Plan ahead to stay safe during winter weather

Submitted by Pat Melgares

The weather in Kansas may be unseasonably warm for the next several days, but we’re entering the time of year when a winter storm can blow in suddenly.

Kansas State University climatologist Mary Knapp says staying safe during unpredictable winter weather and driving conditions could be a matter of being prepared ahead of the storm.

Knapp, who works in the university’s Weather Data Library, recommends that drivers store a simple winter weather kit in the trunk of the car. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Association lists some common items that should be included in a winter weather kit, including the following: shovel, windshield scraper, flashlight, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, water, snack food, hats, mittens, tow chain or rope, road salt or sand for traction, jumper cables, and emergency flares and a fluorescent distress flag.

“In addition, they recommend having an empty metal coffee can, and candles and matches,” Knapp said. “You can use that as an alternate heating source if you can’t keep your engine running.”

All of the items should be stored permanently in the car during the winter months, except perhaps for water.

“Don’t keep water as part of your kit,” Knapp said. “In this kind of weather, it’s likely to freeze solid and if you do run into difficulties, trying to melt that bottle of water when you’re already stressed and stranded is not a good idea.”

“The last thing you can do as you’re leaving the house is to grab a bottle of water, or fill your reusable water bottle, so that it’s a liquid, not ice.”

Knapp also suggests making sure that your car’s routine maintenance is up to date, including antifreeze levels, wiper fluid with a de-icer, windshield wipers, tires with good tread, and a strong battery.

Also, when planning a trip, let others know when you’re leaving, the route you’re planning to take and when you plan to arrive so that if you get delayed or run into trouble, others know where to look for you.

“It could be anything from a flat tire to an encounter with a deer or wildlife that creates problems beyond what you might see as far as winter weather goes,” Knapp said. “If you are planning on a trip, look and see what the weather forecasts are for the route you’re planning to take, and whether you need to allow for more time to get there.”

It is also safer to drive during daylight hours when visibility is better, she said. Nighttime trips increase the risk of driving on frozen road surfaces and other issues. In areas where snow on the road is common, pack a set of tire chains and know how to put them on.

“In the modern era, you want to make sure your cell phone is charged and you may want to have an extra power source for that cell phone so that if you are stranded, you can power that up,” Knapp said. “A charging cable that can run off your battery would be a good thing to throw in your kit.”

However, cell phone service may not be available all of the time. Knapp said that as cellular companies move to 4G networks, the speed of connection is improving but the range of coverage is decreasing.

“You may start seeing blank spots in areas where before you had cell coverage,” she said. “That is something you need to be alert to.”

For more information on planning ahead for winter weather, visit FEMA’s website at www.Ready.gov.

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