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Sunday, May 1, 2016

People encouraged to make winter preparations at home

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This past weekend's snowfall is a reminder that winter is coming and meteorologists expect snow to be part of this year's season.

Chris Jansen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS), in Sioux Falls, S.D., said weather patterns seem to have changed for northwest Iowa.

"We're going away from the well above normal patterns," he said. "It's going to be more closer to normal winter than what we had last year."

The anticipation of snowfall in the coming months makes preparing a necessity for homeowners, residents and travelers.

Gary Junge, Plymouth County emergency management coordinator, said the mild weather last winter and this fall may have delayed people's preparation activities.

Homeowners should be putting outside things away, making sure snowblowers are working and making emergency kits for their vehicles, he said.

"Do you have some extra food, blankets, batteries in your flashlight?" Junge asked. "Also, your vehicles, are they being prepared for winter?"

If people haven't tested their snow removal equipment, now is the time, he said.

"Make sure they start. Check for fresh gas," Junge advised. "It's nice to start them before the storm comes."

When winter weather arrives, people need to take note of it, especially when driving.

Plymouth County Sheriff Mike Van Otterloo advised people to look ahead at their destinations, checking road conditions and the weather forecast.

He suggested people do that by obtaining information from the NWS via local radio and television stations -- not by calling the county communications center.

Van Otterloo explained that the center receives a "tremendous amount of calls" about the weather.

"We don't have any special connection to any weather service other than what you can get," he said. "We get our weather from the National Weather Service out of Sioux Falls, Omaha (Neb.) or Des Moines."

As for road closures, Van Otterloo said the communications center gets that information through the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), just like everybody else.

People can obtain road closure information from the DOT's website, www.511ia.org/.

When traveling, it's also important to let someone know when you leave, when you arrive and what route you will take, Van Otterloo said.

That way, if a person is in an accident on the road finding him or her will be easier for law enforcement, he said.

It's also good to keep cell phones charged, have enough gas in vehicles and allow more driving time, Van Otterloo said.

And when the NWS and law enforcement officials tell drivers to stay home -- they should listen, he said.

"Please stay off the road," Van Otterloo said. "If you get stranded somewhere, my deputies are risking their lives to go out and rescue you in a vehicle."

He said if people get stranded when no travel is advised, and it's not an emergency, law enforcement can decline to retrieve them.

"If there is zero visibility and the wind is blowing, you will probably stay there until morning," Van Otterloo said. "I'm not going to risk my deputies' lives."

He said each situation is evaluated individually when that occurs.

"We are going to make every attempt we can so we are not risking people's lives," Van Otterloo said.

The NWS offers similar precautions when it comes to traveling in inclement weather.

"If there is a blizzard out there, you should think more than once about driving in it," Jansen said. "Really it comes down to common sense."

He also advised people to slow down on icy, snow covered roads.

"They have to change the way they drive," Jansen said. "You can't drive the same way you do in the summer time."

More winter weather information is available on the NWS website, www.weather.gov/siouxfalls/winter.

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