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Oklahomans Urged to Prepare for Threat of Winter Storm

Monday, December 10, 2007

With this weekend's forecast calling for the first threat of measurable winter precipitation this season, now is the time for Oklahomans to take action. Toward that effort, Governor Brad Henry, the National Weather Service (NWS) and Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM) have teamed together to share information that will assist Oklahomans in being winter weather prepared.

With winter weather comes the need to prepare your home, automobile and family to deal with the colder temperatures, and the possibility for snow and ice as well as dangerous travel conditions and power outages. Next Tuesday is this year's Winter Weather Preparedness Day - a statewide initiative planned months ago. The proclamation by Gov. Henry recognizes the unruly weather tendencies of the state and einforces the need for Oklahomans to plan and be prepared for the effects of winter storms.

"It's especially timely to review winter weather travel safety plans since more people are typically on the road during the holiday period," explained OEM Director Albert Ashwood. "Before setting out on a holiday trip we encourage families to make sure they have prepared their vehicle. Packing blankets, emergency food and water, flashlights, a radio and cell phone with extra batteries will help you and your family, should you become stranded because of the weather," he said. OEM remains in contact with local emergency managers and will provide state assistance if necessary.

In recent years Oklahoma has experienced some deadly ice storms. Last January's ice storm alone caused 25 fatalities and many of those died in traffic accidents. During inclement winter weather motorists need to drive for the conditions by slowing down and being especially aware that black ice may be present. Drivers should also watch for sagging and downed power lines and tree branches in the event of heavy ice accumulations. For information regarding Oklahoma road conditions, call 888-425-2385, a toll-free service provided by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. For road conditions in neighboring states call: Texas, 800-452-9292; Kansas, 866-511-5368; Arkansas, 800-245-1672; and Missouri, 800-222-6400.

Last January's ice storm also brought power outages to more than 125,000 homes and businesses. "By following some simple tips, monitoring the media and having a NOAA Weather Radio, Oklahomans stand their best chance at not becoming a victim,¿ said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS Office in Norman. The January ice storm reinforced the need to have a NOAA Weather Radio year round when state health and emergency management officials worked with the NWS to broadcast information via the weather radio regarding the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning which in many cases was caused by improper use of generators and alternate heat sources. "Through the weather radio, which has a battery backup, we were able to deliver life-saving information to residents who were without power and otherwise might not have been able to receive that information," explained Smith.

It's also important to remember to protect your home from winter weather conditions. Adding weather stripping and insulation, keeping furnaces clean and ready to use, and being aware of cold temperatures and vulnerable pipes that might freeze mark just some of the actions that can help prevent major and costly winter weather-related damage.

Below are some winter weather preparedness tips. Residents who would like more information on how to cope with winter weather should contact their local emergency management office at city hall or the county courthouse or visit the following Web sites www.srh.noaa.gov/oun and www.oem.ok.gov .


WINTER WEATHER PREPAREDNESS TIPS

Be Aware
- Know what winter storm and blizzard watches and warnings mean.
- An NWS Winter Storm watch is a message indicating that conditions are favourable to a winter storm.
- An NWS warning indicates that a winter storm is occurring or is imminent.
- A blizzard warning means sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 mph or greater and considerable falling or blowing snow are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
- Depend on your NOAA Weather Radio, along with local radio and television stations for weather reports.

Plan for a Winter Storm
- Develop a Family Disaster Plan for winter storms. Discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued.
Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together when a winter storm hits.
- Understand the hazards of wind chill. A strong wind combined with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature of 35 degrees or colder.
- Check on family, friends and neighbors, especially the elderly. Make sure they are prepared.
- Don't forget about the pets. Make sure they have good food and water supplies and a place to seek shelter.
- Have your car winterized before winter storm season.
- During winter storm season keep your car's gas tank full for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing.

Protect Your Property
- Make sure your home is properly insulated. If necessary insulate
walls and the attic. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windowsills.
- Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
- To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of
old newspapers. Cover the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture.
- Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
- Know how to shut off water valves.
- Install and check smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
- Keep safe emergency-heating equipment, such as a fireplace with wood. Always be cautious in using a portable space heater.

If You Must Go Out During a Winter Storm:
- The best way to stay safe in a snowstorm is not to be out in it.
Long periods of exposure to severe cold can result in frostbite or hypothermia. It is easy to become disoriented in blowing snow.
- Stretch before you do so. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. This will reduce your
chances of muscle injury.
- Avoid overexertion, such as shovelling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow.
- Walk carefully on snowy, icy sidewalks. Slips and falls occur frequently in winter weather, resulting in painful and sometimes
disabling injury.
- Dress in many layers and wear a hat and mittens.
- Come inside often for warm-up breaks.
- If you start to shiver or get very tired, or if your nose, fingers, toes, or ear lobes start to feel numb or turn very pale, come inside right away and seek medical assistance. These are the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and need immediate attention.
- Let someone know your destination, your route and when you expect to arrive.
- If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle and hang a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) on the radio antenna and raise the
hood (after snow stops falling). This will help first responders locate you.

Make sure your Winter Storm Disaster Supply Kit includes:
- A cell phone with extra battery or two-way radio
- Windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal
- Several blankets or sleeping bags
- Rain gear and extra sets of dry clothing, mittens, socks and a cap
- Non-perishable snacks like canned fruit, nuts and other high energy "munchies." Include non-electric can opener if necessary.
- Several bottles of water. Eating snow will lower your body temperature. If necessary, melt it first.
- A small sack of sand or kitty litter for generating traction under wheels, a set of tire chains or traction mats.
- Jumper cables
- A first aid kit
- A flashlight with extra batteries
- A brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna if you get stranded.

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