SPRINGFIELD – The good news is the National Weather Service (NWS) is predicting milder temperatures and below normal precipitation in Illinois this winter. The bad news is people throughout Illinois can still expect a few outbreaks of bone-chilling cold and typical winter precipitation – snow, sleet and ice.
That’s why the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and the NWS are once again joining with Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s Keep Warm Illinois campaign to remind Illinoisans of the steps they can take to keep safe this winter when bad weather inevitably strikes. The agencies are promoting winter weather preparedness during the annual Winter Storm Preparedness Week, November 12-18.
“A mild winter would be welcomed by most of us in Illinois, but we don’t want people to become complacent and be caught unprepared when bad weather hits,” said IEMA director William C. Burke. “Many winter weather-related injuries and deaths could be prevented if people took a few moments now to prepare their homes and cars and reacquaint themselves with winter hazards.”
According to the NWS, there has not been a winter in Illinois without a severe winter storm in the past century. On average, the state experiences five severe winter storms each year.
Driving in sleet, snow or ice can be particularly treacherous and accidents often occur when drivers are caught unaware. “Drivers in Illinois need to be aware of the forecast for the first snowfall of the season and then slow down,” said Chris Miller with the NWS in Lincoln. “Most injuries and fatalities attributed to winter weather are a result of auto accidents. It doesn’t take much snow or ice to produce very slippery conditions.”
Before traveling in winter months, check the latest weather conditions along your travel route and make sure tires, wipers, and lights are in good condition. Start your trip with a full tank of gas, provide your itinerary to a friend, relative or co-worker, and if possible, travel during daylight hours on main roads.
While on the road, be prepared to turn back and seek shelter if conditions become threatening. Keep windows clear of snow and ice and adjust speed for road conditions.
If you are stranded, pull as far off the road as possible, set your hazard lights to flashing and hang or tie a colored cloth, preferably red, to your antenna, window or door. If you have a cellular phone, call for help. Stay in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, and then run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm.
Now is the time to equip your car with a winter car survival kit stocked with items that can keep you safe and warm if you should become stranded alongside a road. A car survival kit should include the following:
• Cell phone and charger
• First aid kit
• Water and high-calorie, non-perishable food
• Boots, hats, gloves and extra clothing to keep dry
• Sack of sand or cat litter
• Windshield scraper and brush
• Tool kit
• Tow rope
• Booster cables
• Compass and road maps
• A small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water
A severe winter storm could prevent you from leaving your home for several days, perhaps without electricity or heat. A basic home preparedness kit can help you get through winter storms and other emergencies throughout the year. Items in the kit should include:
• Three-day supply of non-perishable food, including high energy foods such as dried fruit and candy
• Bottled water (one gallon per family member per day for three days)
• Battery-operated radio, NOAA weather radio and extra batteries
• Flashlight and extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Extra medications and special items for babies, the disabled and the elderly
To learn more about winter preparedness, IEMA, NWS and the American Red Cross developed a Winter Storm Preparedness Guide, which is available on the IEMA website at www.state.il.us/iema or by calling (217) 785-9888. The guide includes many more tips on how to stay safe in your home and car, as well as information about winter weather terms, frostbite and hypothermia.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) also offers a free guide called “Weathering Winter” to help people stay safe and healthy during the winter. The guide addresses cold weather preparations including safety tips for using furnaces, fireplaces and space heaters; fire safety; weather terms and understanding wind chill; preparing for severe weather; maintaining your water supply; winterizing your vehicle; and safe winter driving. There is also health information about colds, influenza, hypothermia and frostbite. The guide includes safety information about winter sports such as sledding, ice skating, skiing and snowmobiling. Holiday safety information about holiday cooking, toy safety, Christmas tree safety, drinking and driving and alcohol consumption is also included.
A copy of the guide can be found on the IDPH website at http://www.idph.state.il.us/public/books/WeathWinter02.pdf or a free copy can be obtained by contacting the department at (217) 782-5750, TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466 or fax at (217) 782-3987.
The Keep Warm Illinois website (www.keepwarm.illinois.gov) offers various no-cost and low-cost energy saving tips, a web-based tool to conduct a home energy audit, links to energy assistance programs and other resources. In addition, the Keep Warm Illinois hotline (877-411-WARM) is another resource for Illinois residents to learn how to save energy and get energy assistance.