Always be prepared for winter weather
The National Weather Service calls winter storms "deceptive killers" because, in most cases, they only indirectly cause deaths. In other words, it is not the storm that gets people, but accidents on icy roads or hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold.
And that is where understanding the difference between a winter weather outlook and a winter weather storm warning can come in handy.
"The categories can help you know how severe the storm may be and how much time you may have to prepare," said Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension food specialist.
For the record, a winter storm outlook projects storm conditions are possible within two to five days. Winter weather advisories are issued when conditions are expected to cause serious inconveniences and could be hazardous, but are not life threatening when caution is applied.
Winter storm watches signal storms are possible locally, while winter storm warnings are issued when storms are occurring or will soon occur.
Three other terms to commit to memory: Freezing rain is actually rain that freezes when it hits the ground. By contrast, sleet is rain that is frozen before it hits the ground. Both can cause slippery roads and walkways. A blizzard warning means sustained or frequent winds of 35 miles per hour or more with lots of falling or blowing snow is expected for three or more hours.
Brown said now, before winter settles in, is the time to make sure you have all the essentials in your emergency kit.
"Do you have rock salt, sand and snow removal equipment? Check to be sure there's sufficient heating fuel, and enough clothing and blankets to ensure warmth," she said. "Don't forget to include pets and other animals in all your preparations."
Take some time to winterize your car, too, and ensure it is in optimum condition. Keep the gas tank filled and put a winter survival kit in the vehicle that includes high-energy foods, a flashlight, blankets, sand or salt and a small shovel.
With winter weather bearing down, Brown said at a minimum you should check your supplies to ensure you have enough food and a place to shelter for at least five days. Since dehydration is just as possible in cold weather as in hot, you might need to fill some water bottles.
Make sure all battery operated items are fully charged and have spare batteries readily available.
Also, if the power goes out and there is no heat, be ready to layer on hats, gloves and scarves as the temperature drops. But, avoid using generators, grills or other devices that require gas, propane or charcoal inside your home because they produce carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that can be deadly.
If used outdoors, this machinery should be located far away from the house and away from air intakes. Consider keeping a battery-powered CO alarm in your emergency kit.
"One common mistake people make is not fully reading, understanding and following the directions when using alternative heating sources in case of power outages," Brown said. "So make sure you're comfortable with whatever source you chose to use."
It also is a good idea to keep papers and other items away from stovetops and furnaces since it is possible for them to catch fire when power is restored.
Finally, Brown advised families to have a plan in case severe weather hits.
"Know the plans at public schools and where you work," she said. "Know what you would do if the storm hits when you or another family member is not at home."
For more information on preparing for winter weather, contact your local Extension office and visit www.ready.gov.