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Planning lessens cold weather impact

Published: November 21, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 21, 2014) -- People may not think of cold weather when they think about Alabama, but not properly planning for the cold can cost you dearly in the deep south this winter.

January is the coldest month on Fort Rucker with an average low of 38 degrees, but the lowest recorded temperature here was -1 degree in 1985 -- 33 degrees below freezing, according to Cindy Howell, Fort Rucker meteorological technician.

“According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, this winter could be cooler and wetter than normal,” said Howell. “This is due to the likelihood that a weak El Niño pattern will set up by year’s end. Here at Fort Rucker, wintry precipitation is pretty rare. We have had snow only four times in the past 12 winters.”

But Howell warns, “For folks who were here last January, you probably remember our rare winter storm. Northern portions of the area received measurable snow while the southern portion of the area, including Fort Rucker, received freezing rain and sleet. It was quite messy. This storm prompted post closures for parts of three days.”

The National Weather Service calls winter storms the “Deceptive Killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Unlike hurricanes or tornadoes, people die in winter storms from traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold. That is why Ready Army officials say it is important to be prepared for winter weather before it strikes.

In lower Alabama, the roads are not salted and cindered like they are in states further north, so drivers need to drive more cautiously.

“With this colder weather, even here in the South the roads have the potential to ice over,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Goldsmith, Military Police traffic NCO in charge. “Especially bridges and overpasses where the air can pass under the road causing it to freeze sooner than a normal road.”

Another concern people need to know is the effect the cold has on the wildlife around Fort Rucker.

“As the winter months are approaching, caution needs to be used while traveling on the roadways of not just Fort Rucker, but everywhere, as the deer and other wildlife will become more active and prevalent along the side roads,” added Goldsmith.

Howell suggests that people should “Bookmark the Department of Transportation website so you can stay up-to-date on travel advisories, accidents and road closures.”

Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures, and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain. Ready Army officials warn that a primary concern is the winter weather’s ability to knock out heat, power and communications services to people’s homes or offices, sometimes for days at a time. That is why preparedness is key.

Ready Army officials suggest people add winter supplies to their home and vehicle emergency kits. Most of the supplies are non-perishable, so people can store them after the winter months have passed.

Vehicle emergency kits should contain warm clothing in the winter months. Packing a warm jacket, hat and gloves in the car could make people more comfortable or save their lives, depending on the situation.

Howell warns, “Remember, the wind chill factor can be much colder than the actual thermometer reading. When you do go outside, dress appropriately. Dress in layers, and wear a hat and gloves.”

To get their homes ready, people should stock up on a bag of rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways and driveways. People can visit the Environmental Protection Agency website for a list of products it recommends.

Snow shovels might be hard to find around Fort Rucker, but a flat-head shovel will do just fine in an emergency to remove the all-too-common ice sheets from driveways and walkways.

In most homes, when the power goes out the heat stops, so people should plan on a safe, alternate way to keep warm during a blackout.

Ready Army officials warn that each year, an average of 430 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and there are more than 20,000 visits to the emergency room with more than 4,000 hospitalizations.

And people shouldn’t forget about pets when planning for cold winter storms. They need to make sure they have enough pet food stocked in case they can’t get to a store for a while.

Above all, Ready Army officials said that a family communication plan is the most important part of people’s preparations. Families need to plan how they will let each other know if they get stranded at work, school or a friend’s house and what the single fallback plan will be that everyone will follow if communication is cut off.

“You can find Fort Rucker Weather on social media to stay up to date on winter weather,” said Howell. “We have a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and a free mobile app.

“Each day, I post a general outlook and highlight any potential weather problems – severe weather, winter weather, etc,” she said. “Anytime we issue a weather watch, warning or advisory, we will post that to our social media sites as well.”

People who would like to learn more about staying safe this winter can visit Ready.gov/winter-weather to find information and links to the National Weather Service, Centers for Disease Control, NOAA and more.

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/138766/

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