Missouri has had six ice storms over the last 16 winters that were so severe they led to federal disaster declarations. A 2009 ice storm in southeast Missouri downed about 18,000 utility poles and led to power outages that lasted up to two weeks for some residents.
No one knows what the 2018-2019 winter will bring, but now is the time to prepare. To call attention to the value of planning ahead, Wednesday, Nov. 14 has been designated as Missouri Winter Weather Preparedness Day by the National Weather Service (NWS). NWS, the Department of Health and Senior Services, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Division of Fire Safety, the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the Department of Public Safety and Missouri’s local emergency managers encourage all Missourians to take the steps to be prepared for whatever this winter may bring.
"This week, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) will conduct its annual statewide winter weather drill to make sure it’s ready for what winter brings; at SEMA, we routinely review all our response plans," SEMA Director Ron Walker said. "Winter Weather Preparedness Day serves as a reminder to all of us to take some basic steps so no one is caught off-guard this winter."
Some of the severe winter weather preparations Missourians should consider include:
Create a family home emergency plan and emergency kit. Emergency supplies should include bottled water, canned and dry foods, battery-powered radio, flashlights, extra batteries, manual can opener and a first-aid kit. Whenever power outages are possible, charge cell phones and other devices in advance so you are able to communicate if power is lost. If cell coverage is ever weak, remember that text messages are the best way to get through.
Assemble a separate vehicle winter emergency kit. Include a blanket, radio with spare batteries, snacks or energy-type food, jumper cables, flares, shovel and sand or cat litter to provide tire traction if you become stuck.
Know the risks of exposure to cold temperatures. Limit time spent outdoors in frigid temperatures and stay indoors, if possible. Protect against frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting clothing in several layers.
Avoid driving whenever possible when conditions include sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow or dense fog. If travel is necessary, make sure you emergency kit is in your vehicle, that cell phones are charged and emergency numbers are saved for fast dialing. Check on road conditions in advance on the MoDOT Traveler Info Map: http://traveler.modot.org/map/. If your vehicle breaks down or slides off the road, stay with your vehicle and call or wait for help. Remember, staying off roads gives snow removal crews time and space to clear them more quickly.
Make sure alternate heat and power sources, such as fireplaces, woodstoves, kerosene heaters and generators function properly. These sources can be dangerous and must be maintained and operated safely. Keep the correct fuel for each source on hand in a safe location. Proper ventilation is essential. Properly install carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home. Only operate generators outdoors. Ensure your generator will function when needed by running it periodically, as recommended by the manufacturer.
Remember space heaters are dangerous and potentially deadly when misused. Space heaters account for about one-third of home heating fires and 80 percent of home heating fire deaths annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These devices are supplemental heating sources and should be turned off when leaving a room or going to bed. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet from heating equipment. Never overload extension cords or electrical outlets. Spaces heaters should never be used in place of a primary heating system
NWS has prepared a webpage with safety tips and information about winter weather and its impact: https://www.weather.gov/lsx/winterweathersafety. The page includes explanations of weather terms like "wind-chill index" as well as information on generator safety and avoiding health and safety risks that come with frigid temperatures, snow and ice.
The MO.gov website includes a winter weather safety page that has additional information including safe winter driving techniques, avoiding injury when shoveling and other tips. The page is available at https://www.mo.gov/winter-weather-safety/. It also includes a video from the Missouri State Highway Patrol on driving in snow and ice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=y6yUlAEsBRM.
People should also be aware of the latest weather forecast and understand the different terms NWS uses when issuing winter weather advisories:
Winter Storm Watch — Severe winter weather may affect your area within 12 to 48 hours.
Winter Storm Warning — Severe winter weather is in the area or is imminent and could be life threatening.
Ice Storm Warnings — Ice accumulations of a quarter-inch or more are expected in your area.