A proclamation issued by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
West Virginia, Northeast Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, and Southeast Ohio all experience a variety of winter weather conditions. The terrain across the area can lead to rapidly changing road surfaces. Heavy snow, sleet, freezing rain, bitterly cold temperatures, and fog can lead to dangerous driving conditions. It is important to be familiar with the National Weather Service watch and warning definitions and criteria. You should also keep abreast of the latest weather forecasts and updates during the winter months. Simple preparedness steps help you avoid being adversely affected by common hazards of the winter season.
Watches, Warnings, and Advisories
In the event of inclement weather, the National Weather Service issues statements to alert the public of impending hazards. The following are watch, warning, and advisory terms you may hear during the winter season along with their definitions:
A winter storm watch is issued for severe winter conditions that are possible within the next three days, but timing, intensity, or occurrence may be uncertain.
A winter storm or ice storm warning is issued when life threatening severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. Immediate action should be taken to protect life and property.
A blizzard warning is issued when the following occurs for at least 3 hours or more:
Wind speeds or frequent gusts of 35 MPH or more
Considerable falling snow and/or blowing snow
Reduced visibility to a quarter mile or less
Winter weather advisories are issued when the weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. You should exercise caution.
A wind chill advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures are at or below -5F in the mountains and eastern panhandle, and -10F in the lowlands.
A wind chill warning is issued for wind chill temperatures that are at or below -20F in the mountains and eastern panhandle, and -25F in the lowlands.
Additional details on winter weather criteria can be found here.
Winter Travel and Safety
According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, approximately 70 percent of fatal automobile accidents are ice or snow-related. Another 25 percent of winter deaths can be attributed to people being caught out in the storms. Travel can be very treacherous during winter storms. Consider postponing travel until hazardous winter weather has ended. If you must travel during hazardous winter weather there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you arrive safely.
Always keep your gas tank full. Make sure your trip is planned and someone knows your route. If your vehicle becomes stranded in the snow in the countryside, do not leave it. Do not attempt to walk to a home in the middle of a snowstorm and strong winds. Periodically run the vehicle engine and heater, but make sure you open your window a crack and make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, make sure you tie a red or orange rag to the vehicle radio antenna so that others may see your vehicle better. Each winter, make sure you have updated your vehicle winter storm survival kit. Fully check and winterize your vehicle before winter. Pack extra blankets or sleeping bags. Include the following items in your winter survival kit:
Flashlight with extra batteries
First aid Kit
High calories non-perishable food
Water proof matches
A bag of sand or kitty litter.
Windshield scraper and brush
Cell phone charger and extra battery
Prepare your vehicle for winter by getting a complete tune-up in the fall. Check tire pressure at least once per month to ensure tires are properly inflated. Identical tires should be used on all four wheels to improve vehicle handling. Ensure that the tire treads are 1/16 inch for adequate traction. Have your exhaust system carefully checked for any leaks that could send carbon monoxide into your vehicle. Check your radiator and hoses for cracks and leaks. Make sure the radiator cap, water pump and thermostat work properly. Test the strength of the anti-freeze and test the functioning of the heater and defroster. Make sure wipers are in good condition and fill up on washer fluid, and carry and extra jug of washer fluid in the vehicle.
Safety at Home and Work
Winter weather can cause lost of heat, power, and telephone. Preparing prior to the storm can allow your, your family, or your employees the security of knowing that you can survive the storm. Every home should have a disaster supplies kit. Here are a few things to keep at home or at the workplace to prepare for impending winter weather:
Flashlight and extra batteries
Battery powered NOAA Weather Radio
Battery powered Portable Radio
Extra Food and Water
Extra medicine, baby items
First aid supplies
Emergency heating source
Fire extinguisher and smoke alarm
Carbon Monoxide detector
Food, water, and shelter for pets
Ensure proper ventilation for any space heaters to avoid deadly carbon monoxide gas buildup in your home.
Prepare for the outdoors by dressing for the season. Wear loose fitting and lightweight clothing in several layers. Wear a hat and mittens.
