Winter is hereLocal experts give tips to survive winter driving
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
It’s winter and that means a whole new game for motorists.
With winter, comes snow, ice and bitter cold.
Motorists, however, can overcome the elements if they exercise good judgment, said Walt Jackson, Henry County Emergency Management director and a former police officer.
“One of the most important things is to always allow plenty of time to get to your destination, don’t get into the mindset that you have to rush,” Jackson said.
Henry County Sheriff Rich McNamee agreed, saying allowing extra time is not only safe but prudent. “Also start your car before you leave to allow it to warm up. An ice scraper is important, too, not only to have but to use.”
Both officials said to have your cellphone charged before leaving and it would be a good idea to have a cellphone charger in the car. “I would also have the county sheriff’s non-emergency number posted in the car in case of problems,” McNamee remarked.
Jackson said throwing a blanket and an extra jacket in the car is a good idea, too.
“Drivers should always be aware of the road conditions,” Jackson commented. “If the road looks wet, it is probably ice. If you hit an icy patch, don’t panic or overcorrect.”
When going into a skid, it is important to remember to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction of the skid to regain control of the vehicle’s path.
Jackson said operators must drive defensively. “Hitting ice patches can be tricky,” he noted.
Driving speeds according to the weather conditions and allowing extra space between vehicles is important, McNamee said. He said putting some sand, salt or cat litter and a shovel in the trunk will help in the event of becoming stuck.
Preparing the car for winter is something some drivers take for granted, Jackson said. “You should always have at least one-half tank of gas, make sure your tires are properly inflated and have the battery checked.”
McNamee and Jackson agreed that most drivers who have either grown up in the area or spent a number of years in Iowa winters readily adapt to the conditions.
“The majority of the drivers observe most of the winter driving tips,” McNamee stated. “It is a lot to put on the plate.
“I also think we see a little less traffic during times of bad weather,” he continued. “A lot of the convenience driving (trips to the grocery store, etc.) are eliminated.”
Jackson said that most people who have grown up in Iowa understand the conditions. Secondly, state and county road crews do a good job of keeping the roads clear, he added. “I think the road crews do a great job. They get out early and are working day and night. That is a big key.”
Winter has been kind to Henry County in recent years. Last year, the county only received about 10 inches of snow. With the exception of a fatality in early 2015 north of Mt. Pleasant on U.S. Highway 218, there have not been a lot of nasty weather-related accidents, McNamee and Jackson said.
“Knock on wood, we haven’t had any bad weather-related accidents for a while,” McNamee reflected.
Jackson echoed McNamee’s sentiments. “Just because there have not been a lot of bad accidents in the winter, don’t get lulled into a sense of false security. You don’t want to be the first.”
Some of the items, according to law enforcement and emergency management, to be included in a winter survival driving kit include the following:
• Pocket knife;
• Jumper cables;
• Several packets of soup, hot chocolate, tea, bouillon cubs, etc. (to be mixed into melted snow to provide warmth and nutrition);
• Packages of food easy to eat — high energy foods like peanuts, granola bars, peanuts and candy or canned, ready-to-eat soups or fruit;
• One pair of socks and one pair of gloves or glove liners (cotton is not recommended because it provides no insulation when wet);
• Two packages of book matches;
• One flash light and batteries (keep separate);
• First-aid kit;
• Small tool kit;
• Tow rope or chain;
• Road flares or warning lights;
• Large plastic garbage bag;
• Plastic whistle.
Motorists are advised to keep the survival kit in the passenger compartment in case you go into a ditch and can’t get to or open the trunk.
In addition to a winter-driving survival kit, motorists should listen to NOAA weather radio or other local news channels for critical information on winter storms/watches from the National Weather Service.
It is also advisable to dress in several layers of lightweight clothing, wear mittens and a hat (preferably one that covers your ears). Keep your feet warm and your whole body will stay warmer longer. Waterproof, insulated boots should be worn. Make sure they have good tread, so you can keep your footing on ice and snow.
If you should become stranded in snow or icy conditions, the American Red Cross urges you to stay with the vehicle and not attempt to walk to safety. Also, don’t run the vehicles engine and heater constantly to avoid running out of gas. Things like lights or the radio should not be used without the car running because they drain the battery. A brightly colored cloth should be tied to the antenna for rescuers to see.
The Red Cross says the car should be started and heater used for 10 minutes every hour, but keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car. Finally, leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle and keep one window — away from the wind — slightly open to let in air.
The best precaution, however for winter survival, is staying off the roads in bad weather unless travel is absolutely necessary.