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Weather official: Winter safety means being prepared

Belle Plaine firefighters examine a van that swerved onto its side near Belle Plaine. Nobody was injured. (Nov. 16, 2014)
Belle Plaine firefighters examine a van that swerved onto its side near Belle Plaine. Nobody was injured. (Nov. 16, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Even if a winter storm is battering the area, many people nowadays think nothing of tossing on a light jacket for a quick trip across town or down the road.

After all, they reason, they will only actually be outside for a minute, right?

But Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service, has a question for those travelers:

“Are you prepared for the conditions if you go off in the ditch and people can’t see you?” he asked.

Such a scenario can be a long way from people’s thoughts — particularly with unseasonably warm temperatures in the forecast for Wichita and much of Kansas for the next week or more. But Hayes wants people to plan ahead so they’re not caught unprepared.

When a freak snowstorm struck Atlanta last January, “people were stuck on the road, in some cases up to 24 hours,” he said.

For much of the nation, the first week of December marked Winter Weather Awareness Week. Hayes wants Kansans to make sure they’re ready when Old Man Winter packs a wallop.

“I hate wearing coats,” he said, “but I have a very thick down jacket, thick ski gloves and ear muffs that I keep in my car just in case.”

It’s routine for people to rush to the grocery store to buy bread and milk and maybe a few other staples when a winter storm enters the forecast. But Hayes wants residents to be ready when they’re traveling in wintry conditions, too.

That means a full tank of gas before they hit the road, he said. Blankets, coats, gloves — “some form of extra clothing,” he said — are a must as well.

He also urges travelers to pack snacks in their vehicles in case they become stranded. Nonperishable products such as nuts, cookies and granola bars are good options, he said.

Even folks who aren’t planning to travel when a strong winter storm hits need to take steps to make sure they can ride out the storm and its aftermath safely, Hayes said. If they rely on propane for heat and cooking, he said, they need to make sure they have enough before a big cold snap arrives.

Carbon monoxide detectors should be tested to make sure they are operating and would detect any issue with leaking gas.

“They also need to make sure they have enough supplies to last two or three days,” Hayes said, “or a back-up plan for where they’re going to go if they can’t stay where they are.”

Indoor animals should be kept inside, according to the Humane Society of the United States, while pets who spend most of their time outside should have a dry, draft-free shelter large enough to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold the animal’s body heat.

Warm engines may attract cats into the wheel wells, so people should bang on the hoods of vehicles they will be using to scare any pets away before starting the engine.

“We need to remember the pets,” Hayes said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

More information

For more information on pet safety in winter, go to www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/protect_pets_winter.html.

For more winter safety tips, go to www.nws.noaa.gov/os/winter/index.shtml.

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