Clean gutters. Snow and ice can build up quickly, especially if your gutters are clogged with debris. When thawing begins, water from melting ice has nowhere to drain and can back up under your roof and eaves, causing water damage to walls and ceilings.
Check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure coverage is adequate for the type of winter weather in your area. Learn what is excluded from the policy.
During winter, drain pipes if your power goes off or if you plan an extended stay away from home. To drain, turn off the water heater and main water supply, open all faucets in the house and drain the system by keeping the valves open. Drain all toilets by holding the lever down until the tank empties. If well water is used, the pump's electric switch should be shut off and the pressure tank system should be drained.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
Winter brings about a variety of hazards. A pair hazards that are often overlooked with deadly results are frostbite and hypothermia. The combination of wind and low temperature in winter can lead to frostbite or hypothermia. The wind chill index can help you determine when dangerous conditions develop. Wind chill index accounts for heat loss from the human body due to the combination of cold and wind. The calculation for the wind chill index utilizes wind speed in miles per hour and temperature in degrees fahrenheit. Sometime you may hear wind chill index referred to as the apparent temperature.
Frostbite occurs when the body relies on survival mechanisms that take effect during extremely cold weather. The body will protect the vital inner organs first. By doing this, blood flow to the extremities such as feet, hands, and the nose is diminished. When less blood flow and extreme cold occur to these exposed locations they eventually freeze. A wind chill of -20F will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes.
Make sure all body parts are covered to minimize frostbite. Frostbite will cause a loss of feeling as your tissue to freezes. Your skin will turn white or pale. Return blood flow to frozen tissue by providing warmth to the affected area by holding it closely against warm skin.
The most common winter weather killer is hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature falls dangerously low. Hypothermia can take place even during relatively mild temperatures. Deaths can occur with air temperatures even at temperatures as warm as 50 degrees. If you have wet clothing the likelihood of hypothermia greatly increases.
Warning signs for the onset of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, slurred speech, and drowsiness. Immediate medical attentions should be given to victims suspected of having hypothermia. If medical attention is not possible try warming the victim slowly with warm liquids, dry clothing, and blankets.
Who are at risk of hypothermia?
Infants younger than age one
People 65 and older
Thin people are more prone to hypothermia because of less fat under the skin. Fat helps protect the body against the cold because it retains heat.
People with mental illnesses or developmental or cognitive disabilities may not be made aware of winter or severe weather. During inclement weather, check on your neighbors.
Some prescribed medicines may increase the risk of accidental hypothermia. Examples include medicines for hypothyroidism; diabetes; skin conditions such as psoriasis; arthritis, and Parkinson's disease which can restrict body movement.
Alcoholic drinks can also make a person lose body heat faster. People at higher risk of hypothermia should not drink alcoholic beverages.
School administrators and principals need to prepare for the dangers winter can bring for school children. Procedures and practices should be determined before the winter season begins. Consider some of these practices when creating a winter weather safety plan.
Get the latest weather forecast by using NOAA Weather Radio. You can also retrieve point weather forecasts for your area from the National Weather Service website. Monitor commercial radio and television stations. Create arrangements with local law enforcement agencies or other knowledgeable sources that can relay weather information. Efficient methods for obtaining weather information will aid in the decision making process and ensure student safety.
School bus drivers should receive extra training for hazardous winter driving conditions. Snow and ice can create dangerous driving conditions in a matter of a few minutes. Bus drivers should also be given training on recognizing the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. Drivers should be familiar with alternate routes, stay up to date on the latest forecasts, and maintain communications with school officials.
Schools should have accommodations made ready to allow students to be moved indoors quickly if they are dropped off early.
Knowledge of winter weather products, winter safety tips for work, home, school and travel, along with being able to recognize frostbite and hypothermia will help you to plan ahead when the winter season starts. Advanced preparation will help you avoid the pitfalls that can accompany winter weather.
Contact your local emergency management agency or your local National Weather Service Office for a speaker to discuss weather safety.