December Hazard: Winter Storms

December is the traditional start of winter, and past years have shown that this month is no stranger to seasonal severe weather. One of the worst ice storms in northeastern Oklahoma occurred in December 2007, with difficult travel conditions, downed trees and powerlines, and long-term power outages. The 2009 Christmas Eve Blizzard and Winter Storm brought to Tulsa County our first blizzard warning. Given that it is also a holiday season, many people are on the roads, potentially at risk. Are you ready?

A severe winter storm is one that drops more than two inches of snow or a quarter inch of ice. Winter weather is a tough forecast. If the temperature stays 39 F or less in the atmosphere or above, snow tends to occur. If temperature anywhere in the column of sky above exceeds 39 F, the snow melts. Then this could be rain, sleet, or glaze depending on the temperature near the ground.

An ice storm occurs when freezing rain falls and freezes immediately upon contact. Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down trees and topple utility poles and communication towers. Ice can disrupt communications and power for days while utility companies repair extensive damage. Even small accumulations of ice can be extremely dangerous to motorists and pedestrians. Bridges and overpasses are particularly dangerous because they freeze before other surfaces.

What to do?

Home and Work

Your primary concerns at home or work during a winter storm are loss of heat, power and telephone service and a shortage of supplies if storm conditions continue for more than a day. Review your emergency plans and the supplies in your emergency kit. The National Weather Service recommends that you should have available a flashlight and extra batteries; a battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and portable radio to receive emergency information; extra food and water such as dried fruit, nuts and granola bars, and other food requiring no cooking or refrigeration; extra prescription medicine; first-aid supplies; baby items such as diaper and formula; and adequate shelter and extra food for your pets.

Home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning are common each winter. Be sure any alternate heat source such as a fireplace, wood stove or space heater is properly vented to prevent a fire. Never use a gas cooking stove or any outside heater or cooking equipment inside the home, to avoid fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Never run a generator in an enclosed space or inside your home. Make sure your fire and carbon monoxide detectors are working.

On the Road

If you need to drive in snow or cold conditions, TAKE IT SLOW IN THE SNOW. Black ice can be difficult to see. If the temperature is near freezing, drive like you’re on ice–you may be!

Before you leave the house, especially before a longer trip in winter, make sure all fluid levels are full and ensure that the lights, heater, and windshield wipers in proper condition. Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Avoid traveling alone. Let someone know your timetable and primary and alternate routes. Then call 511 for the latest traffic and road incidents, including construction and weather conditions and restrictions. Every state offers this Department of Transportation service. Call before you leave, it might change your plans! Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins. Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit with blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, first aid kit, high-calorie / non-perishable food and other supplies.

A complete list of items for a Winter Storm Survival Kit and other recommendations about what to do before, during and after winter weather can be found at the National Weather Service website: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/ . Tulsa County / City of Tulsa residents can also download the Tulsa Ready App: http://readydl.com/tulsa-ready. In addition to providing emergency warnings and assisting with the development of emergency plans, the Tulsa Ready App has an information guide on winter preparedness.

The Disaster Resilience Network is providing these hazards of the month in conjunction with the City of Tulsa’s Storm Water Drainage and Hazard Mitigation Advisory Board. These hazards are identified in the 2014 City of Tulsa Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan. This month’s information was compiled from the Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, the National Weather Service and the Tulsa County Health Department.

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