Snow and ice are a scenic part of winter, but in Georgia, severe winter weather has the potential to devastate communities and affect millions of people. In January 2011, a single storm delivered a thick layer of snow and ice that shut down transportation in parts of the state for five days, eventually affecting 70 percent of Georgia.
The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as "deceptive killers" because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Instead, people die in traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold.
"One of the primary concerns of winter weather is its ability to knock out heat, power and communications services," said Rockdale County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Daniel Morgan. "Preparation is inexpensive and easy, and can help you avoid potentially life-threatening situations."
Winter Weather Awareness Week is December 2-6 this year, a great time to make sure you are prepared for extreme conditions this winter. Rockdale County Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security's (GEMA's) Ready Georgia campaign offers these tips:
Prepare a Ready Kit of Emergency Supplies
• Prepare a Ready kit of emergency supplies for your home. Include with at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food, water, a flashlight with extra batteries, a NOAA Weather Radio, adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm, as well as additional supplies for the unique needs of your family, such as medications.
• Keep an extra Ready kit in the trunk of your car. In addition to the basic essentials, consider adding an ice scraper, extra blanket, sand for traction and jumper cables.
• Ensure proper home insulation by placing weather stripping around doors and windows, allowing faucets to drip during cold weather to prevent freezing and opening cabinet doors to let heat reach uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
• Winterize your vehicle and keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent your fuel line from freezing.
Create a Winter Weather Plan
• Plan to stay inside, if necessary, for at least three days. If trapped outside during severe winter weather, try to stay dry, cover all body parts, periodically move limbs to keep blood circulating and, if possible, build a fire.
• Winter storms are often accompanied by power outages. Always exercise caution when using alternative light and heating sources:
o Use flashlights during power outages instead of candles to prevent the risk of fire, and keep plenty of extra batteries on-hand.
o Never bring portable generators, camp stoves and grills into your home; they should only be used outside. Keep them at least 20 feet away from your home's windows, doors and vents to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
• People who depend on electricity to operate medical equipment should have alternate arrangements in place in case power is out for an extended period of time.
• If you have a wood-burning fireplace, consider storing wood to keep you warm if winter weather knocks out your gas or electric heat. Also, make sure to have your chimney cleaned and inspected every year.
• Learn how to keep food safe during a power outage.
• Avoid traveling by car in icy conditions. If you must go out and do get stuck, stay with your car. Leave the overhead lights on when the engine is running so you can be seen.
• Plan for pets to come inside and store adequate food and water for them.
• Create an emergency communications plan so family members will know who to contact if separated during a storm. Designate at least one out-of-town contact that all family members can call.
Stay Informed about Winter Weather
• Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio and monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet to stay informed of winter weather.
• Learn about the terms used to describe winter hazards such as freezing rain, sleet, winter weather advisory, winter storm watch and winter storm warning.
• Know the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when your body tissue freezes. Your extremities may have a white or pale appearance and may lose feeling. The most susceptible areas of your body are the fingers, toes, earlobes, or the tip of your nose. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and exhaustion. If you suspect you have frostbite or hypothermia, get medical attention immediately.
To help families prepare, Ready Georgia, a statewide emergency preparedness campaign established by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security and supported by Rockdale County EMA, offers the tools needed to make an emergency supply kit, develop a communications plan and stay informed about potential threats. Visitors to Ready Georgia's website, www.ready.ga.gov, can create an online profile to receive a tailored plan for the entire family that includes the specific amount of supplies to put in their household Ready kits.
They can also find local emergency contact information, learn about Georgia-specific disasters and read preparedness testimonials from local sports stars. Children's games and activities can be found on the ReadyKids page, and households with elderly or disabled family members and pets will also find specific information on preparing for severe weather. For preparedness on the go, families can also download Ready Georgia's free mobile app to learn how to prepare for emergencies, create family communications plans and more.
For more information, contact Rockdale County EMA at 770-278-8401, or visit the Ready Georgia website at www.ready.ga.gov.