The first arctic airmass of the 2014 fall season continues to affect the Tri-State region. It's time to start thinking about the hazards of winter weather: snow and ice, wind and cold!
Winter Weather Preparedness
Click here to visit the NWS Winter Weather Awareness Web Page
Click here to view the 12-page full color Winter Storm Safety Guide
Tri-State Winter Travel
It is highly recommended that you prepare your car or truck for winter travel. At a minimum, consider adding these items to your vehicle during the winter months: Tow rope, Battery cables, First Aid kit, Flashlight, Extra batteries, Extra clothing or blanket, Windshield scraper and brush, Small shovel, Gloves and hat.
If your travel will take you to a remote area where help may not arrive for awhile if you're stranded, consider adding: Tire chains, Tool kit, Sleeping bags, Candles, Water proof matches, High calorie packaged food for quick energy, and an empty can to melt snow for drinking.
The best way to prevent treacherous winter travel is to avoid it. Stay informed about current weather and road conditions...including the latest weather forecasts...advisories and warnings. Information on road conditions for the Tri-state region can be found at these locations...
Phone: 866-511-5368 (511 in Kansas)
Phone: 303-639-1111 (877-315-7623 in Colorado)
402-471-4533 (511 in Nebraska)
If you should become stranded during a winter storm...stay with your vehicle and do not panic. If accompanied by others...take turns sleeping. Run the motor every hour for about ten minutes to maintain warmth...but keep windows open a little to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked. Keep the car visible with a brightly colored cloth tied to the door handle or antenna. Exercise periodically by vigorously moving arms...legs...toes and fingers.
If your winter travels take you west to the mountains this season...you may encounter very strong downslope winds which occur at times along the front range and eastern mountains of Colorado. These "chinook" and "bora" winds can have gusts exceeding 100 mph. Persons traveling in light weight or high profile vehicles should avoid travel during these strong wind events...especially on north-south oriented roads.
Roads which appear to be clear in the wintertime may actually be coated with a thin layer of ice...commonly known as black ice. This nearly invisible ice layer can cause you to rapidly lose control of your vehicle. Black ice is most common during the nighttime hours. If you detect black ice...you should reduce your speed.
When braking on icy and snow-packed roads...it is recommended that you apply steady pressure to the pedal just to the point of brake lock-up...allowing plenty of extra stopping distance. For those without anti-lock brakes...another suggestion is to gently tap on the brake pedal several times just prior to applying steady pressure.
Watches, Advisories, WarningsHere are the watches, advisories and warnings issued by the National Weather Service during the winter months:
Watches are issued when hazardous winter weather conditions are possible within the next 12 to 48 hours, but the timing, intensity, or occurrence may still be uncertain.
Advisories are issued when hazardous winter weather will cause significant inconveniences, and if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.
Warnings are issued when hazardous winter weather is occurring, or is expected to occur within the next 12-36 hours. Warnings are generally reserved for situations which will become life-threatening.
NWS Goodland Warnings
Blizzard Warning: When the following conditions are expected for at least 3 hours... sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph or greater and considerable falling and/or blowing snow lowering visibility to less than one quarter mile.
Ice Storm Warning: Damaging freezing rain accumulations of one quarter inch or more.
Winter Storm Warning: When any or all of the following conditions are expected... snow accumulations of 6 inches or more in 12 hours or 8 inches or more in 24 hours, sleet accumulations over one half inch, a mixture of heavy snow, sleet or ice accumulations (if ice exceeds one quarter inch).
Wind Chill Warning: Wind chills below -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
High Wind Warning: Sustained winds of 40 mph for at least 1 hour, or wind gusts to 58 mph for any duration.
NWS Goodland Advisories
Freezing Rain Advisory: Freezing rain or freezing drizzle accumulations under one quarter inch.
Winter Weather Advisory: When any or all of the following conditions are expected... snow accumulations of 3 to 5 inches, blowing snow reducing visibility to between one quarter and one mile, sleet accumulations under one half inch, or if any of these conditions occur with light freezing rain accumulations.
Wind Chill Advisory: Wind chill values of -15 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dense Fog Advisory: Widespread fog reducing visibility to one quarter mile or less.
