Preparing for winter emergencies: on and off the road

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kevin Allen
  • United States Strategic Command Public Affairs
Cold weather conditions can quickly change a weekend at home, or a daily drive into a dangerous situation with little-to-no warning - know your foe and plan accordingly.

Heavy snows, ice storms and slippery roads have led to accidents, power outages or other situations, leaving motorists stranded and families without heat for hours, or even longer. Proper preparation for winter can help avoid the dangers of the season.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends the following steps to set yourself up for safety and success before winter storms and extreme cold set in:

Prepare your home and family

Prepare for possible isolation in your home by having sufficient heating fuel or back up generators to run space heaters; always run generators in well-ventilated areas. If you live in military housing, familiarize yourself with regulations regarding open flames in base housing and dormitory areas.

Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic. Consider doing the same to any other structures that provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment.

Clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on your home or other structure during a storm.

Insulate pipes with fiberglass insulation or newspapers and plastic. If you're going to be away from home, allow indoor faucets to drip a little during extreme cold weather to avoid freezing - outdoor faucets should be completely shut off and all hoses disconnected.

Keep fire extinguishers on hand and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. As more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions, house fires pose an additional risk.

Refamiliarize yourself with the location of your home's water valves and be prepared to shut them off if a pipe should burst.

Prepare your car

Before packing your bags for a winter or holiday road trip, ensure your mode of transportation is ready to get you to your destination. Check or have a mechanic check the following items on your vehicle:

·  Antifreeze levels - ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.

·  Battery and ignition system - should be in top condition and battery terminals should 
   be clean.

·  Brakes - check for wear and fluid levels.

·  Exhaust system - check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as 
   necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.

·  Fuel and air filters - replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and 
   maintaining at least a half tank of gas at all times.

·  Ensure heater, defroster, and lights/flashing hazard lights are working.

·  Oil - check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do 
   not lubricate as well.

·  Windshield wiper equipment - put on new blades and maintain proper washer fluid 
    level using non-freezing washer fluid (drain water from the reservoir).

·   Install winter tires, or make sure your tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials 
    are usually good for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that 
    to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with 
    (check your cross-country driving routes before you leave for areas possibly requiring 

If you get stranded on the roadway, your vehicle is the safest place to be. In recent years motorists have died in Nebraska trying to walk from local highways and roads after and accident or vehicle failure during snowstorms. If you are stranded for long periods and need to run the engine to keep warm, check your exhaust pipe for blockage from snow or ice. Most of all, stay inside your vehicle and use the items below to keep you safe until help arrives.

Place a winter emergency kit in each car that includes:

·  a shovel
·  windshield scraper and small broom
·  flashlight
·  battery powered radio
·  extra batteries
·  water
·  snack food
·  matches
·  extra hats, socks and mittens
·  First aid kit with pocket knife
·  Necessary medications
·  blanket(s)
·  tow chain or rope
·  road salt and sand
·  booster cables
·  emergency flares
·  fluorescent distress flag

Dress for the weather

Indoors or out, several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing are better insulators than one layer of heavy clothing.

Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.

Relive your childhood and wear mittens, which are warmer than gloves.

Wear a hat - statistics vary on just how much heat is lost through the head, but it's agreed that most heat loss is through the scalp.

Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs - the cold air can easily destroy unprotected tissues, resulting in frostbite.

Check the weather

So now you're prepared for the chill, your car is good to go, and you know how to dress - let's not forget the obvious first step for any winter activity - check the forecast. If you know a storm is coming, minimize your risk and stay indoors. These days, a forecast can cover a week to 10-days, so there's no reason to be running out for milk and bread in the middle of a storm when you can see it coming a week ahead of time.

For more information on base weather conditions, cancellations or reporting delays, call the Offutt Snow and Information Line at 232-COLD (2653).