A week from now, Northeast Oklahoma residents will mark the first anniversary of an unprecidented ice storm that blanketed much of the state and left thousands without power for several days.
The storm had municipal employees, utility companies, emergency personnel, federal agencies and the American Red Cross on 24-hour duty. Many rural residents found themselves confined to their homes for days waiting for help to arrive.
Many say it was the kind of storm that only comes around about every 100 years. However, emergency management officials recommend that residents always be prepared for winter at its worst.
Authorities say right now is the time to make sure residents are prepared in the event another storm makes its way to Ottawa County this winter.
Officials offer the following tips for preparing for harsh weather conditions.
Know what winter storm and blizzard watches and warnings mean.
An National Weather Service winter storm watch is a message indicating that conditions are favorable to a winter storm.
A 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 a NOAA weather radio, along with local media outlets for reports.
Plan for a winter storm
Develop a family disaster plan for winter storms. Discuss with family members what should be done 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.
Prepare for possible isolation in your home by having sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be cut off.
Keep plenty of good drinking water and non-perishable food items available.
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 vehicles winterized before winter storm season.
Protect Your Property
Make sure residences are properly insulated. If necessary, insulate walls and 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.
Consider storing extra heating fuel.
Install and check smoke alarms.
Keep safe emergency-heating equipment, such as a fireplace with wood. Always be cautious in using a portable space heater.
Out in the elements
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 getting out into the cold. If going 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 shoveling 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 or gloves.
Come inside often for warm-up breaks.
If starting to shiver or getting very tired, or if nose, fingers, toes or ear lobes start to feel numb, go inside right away and seek medical assistance. The afore mentioned are signs of hypothermia and frostbite and need immediate attention.
Travelers should alert someone of their destination, route and when expected arrival time.
Travelers who get stranded should stay with their vehicle and hang a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) on the radio antenna and raise the hood (after snow stops falling.)
If forced to drive in a storm
Check the local forecast through the media, which would announce closures, updates or locations to avoid.
Check for weather-related road conditions through the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety at www.dps.state.ok.us http://www.dps.state.ok.us> or by calling (405) 425-2385 or toll free (888) 425-2385.
Make sure the vehicle hasplenty of fuel; a good rule of thumb is to keep the fuel tank at least half full.
Always wear a seat belt
In ice or snow, take it slow; allow ample time to reach the destination.
Bring a cell phone with an emergency roadside assistance number (In case of emergency, you can call the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at *55 or 911.)
Remember that bridges and ramps will be the first to freeze.
A driver's winter storm disaster supply kit should include:
A cell phone with extra battery or a 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 body temperature. If necessary, melt it first.
A small sack of sand or kitty litter for generating traction under wheels and a set of tire chains or traction mats.
A first aid kit
A flashlight with extra batteries
A brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna if stranded.