This is not an idle warning. Thursday night (2/24/2011) The Donner Pass area of California was hit by an epic blizzard. The California Zephyr Amtrak train was stopped due to an avalanche that covered the tracks. Interstate-80 was closed for 24 hours. By the end of this week Donner Summit will exceed 800 inches of total snowfall for the season…more than 66 feet.
You can never fully prepare for a natural disaster, but in the case of blizzard conditions, you can make yourself less vulnerable.
With the online access we have to weather reports, there is no need to be unaware of a major storm system. NOAA and Weather Underground provide all the data you need, and should consult if you live in, or are venturing into a storm-prone area.
Tire chains should be carried in your vehicle in snow country. A 4-wheel drive vehicle, with snow tires, is recommended, Studded snow tires are even better. Here in Truckee, CA, many families routinely switch tires from November to March. (VIDEO)
First of all, fill up your gas tank. Don’t think that you can get to your favorite ski area on a half-tank of gas…because if an accident, avalanche or white-out closes the road, you may need to idle your car for hours, just to stay warm.
Don’t leave home without a shovel, sleeping bag, water and some food. You might get stranded on the freeway for hours. Carry gloves, a knit hat, and boots, and have the snow chains in the car. Every car should have a flashlight, no matter where you drive.
A lot of mid-westerners scoff at tire chains, “I’ve been driving in Michigan for twenty years and we never put chains on the car”. OK, but if you are headed over Donner Pass, you are going to see grades that don’t exist in the Midwest. Your 2-wheel drive passenger car is not safe on a snow-covered road that boasts an 8 or 10 percent grade.
Drive with your lights on, and use your turning signals at every opportunity. Let other drivers know exactly what you are going to do, because slowing and stopping on snow takes much longer.
And some convenience tips too: if it is snowing, when you leave your car, tip the wiper blades away from the window. When you get back they will not be frozen to the glass.
Have a supply of batteries, firewood, candles and matches, and a battery-powered radio ready.
If you experience a week of snow like the Truckee-Tahoe region got this week, there are some precautions that will protect your shelter.
If you get your fuel from an outdoors propane tank, check regularly to see that a large snow bank doesn’t cause too much weight to bear on the gas connections. A snapped connection will cost you money, leave your house and water-heater cold, and most importantly it could cause a serious explosion!
Go to the store and stock up on staples prior to the storm. You don’t want to be forced out into a storm when you run out of baby formula or diapers. This is especially true of prescription medicines. If you run out, your pharmacy may be out too…because delivery trucks can be delayed by storms too.
Have a bag or two of ice-melt granules on hand, it will make even the short walk to your car, or the mailbox, safer.
Have a plan for your kids if schools are closed. The decision to close schools is often made at 5am, when it becomes clear that school buses cannot make their rounds. (VIDEO)
These are just a few basics, as your locality and weather patterns, and personal experience will certainly require additional measures.
Talk to your neighbors if you are new to an area, nothing beats first-hand knowledge of how to weather a storm.