Wind Chill, Frostbite, Hypothermia
The Wind Chill index helps you to determine when dangerous conditions develop that could lead to frostbite or hypothermia. It takes into account heat loss from the human body to its surroundings during cold and windy weather. The calculation utilizes wind speed in miles per hour and temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. For example, a temperature of minus 5 degrees occurring with a 20 mph wind gives a wind chill near minus 30 degrees. This means that your body will lose heat at the same rate as it would if the air temperature were minus 30 degrees with no wind. Wind chill values near minus 25 degrees mean that frostbite can occur in as little as 15 minutes.
Frostbite first affects exposed body tissue where blood circulation may be limited, such as fingers and toes, as well as your nose and ears. To minimize frostbite, make sure all body parts are well covered. When frostbite starts, feeling is lost in the affected area and the frozen tissue will take on a white or pale appearance. If you suspect you are experiencing frostbite, hold the frostbitten area closely against warm skin to return blood flow and warmth to the affected area.
Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature and is the most common weather killer in winter. When you hear of a hiker or climber, or a hunter or stranded traveler perishing from cold weather exposure, hypothermia was the cause. Most people are surprised to learn that hypothermia deaths can occur with temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees. If you or your clothing are wet, then hypothermia becomes even more likely.
Warning signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, slurred speech and drowsiness. Immediate medical attention should be given to victims suspected of suffering from hypothermia. If no help is available, the victim should be warmed slowly with warm liquids along with dry clothing and blankets.
The National Weather Service office in Goodland will issue wind chill advisories and warnings when a deadly combination of wind and cold air threaten the area. To learn more about wind chill and to see a wind chill chart, visit the National Weather Service internet site at weather.gov/om/windchill. Use lower case letters when entering this address.
When cold weather threatens, follow these tips for survival...
Stay dry...wet clothing results in much faster heat loss from your body. Wear waterproof insulated boots.
Stay covered...wear mittens or gloves on your hands and a hat to cover your head. At least half of your body heat is lost if your head is not covered.
Dress layered...the trapped air between loose fitting clothing helps to Insulate.
Stay informed...have a portable NOAA Weather Radio All-Hazards to keep you up-to-date with the latest forecasts and warnings. Use wind chill temperatures to guide you in dressing properly for the outdoors. On very cold days...be smart and minimize your exposure to the outdoors if possible.
High winds can be troublesome for travelers on the plains during the winter months. Strong winds can develop when intense low pressure and high pressure systems are in close proximity to one another. The result can be winds gusting over 60 mph at times. High wind by itself can cause difficult traveling when driving light weight or high profile vehicles. When combined with falling snow, strong winds can result in whiteout conditions which often lead to disorientation in near zero visibility.
Jet stream winds aloft are much stronger in the winter than in summer. This is due to the large temperature difference from north to south across the United States during the cold season. When other conditions are right, these strong winds aloft can result in the rapid development of intense pressure differences here on the ground. On the weather map, this often appears as a strong low pressure system. The intense pressure difference will result in a zone of high winds as air attempts to rush from high to low pressure.
Many travelers visiting the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming have also experienced another type of strong wind event, the Chinook wind. Very swift westerly winds aloft, under certain conditions, can bring warm and dry Chinook winds plowing down the slopes of the eastern mountains. These snow-eater winds can generate gusts over 100 mph in extreme cases and produce widespread damage. Wind events between 60 and 80 mph are common near the foothills, so keep this in mind if you plan on traveling to the Colorado Rockies this winter to enjoy the outdoors.
In either case, the dangers from high wind include vehicle accidents resulting from poor visibility, flying debris, collapsed structures, and overturned vehicles. The National Weather Service will issue a high wind warning when these events are anticipated. Strong winds can also bring dangerously low wind chill values when combined with cold arctic air.
If high winds are forecast for your area it is a good idea to bring lightweight belongings indoors, or tie them down so they do not become airborne. Any downed power lines should not be approached, call the utility company. Traveling on north-south roads near the mountains during high winds can be dangerous. If you drive a lightweight or high profile vehicle, you may want to wait until the high winds subside.