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Weather the storm, but do it safely


Special to The Hays Daily News

Special to The Hays Daily News

When winter storms blow into town, there is the possibility of being snowed in.

While the prospect of a snow day might not be the most unwelcome of events -- particularly to school kids -- the Kansas Division of Emergency Management is reminding Kansans to weather the storm in a safe manner.

Angee Morgan, deputy KDEM director, said the State Emergency Operations Center activated Wednesday and is staffed with KDEM and state partners. The EOC will continue on a 24-hour basis until further notice. KDEM will remain in contact with county emergency managers to be ready to give assistance to local authorities where it is needed.

Representatives from key state agencies also will be in the SEOC to coordinate state emergency response, if it becomes necessary.

For those at home, Morgan said the best thing to do is be prepared and wait for it to pass.

"The three most basic things a person needs when snowed in are food, water and a warm shelter," Morgan said. "Your home emergency kit should contain enough food, water, medicines and other essentials to make sure every member of your family can survive for a minimum of three days on your own."

Morgan said many people have invested in home generators in case the power goes out, but she urges caution in using them.

"Just like your car, a gasoline generator produces toxic carbon monoxide," she said. "It is essential that your generator be located in a well-ventilated area away from the house where fumes will not affect you.

"If you don't have a generator, a fireplace can provide warmth for at least one room, but be sure that your chimney is drawing properly.

She advised it's best to have a qualified inspector check your fireplace and chimney before the start of winter to make sure everything is in working order. Use the fire screen to keep embers from popping out of the fireplace and have a fire extinguisher handy in case.

For those without a fireplace, Morgan warned charcoal grills are not a good substitute. In fact, they can be deadly.

"Charcoal grills produce carbon monoxide, too," she said. "This is not a problem during your outdoor summer cookouts where the grill is well-ventilated. However, in an enclosed space, using a charcoal grill can be fatal."

Kerosene heaters are a safer alternative but should be used with caution since they, too, can produce low levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Make sure the heater is adjusted properly, fueled and maintained. Manufacturers suggest keeping a window or door cracked to vent fumes and never leave the heater unattended, particularly while sleeping.

"If you don't have a generator, heater or fireplace, put on your coat and bundle up with a blanket," Morgan said. "Once the roads are clear, seek shelter with family, friends or in a public shelter until power is restored."

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Winter driving tips

If you must travel in the upcoming winter storm, the Kansas Highway Patrol offers to following tips to prepare your vehicle. Check the fluids, ensuring the radiator is winterized, the gas tank is more than half-full, and there is plenty of windshield washing fluid. Check belts, hoses and brake systems for excessive wear. Have the exhaust system checked; small leaks can allow carbon monoxide to enter the passenger compartment. Check tire treads for adequate traction and replace windshield wiper blades if they are ineffective.

Keep an emergency kit that includes at least the following:

* An ice scraper and shovel.

* Jumper cables.

* Flashlights.

* Sand or kitty litter for traction.

* Extra blankets or clothing.

* Non-perishable food.

* A first-aid kit.

* Matches and candles or flares.

* Tow rope or chain.

On the road remember the following:

* Allow extra time for delays and slower traffic speeds.

* Buckle up and properly secure children in safety seats.

* Increase the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you. Ice and snow significantly increase your stopping distance.

* Accelerate and brake gently. A light foot on the gas is less likely to make wheels spin on ice and snow. Braking is best accomplished by pumping the pedal. If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system, it is important you understand how to use it. Read the owner's manual or check with a dealership for more information, and practice using it correctly.

* Make turns slowly and gradually, especially in heavily traveled areas (e.g. intersections that might be icy from snow that melted and refroze).

* Visibility is important. You must be able to see out, and other drivers must be able to see your vehicle. Clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors and lights. Use headlights as necessary.

* If your car loses traction and begins to slide, steer into the skid or in the direction you want to go. Anticipate a second skid in the opposite direction as the car straightens out.

* If you plan to drive, do not drink. Designate a driver or call a cab. Report impaired drivers to a law enforcement agency.

* Watch for deer, especially near dusk and dawn.

If you are stranded in a winter storm, do not panic. Stay in the vehicle, keep fresh air circulating through a downwind window, run the motor sparingly, turn on the dome light, and stimulate circulation and stay awake by moving arms and legs. If you leave the car, work slowly in the snow to avoid over-exertion and the risk of a heart attack.

If you have a cellphone, call a Kansas Highway Patrol dispatcher by dialing *HP (47), or *KTA (582) while on the Kansas Turnpike.

Additional information on winter driving tips is available on the Kansas Highway Patrol website at www.kansashighwaypatrol.org.

Information on emergency preparedness for home and travel can be found at www.ksready.gov, www.redcross.org and www.fema.gov. Listen to the radio for weather updates and check the Kansas Department of Transportation website (511.ksdot.org) for road conditions and travel advisories.