shut off water valves.
- Consider storing extra heating fuel.
- Keep safe emergency-heating equipment, such as a fireplace with wood. Always be cautious in using a portable space heater and never leave the heater on when you are not in the room or when you go to bed.
- If you have a generator, take the time now to complete any required maintenance. Before using the generator, make sure you follow instructions from a licensed electrician to include proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
If You Must Go Out During a Winter Storm:
The best way to stay safe in a snowstorm is not to be out in it. Long periods of exposure to severe cold can result in frostbite or hypothermia. It is easy to become disoriented in blowing snow.
- Stretch before you go out. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. This will reduce your chances of muscle injury.
- Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow.
- Walk carefully on snowy, icy sidewalks. Slips and falls occur frequently in winter weather, resulting in painful and sometimes disabling injury.
- Dress in many layers and wear a hat and mittens or gloves.
- Come inside often for warm-up breaks.
- If you start to shiver or get very tired, or if your nose, fingers, toes, or ear lobes start to feel numb or turn very pale, come inside right away and seek medical assistance. These are the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and need immediate attention.
- Let someone know your destination, your route and when you expect to arrive.
- If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle and hang a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) on the radio antenna and raise the hood (after snow stops falling)
If you must drive in a storm:
Remember, the leading cause of death during winter storms is vehicle crashes. If at all possible, stay home during winter storms. If you know you will need to travel, prepare your vehicle and know how to react if you are stranded on the road.
- Check your local weather, as well as the weather along your route and at your destination. Check local media for event closings and cancellations. Remember, conditions can deteriorate quickly in a winter storm.
- Check for weather-related road conditions through the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety at www.dps.state.ok.us or by calling toll free, (888) 425-2385 or (405) 425-2385
- Make sure you have plenty of fuel; a good rule of thumb is to keep your fuel tank at least half full
- Always wear your seat belt
- In ice or snow, take it slow; allow ample time to reach your destination
- Bring a cell phone with an emergency roadside assistance number (In case of emergency, you can call the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at *55 or 911)
- Remember that bridges and ramps will be the first to freeze
Make sure your Winter Storm Disaster Supply Kit includes:
- A cell phone with extra battery or two-way radio
- Windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal
- Several blankets or sleeping bags
- Rain gear and extra sets of dry clothing, mittens, socks and a cap
- Non-perishable snacks like canned fruit, nuts and other high energy “munchies” Include non-electric can opener if necessary
- Several bottles of water (If necessary, melt it first. Eating snow will lower your body temperature.)
- A small sack of sand or kitty litter for generating traction under wheels and a set of tire chains or traction mats
- Jumper cables
- A first aid kit
- A flashlight with extra batteries
- A brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna if you get stranded