Winter Preparedness (There’s an App for That)

Rick Atterberry is blog post author.

appforthat

We’re almost three weeks into meteorological Winter and just a few days from the start of the season in the astronomical calendar.  And, while much of the country has experienced record setting warmth in the last three months, snow, ice, sleet, wind and cold are inevitable for many of us.

With that in mind, Extension colleagues at North Dakota State University have created a Winter Survival Kit Phone App for both Android and IOS phones.  This app helps users find their location if they become stranded, call 911, notify friends and family and calculate how lo9ng they can run their vehicle to stay warm before running out of fuel.

Capture NDSU“The Winter Survival Kit app can be as critical as a physical winter survival kit if you find yourself stuck or stranded in severe winter weather conditions,” says Bob Bertsch, NDSU Agriculture Communication Web technology specialist.

Users can store important phone numbers, insurance information, motor club contacts and more within the app.  The app includes a timer function which reminds motorists to check the exhaust pipe for snow buildup so as to avoid a high concentration of carbon monoxide.

The app features a large “I’m Stranded!” button which can be easily accessed in an emergency situation.  Parents may find the app a useful tool for young drivers who are very familiar with their smart phones, but less familiar with winter driving.

The kit app was developed by Myriad Devices, a company founded by students and faculty at NDSU’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and College of Business in the school’s Research and Technology Park Incubator.  The NDSU Extension Service provided design and content input.  Funding was via a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Smith-Lever Special Needs grant.

 

Weather Wednesday – The Family Go Kit

From time to time on Weather Wednesday we will step away from purely meteorological topics to address preparedness. This week we’ll discuss one of the most basic preparedness items, a personal or family Go Kit.

A Go Kit should be assembled and customized according to individual needs following some general guidelines from FEMA. Be sure to look under the tabs for additional suggested items.

AP_fairdale_tornado_14_sk_150410_16x9_1600Let’s look at some of the items which should be included:

Water, one gallon per person per day for three days for drinking and sanitation. For long term storage the crystal clear containers hold up better, but water and food stocks should be rotated out regularly.

Food, a three day supply of non-perishable food. If using canned food, be sure to include a can opener. Specialty meals designed for use by campers are also a good option. Check preparation instructions to be sure you have all of the necessary equipment.

Battery powered, hand cranked and/or solar powered radio capable of receiving NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio and standard broadcast. Carry extra batteries.

Flashlight and extra batteries. Batteries will generally last considerably longer in LED flashlights.

Washington, DC, July 22, 2008 -- A Red Cross "ready to go" preparedness kit showing the bag and it's contents. Red Cross photograph
Red Cross via FEMA

First aid kit. A good basic kit will suffice unless special needs are involved.

Whistle to signal for help. A small air horn is also a good addition, but you can’t beat a whistle for convenience. It takes less volume of air to blow a whistle than to yell which can be important if one is trapped by debris. A whistle or horn also has a better chance of being heard over heavy equipment.

Dust mask.

Plastic sheet and tape if asked to shelter in place.

Local maps. Remember, familiar landmarks may be destroyed in some disasters.

Cell phone with chargers, inverters, solar power, charging packs, etc. Note, avoid using accessories such as the built in flashlight which tend to run down the battery rapidly.

Prescription medications and glasses. Setting aside medication can be problematic so work with your physician and pharmacist to see what can be done.

Cash and change. If the power is out or communications lines down, ATMs will be out of service.

Copies of insurance papers, account numbers, etc. Do keep these in a special place in the kit so you can keep track of them.

Infant formula, diapers, pet food, etc if applicable. Include a leash for your pet and count their water needs as well.

Change of clothes. Err on the side of warmth and waterproof items.

A couple of items recent experience has shown to be very valuable. Sturdy shoes or boots. Sandals and flip flops are not at all useful when walking through debris. If you have identified a shelter area in your home, you might want to keep the spare shoes/boots there.

Bicycle helmets or hard hats may also be useful if easily accessible to your shelter area.

Remember a Go kit should be able to do just that, pick up and go, should the need arise. It is important to temperate the desire to plan for all contingencies with the practical need to perhaps carry the kit for some distance. Kits are also available from retailers, but make sure to customize to your needs.

Weather Wednesday: Freezing Rain, Ice Storms and Black Ice

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NOAA graphic

Winter weather certainly has remained in the news this post-Valentine’s Day week. It’s been another major snow event in the Northeast, heavy snow from southern Illinois and Missouri to the south into Kentucky and adjacent states and freezing rain and ice, especially in Georgia, North Carolina and other states in the southeast. Multiple highway fatalities have occurred and over 100,000 people have lost power, mostly due to ice. Bitterly cold temperatures are plunging far into the south on the date this is posted, February 18, 2015.

We’ve written about heavy snow several times and we’ll revisit the topic of how climate change may affect that snowfall, but today we’ll focus on freezing rain, ice storms and “black ice,” all of which are being experienced in parts of the south and southeast this week.

According to the National Weather Service freezing rain and sleet occur when raindrops in a layer of warm air well above the surface fall into a layer of freezing air at and near ground level. Whether the liquid ends up as freezing rain or sleet is determined by the thickness of the layer of freezing air. When that layer is thin, the raindrops don’t have time to freeze so the water freezes on contact with the surface, coating streets, sidewalks, power lines, tree limbs and whatever else is exposed and below freezing. Complicating the situation this week is bitter cold temperatures to follow the snow and ice.

A freezing rain event is escalated to an Ice Storm Warning when ice accumulations of ¼ inch or more are expected. The National Weather Service considers ice storms to be high impact events and if you’ve lived through one or more, you know that to be true. Ice storms can occur across a wide area of the United States and can be very devastating. The single most destructive weather event ever to occur here in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois was the Valentine’s Day ice storm of 1990. The 25th anniversary of the event passed largely unobserved last weekend. Seemingly no one wants to relive that week.

The storm began during a home basketball game at the University of Illinois and ice quickly accumulated. The lights in the Assembly Hall flickered, but stayed on. I was the public address announcer that night and I vividly recall being handed a series of announcements to be read if the main power went off. The final announcement I did read was that game attendees should expect that many traffic signals would be out of commission across town after the game. When I left the Hall I could see the flashes and hear the explosions as electrical transformers failed.

I drove the few blocks to the radio station where I worked at the time. It was operating on generator power. We started to cover the event and things just got worse during the overnight. At one point around 2:00AM I decided to go check on my family and home. I followed a snowplow down a main street as it pushed trees and branches out of the road so emergency vehicles could get through. I turned down my street as limbs were falling behind me and decided to just keep going back to work before the street was completely blocked. Some areas of town were without power for a week. Damage to utility infrastructure, trees, traffic signs and signals and buildings and homes reached into the millions of dollars not counting the loss of productivity and dumpster loads of ruined refrigerated and frozen food.

I relate that account not because it was unusual, but rather because it is typical of major ice events. They can be extremely destructive and expensive.

Finally today I want to mention “black ice.”

Black Ice accident

Black ice can be every bit as dangerous as a heavy snow or ice storm. It is a very thin layer of ice that is nearly transparent. It frequently forms on bridges and overpasses because that pavement temperature may be colder as the cold air circulates above and below the pavement. Black ice often occurs when snow melts during the day and then the water refreezes at night. Or the temperature drops below freezing after a rainy day. Unlike during an ice storm, black ice is a much greater threat to pedestrians and vehicles than to structures. Multi-vehicle accidents are common when the pavement refreezes and emergency rooms are kept busy treating pedestrians who slip and fall.

Ice storm threats include: