Unless you've invested in a one-horse open sleigh, chances are you've had to drive on snowy roads this year. In order to keep safe, it's important to remember basic winter driving tips, and always be prepared with a winter survival kit.
"It's always hard during the first snow, especially since we had very little snow last year - it takes people a while to get used to their weather driving skills," said Tony Jorgensen, Webster County Emergency Management coordinator.
Iowa State Patrol Sergeant Mark Miller gave some pointers for getting ready for weather.
-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
The lane to the high school in Manson is shown during the snowstorm on Dec. 20.
The first thing? Always make sure your cell phone is charged. You'll need it if you get stuck in the snow.
"Call us if you can. Have some phone numbers of tow services with you," Miller said.
A map is useful, he said.
"Definitely know where you are. If we don't know where you are we can't come for you," Miller said. "If the roads are bad enough, we might not be able to come for you anyway. We try, but sometimes we can't make it."
But don't be using that cell phone inappropriately.
"One thing I think is so important any time of year, is texting and driving," said Jorgensen. "I've read in some studies that a distracted driver texting is just as impaired as someone who's been drinking."
A number of things in your trunk can help when you get stuck, Miller said. Premade survival kits are available at most retailers, or you can put together your own:
Gloves and hat
Sand or cat litter, for traction
A candle, for light and warmth, and a coffee can to put it in
Water and food, such as granola bars
Possibly jumper cables and tow ropes
Listen to weather forecasts before going out, Jorgensen said, and consider staying in if conditions will be bad.
"I am a real big believer in just staying out of that stuff," he said. "I never travel out of town when it gets bad."
The best thing people can do, he said, is heed the warnings.
"The National Weather Service, the State Patrol, myself, all the law enforcement agencies, our county engineer, all send out messages ahead of storms," he said. "If you really don't have to travel, it's a good idea to stay home."
To get these warnings, he said, check in local media, or use a weather radio.
"NOAA weather radio is probably the best source of information. It broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's my favorite go-to spot."
Get travel information from the Iowa Department of Transportation by calling 511 or (800) 288-1047, or visit www.511ia.org.
The biggest thing, according to Miller, is to take your time.
"Realize you're in Iowa so the weather conditions, the road conditions change quite often," he said. "It might be fine roads, just wet, then you go another mile and it can be 100 percent ice. Just pay attention to what you're driving on."
Be very careful with cruise control.
"I don't use it in winter. If you have the cruise on and you hit an ice spot, your tires will start spinning and you lose control," Miller said.
If you do start to slide on the ice, let up on the accelerator and coast, but don't brake.
Always let others know your destination and the route you plan to take.
"Let them know what time should get there so they can watch out for you in case you're stranded and your phone isn't working," Miller said.
Have a secondary route in case your route is closed.
Don't run out of fuel. Make sure you have at least half a tank at all times.
It's nearly always best to stay with your car, Miller said.
"If you don't have the right type of clothes, you won't be able to go on anyway," he said. "If you can make a call for help, definitely stay with the car. In most cases I'd say you stay with the car."
Run the car to stay warm, but be careful of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust. Use a shovel to ensure the exhaust pipe is clear.
"I suggest you turn it on, warm it up a little bit, turn the car back off," Miller said.
To stay visible, turn on the dome light at night when running the engine.
Tie a colored cloth, preferably red, to your antenna or door.
After snow stops falling, raise the hood to indicate you need help.
If caught outside
Find shelter. If unable, build a lean-to, windbreak or snow cave for protection from the wind.
Try to stay dry.
Cover all exposed body parts.
Build a fire for heat and to attract attention.
Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat.
Melt snow for drinking water. Eating snow will lower your body temperature.
When working or walking outside
Avoid overexertion such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.
Wear loose, lightweight, warm clothes in layers. Trapped air insulates. Remove layers to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.
Wear a hat. Half your body heat loss can be from the head.
Winter weather terms
Winter weather advisories: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If you are cautious, these situations should not be life threatening.
Winter storm outlook: Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2-5 days. Stay tuned to local media for updates.
Winter storm watch: Blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet conditions are possible within the next 36-48 hours.
Winter storm warning: Life-threatening severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.
Snow flurries: Light snow falling for short durations. No accumulation or light dusting is all that is expected.
Snow showers: Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.
Snow squalls: Brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant.
Blowing snow: Wind-driven snow that reduces visibility and causes significant drifting. Blowing snow may be snow that is falling and/or loose snow on the ground picked up by the wind.
Sleet: Rain drops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorists.
Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold.
Symptoms include a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness
A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.
Cover all skin, including hands, head and ears, neck and face, if going outdoors for any length of time, even if only for a few minutes. A wind chill of -20 Fahrenheit will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes.
Seek medical care to treat frostbite.
Get into a warm room as soon as possible
Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes - this increases the damage.
Immerse the affected area in warm, not hot, water, or warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers
Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
Don't use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
Hypothermia is more serious than frostbite. It is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and it can kill.
Hypothermia can cause lasting kidney, liver and pancreas problems.
Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.
If a person's temperature is below 95 degrees, get medical care immediately.
If medical care is not available, warm the person slowly, starting with the body core. Warming the arms and legs first drives cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure. If necessary, use your body heat to help.
Get the person into dry clothing and wrap in a warm blanket covering the head and neck.
Do not give the person alcohol, drugs, coffee or any hot beverage or food. Warm broth is the first food to offer.
For more information on weather safety, visit www.weather.gov/safety or is.gd/IDPHwinter.
Sources: National Weather Service, Iowa Department of Public Health, Center for Disease Control