By TOM BURCH
Cass County Sheriff
The month of November is Winter Weather Awareness Month and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety established Nov. 5-9 as Winter Hazard Awareness Week to help Minnesotans minimize the risks and hazards of winter. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety, in collaboration with the National Weather Service (NWS) and other state, federal and non-profit agencies, sponsors Winter Hazard Awareness Week each fall to educate, inform, remind and reinforce the behaviors and actions that lead to a warm, safe and enjoyable winter season. Each day a specific topic was covered and I would like to expand on and provide some additional information about Winter Storm Forecasts and a Reminder of Winter Driving Tips and Safety Recommendations.
You can stay ahead of the storm and by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio and television and internet sources for the latest winter storm warnings, watches and advisories. The NWS issues outlooks, watches, warnings and advisories for all winter weather hazards. We want you to use the information given to make an informed decision on your risk and what actions should be taken. Remember to listen to your local officials’ recommendations and to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest winter storm information. Some of the categories of storm warnings and watches having changed in the past years:
• Outlook: Winter storm conditions are possible in the next two to five days. Stay tuned to local media for updates.
• Watch: Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36-48 hours. Prepare now!
• Warning: Life-threatening severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. Act now!
• Advisory: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If you are cautious, these situations should not be life threatening.
• Extreme cold: At some point every winter, temperatures in Minnesota drop below zero. Adding even a small wind can drive the wind chill effect down to dangerous levels for anyone exposed to it for very long. Naturally, the best way to avoid any danger is to stay indoors in a well heated environment as much as possible. If you do feel the need to venture outdoors, make sure to take proper precautions and know how to spot the signs of frostbite and hypothermia, both for yourself and others, especially children, elderly or other people at risk.
Everyone should be cautious about traveling in extreme winter weather. Cold, snow and ice are demanding on cars, drivers and passengers. Most importantly, extreme winter weather can threaten your life. In addition to the basic safe driving habits we practice all year long — buckling up, driving alert and sober, and driving at a safe and legal speed — there are special precautions that need to be followed during the winter months.
• Make sure your car is ready for the season. Throughout the winter, keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze.
• Avoid traveling (especially alone) if severe weather is threatening. Before taking a trip, tell someone at your destination of your expected arrival time and your travel route. Stock your car with basic winter driving equipment: a scraper and brush, small shovel, jumper cables, tow chain and a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction. Also include road flares, a blanket, heavy boots, warm clothing and a flashlight with batteries. Keep an emergency survival kit in the car, including high-energy foods, such as a chocolate bar or energy bar.
• If your car has been outside during a snowfall, brush all the snow off before starting out. Pay particular attention to cleaning off headlights and taillights so that other motorists can see you.
• Adjust your speed to road conditions and increase following distance. Remember that bridges and overpasses can be more slippery than other parts of the road. If you begin to skid, remain calm, ease your foot off the gas and turn your wheels in the direction you want the front of the car to go. If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), apply a steady firm pressure to the brake pedal. Never pump ABS brakes.
• If you find yourself stranded, stay calm and stay put. Staying in your car will decrease your risk of frostbite or hypothermia and increase your chances of being rescued. Run your engine for heat about once an hour, every half hour in extreme cold. Make sure your exhaust pipe is clear to prevent carbon monoxide from getting into the car. Leave one window slightly open. Tie a piece of brightly colored cloth to your antenna to alert others and aid rescuers. Limit your sleep to short naps.
• Keep your phone and battery warm to avoid quick power drain. Driving requires your full attention; find a safe place to pull off the road when you need to make a call. If you do not have a cell phone, you can get a 911 cell phone at no cost from the Sheriff’s Office or a TRIAD member through the 911 Cell Phone Bank program.
By staying informed and keeping up to date on winter weather information, you can ensure your safety this winter!
IF YOU have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: Email at firstname.lastname@example.org; phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person, Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W., PO Box No. 1119, Walker, MN 56484.