Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 3, 2014

Winter fury sweeping through county

By Rob Cox Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG — In maritime parlance, the coming weekend is looking like a time to “batten down the [winter] hatches” – if, that is, you haven’t already gotten a jump on things following Thursday’s snowy sample of what’s predicted for the weekend.

With some 3-to-6 inches already on the ground in Decatur County, the next few days are predicted to be brutal. As of this writing, overnight low temperatures on Thursday were predicted to fall to five degrees – and that’s mere a taste of what’s predicted over the next few days.

Both the National Weather Service and Daily News partner WISHTV 8 predict temperatures will steadily decrease through the weekend, bottoming out on Monday with a high temperature of -5; that’s right: A high temperature of 5 degrees below zero. Meanwhile, some 10 inches of additional snowfall is forecast for Saturday and Sunday. Winds are expected to reach top speeds of 25-miles-an-hour, making for wind chills of 30-to-40 degrees below zero.

Such conditions will make travel extremely hazardous; area motorists could easily find themselves stranded in the snow in subzero temperatures and bone-chilling winds. Decatur Countians who depend on electricity to heat their homes could find themselves without power and heat for an extended amount of time.

Decatur County Emergency Management Agency Director Rob Duckworth advised Decatur Countians to assume they’ll find themselves in just such a predicament and to prepare accordingly.

Extreme-winter-weather preparedness, Duckworth said, starts with awareness. The Decatur County Sheriff’s Department, the Greensburg Police Department and the EMA have devised a travel alert system that’s designed to make motorists aware of “the true hazards that await them on treacherous winter roads.”

The system starts with a “yellow alert,” which is a warning of hazardous conditions and a reminder to motorists to drive with extreme caution. The next level is an “orange alert,” which calls for “essential travel only.” The highest alert on the scale is “red.”

“A red travel advisory means emergency travel only,” Duckworth said. “Red means that, unless it’s an absolute necessity that you be on the roads – something medically related, for example – you should stay home.”

Although authorities have the legal right to issue a citation to anyone on the road without proof of an emergency during a red advisory, that’s extremely unlikely to happen, bordering on almost unthinkable, according to Duckworth.

“Pulling someone over just to verify they have an emergency and to issue a citation,” Duckworth said, “would be a terrible waste of resources in a situation where we’re already stretched thin and might pose a further danger. If you’re out during a red advisory, though, and you’re involved in an accident, if you can’t show proof you had an emergency, that’s when you’re likely to be cited. It’s something to keep in mind.”

And how should Decatur Countians keep track of the official advisory level? According to Duckworth, signing up for text messages from the Nixle Alert System is the surest, most dependable way to keep up-to-date on both advisories and impending weather.

“If you haven’t already signed up,” Duckworth said, “now is the perfect time to do so. This is one of the most significant opportunities for long-term effect from this type weather we’ve had in quite a while.”

To sign up for Nixle, simply text “Decaturco” or your zip code – 47240 for Decatur County – to 888777.

“You never know when you’re going to be involved in an accident,” Duckworth added, advising motorists to treat every trip into the elements as if it will end with their being stranded.

“Keep in mind, too,” the director continued, “that you can get stranded without getting into an accident; it might not be your accident that causes you to be stuck in your car for an extended period of time. Traffic can get backed up from somebody else’s crash and confine you to the vehicle. If you leave the house, be prepared to be stranded due to situations not under your control.”

To be ready for such an emergency, Duckworth advises motorists to start by dressing in layered clothing.

“Layers are better at controlling heat compared to large, fluffy clothing,” he said. “Layers also give you something to take off, which can be important if you start to sweat. You want to avoid sweating, because that’s the body’s way of cooling itself down. Sweating makes you more susceptible to further cooling when you come in contact with cold air.”

Duckworth also advices motorists to cover any exposed areas with hats, gloves and scarves.

“With the types of temperatures and wind chills predicted to hit our area,” the director said, “snow will only be part of the story. The more immediate concern is frostbite to exposed areas of skin and hypothermia. These temperatures are no joke; frostbite or hypothermia can set in very quickly and quite unexpectedly.”

Having a scarf wrapped about one’s mouth and nose not only prevents exposure to extreme cold, but also helps “avoid ingestion of cold air into the lungs,” which in turn, will help prevent respiratory irritation.

The director also advises motorists to keep gas tanks full in such extreme weather and to carry blankets. Carrying a fully-charged cell phone on every trip into the elements is also a good idea, as is packing fluids, snacks and a flashlight in the car, he said.

“If you have any type of battery jump pack for the vehicle, get it charged up,” Duckworth further advised. “In this extreme cold, car batteries might not have enough juice to turn the engine over.”

Vehicle jump packs can be purchased at Walmart or any auto supply store, including Napa, AutoZone and O’reilly. Make sure that your antifreeze levels are good, too.

“If you have diesel equipment,” he continued, “now’s the time to make sure it has appropriate equipment to avoid jelling.”

Another action many stranded motorists don’t consider is notifying authorizes of their abandoned vehicle.

“If you should you become stranded and leave your vehicle,” Duckworth stressed, “notify us and tell us where you left it, so we can get it removed. Abandoned vehicles in the roadway are the number one obstacle to clearing the hazardous winter roads.”

Duckworth agreed that no matter how stringently authorities try to spread the message about abandoned vehicles, road crews always have to deal with them.

“We always encounter some,” the director said. “Folks think they’ll get back to their vehicle or just move it later. What they don’t understand is that the highway trucks may be right behind them.”

To report a stranded vehicle in Decatur County or surrounding areas, call 663-8125 or 663-3131.

Of course, if you’re stranded and need help, you can also call for help. That number is 663-2004.

“Call us and we’ll send somebody out to get you,” Duckworth said.

For Decatur Countians who lose power, and, as a result, heat during inclement weather, Duckworth advised having an alternative heat source at the ready.

“If you’re on electric heat, be prepared to be without power for an extended time,” he said. “If you don’t have a backup plan; if you don’t have friends or relatives you can stay with or an alternative heat source, we can arrange temporary shelter.”

Signing up for Nixle text alerts is a prime way to staying apprised of alternative shelter opportunities, Duckworth added. Decatur Countians can also keep apprised through Facebook and Twitter.

“You’ll want to have a battery-operated radio on hand, too,” he said. “And have a supply of non-perishable food items and water in the house.”

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; robert.cox@greensburgdailynews.com