Another year has come and gone and it's time to reacquaint ourselves with the hazards associated with winter weather.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have proclaimed this week as Winter Weather Awareness Week.
As evidenced by our few tastes of wintry weather already this year, it is obvious the seasonal transition towards winter is in full swing.
While heavy snow, extreme cold, ice and wind routinely affect Upper Michigan during winter, it is still important for residents to be reminded of and to prepare for the dangers associated with winter weather, said Matt Zika, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Marquette.
"Michigan winters can be severe, so preparedness, awareness and common sense are always important," said Capt. Thomas Sands, commander of the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.
"During Winter Hazards Awareness Week, I encourage Michigan residents to learn of the dangers associated with cold, snow and ice, as well as threats posed by the use of heat sources such as wood burning stoves, fireplaces and space heaters," he said.
Last winter was a very unusual one over a large part of the country with many locations experiencing record warmth and near record low snowfall.
Similar trends were seen across Upper Michigan with the winter temperatures averaging well above normal and snowfall well below normal, Zika said.
While the outcomes didn't necessarily match the pre-winter prognostications, it highlighted the challenges involved with long term seasonal weather forecasting, he said.
"At this point in time, forecasting an outlook for this coming winter is even more challenging," Zika said in a statement. "The departure from normal of water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean often have a significant impact on the steering of storm systems across the U.S. during the winter months. With water temperatures currently near normal, there are few signals to generate a high confidence forecast for the upcoming winter season."
"As of now, it appears that there are equal chances that the Winter of 2012-13 will average above or below normal here in the U.P.," he said.
Regardless of how the winter averages out, the weather will soon begin to turn colder with plenty of episodes of wintry weather on the way. Thus, now is the time to make sure you are ready for the upcoming winter.
Many simple preparations can be taken to prepare for the upcoming winter season including making sure your car is ready for the colder weather, having a survival kit in your car, ensuring you have warm coats, hats, and gloves, and being aware of potential fire and carbon monoxide hazards from alternate heat sources such as a fireplaces, wood stoves or space heaters.
"The number one thing to do: make sure you have an emergency supply kit in your car - it could save your life," adds Tod Pritchard, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at Wisconsin Emergency Management.
Winter storms are considered deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm.
For example, in the last five years Wisconsin has averaged 56,000 motor vehicle crashes during winter months. An average of 55 people are killed and 6,000 injured on icy or snow-covered road.
On average, a major winter storm hits some part of Michigan at least once per month between October and April.
In 2010, the last year that statistics were available, 33 people died in Michigan as a direct result of severe winter weather according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. This is in addition to victims of traffic crashes due to slippery roads and those who suffered heart attacks while shoveling snow.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a danger.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, with more than 20,000 people visiting the emergency room and nearly 500 killed each year from overexposure to the gas.
It is also important to check and winterize vehicles before the winter season begins.Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Make sure your car's battery is in good shape - cold temperatures can reduce the effectiveness of a battery by 50 percent.
If expecting adverse weather during your trip, tell someone at both ends of your journey where you are going and the route you intend to take. Report your safe arrival. Make certain that both parties have your cell phone number and license plate number before you start your trip.
Be gentle with both the accelerator and brake. If the rear of your car begins to slide on snow or ice, turn into the direction of the skid. Expect a second skid as the car straightens out, and be prepared to counter this sliding action.
Carry a winter storm survival kit in the back seat of your vehicle (in case your trunk jams or is frozen shut) that includes:
- Blankets or sleeping bags.
- Extra hats, socks and mittens.
- Flashlight with extra batteries.
- First-aid kit.
- Shovel, booster cables and windshield scraper.
- Water and high-calorie non-perishable food (raisins, candy bars, energy/protein bars).
- Sand or cat litter to use for traction.
- Cell phone adapter.