For Release December 4, 2005

Wintery Weather Travel Precautions

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

For anyone who is a fan of Great Plains weather, last weekend was a great example of the extremes that have shaped this part of the America. We literally went from tornado watches and warnings to winter storm warning. In about 12 hours we went from tornadoes on the ground to snow and freezing rain on the ground. We may still be a couple weeks away from the official start of weather, but the calendar says it's December, so for the next 4 months you might as well accept the fact that we are at Mother Nature's mercy in everything we plan.

Last Monday morning was a wake up call to winter weather with the results being everything from an inconvenience to unfortunate to tragic. From now until early April, we all need to be alert to winter weather travel conditions. So before the next round of snow or freezing precipitation occurs, let's review the do's and don'ts of winter weather travel.

The first "do" is to always be informed. Forecasts are not set in concrete. They are merely a prediction, with statistical odds, of what the weather may do, at some point of time in the future, given the conditions that we know to exist at this moment. There is much that we still don't know about what impacts weather from hour to hour. Wintery conditions can pop up on very short notice and some times with very little warning. Listen to local weather forecasts from a local media source or from a weather radio designed to receive the NOAA weather radio station broadcasts.

Always have your vehicle prepared for adverse conditions. Don't let the gas tank fall below one half tank. Should you wind up in a ditch or stuck in a snowdrift, you want to have as much fuel as possible so that you can run the car, periodically, as long as possible to ward off hypothermia. Keep extra coats, gloves, warm caps and blankets in the car so that you can bundle up if necessary. Keep some bottled water, some chocolate bars, newspaper, flashlight and some candles, matches or lighter and a larger can like an old one pound coffee can in the trunk. A candle in a can can give off a lot of warmth to keep fingers from suffering frostbite.

When the temperature is at or below freezing and precipitation of any kind starts, you need to change your driving style, in a hurry. I don't care what kind of vehicle you drive, you are at risk of losing traction with the road and losing control of your vehicle. Slow down and drive like there's an egg between your foot and the pedals. Everything needs to be done slowly to keep the tires in contact with the road. Anything quick, acceleration, braking or turning, can start a skid and then you simply have a 4 wheeled toboggan, in fact a toboggan would have more control than your vehicle! You may think that after you get going, and get a feel for it, that you can go normal speed, but that false sense of security will get you in trouble.

The other thing you need to deal with is visibility. Always drive with your lights on when there is precipitation. It simply makes you so much easier to see and at a greater distance. And then make sure you can see. Clear off all your windows including complete front and back glass as well as side windows. I saw a lot of people driving around with blocked rear windows on Monday and Tuesday. Don't take the porthole approach where you'll clear a space about ten inches across. You're going to get a surprise!

Winter travel conditions will occur again before spring arrives. It'll be an inconvenience and it may even cancel some of your travel plans. But with preparation and defensive driving when you do have to go out, it'll be nothing more than an inconvenience!


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