On average, weather-related vehicle crashes kill 6,253 people and injures more than 480,000 each year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Most of these accidents occur when the roadways are wet, snowy or icy. As emergency management professionals, we don't think much about winter weather in Texas. Hurricanes, flooding, and tornadoes are the more discussed disasters; however, winter weather can impact communities, shut down transportation and cripple infrastructure. Here are a few tips for preparedness personnel to consider when winter weather could impact your community:
- Talk to your local National Weather Service (NWS) office – Graphics and emails from your local NWS office are helpful for initial awareness, but talking to a forecaster on the phone and getting direct feedback on the impending weather will give you the greatest details to help in your decisions. Ask about the potential for the forecast to change and other factors that could alter the impacts. Some questions you might ask could include:
- How long will temperatures remain below freezing?
- When do you expect snow or ice to melt off roadways?
- Is re-freezing of slushy or melted snow or ice on roads and bridges expected?
- Are all roadways expected to accumulate snow/ice or mainly bridges?
- Is snow expected to be heavy and wet or more light and dry?
- How much and when do you expect ice accumulation to occur?
- What is the potential for wind related issues such as poor visibility and large drifts due to blowing snow?
- Work with your local partners – Consider a winter weather preparedness meeting or a tabletop exercise to discuss and review plans for the winter. Invite local partners such as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), streets/road and bridge representatives, local school districts, NWS employees, firefighters, law enforcement, local utilities, public safety personnel, critical infrastructure partners, and local businesses to talk about winter weather impacts to your community. Impacts can have cascading effects such as school closures creating availability issues for hospital staffing.
- Make sure you and your family are prepared – As a responder, it is wise to mitigate any concern you have about your family during an incident. Ensuring that you and your family are prepared for winter weather will allow you to concentrate on working the issues in your community. Write a family communications plan so that everyone knows how to stay in touch. Assemble an emergency supplies kit for your home and involve your family in putting the kit together. If your home loses power for an extended period of time while you are in the emergency operations center or busy responding, your family will need to know what steps to take to stay warm and safe.
- Make sure your vehicle is prepared – Whether you drive a personal vehicle or a company vehicle, make sure your car or truck is prepared for winter weather conditions on the roadways. Your vehicle should be properly maintained and ready to tackle winter conditions. Create an emergency kit for your vehicle. If you do have to travel in winter weather conditions to respond, ensure you have adequate clothing, blankets and water in case the unthinkable happens and you get stranded.
- Share your preparedness tips with your community – Public outreach is an important part of our jobs as emergency preparedness personnel. If you practice what you preach in the steps above, it makes sense to share those tips with the businesses, schools, neighborhood groups and more! It only takes a few minutes to talk about families writing a plan, creating an emergency supply kit, and knowing how to communicate when a disaster strikes. You never know when your advice may save someone's life.
In summary, winter weather is an often overlooked hazard when it comes to preparedness. In Texas, winter weather forecasts are often uncertain with a few miles meaning the difference in whether your community receives snow, freezing rain, sleet or all three. In the end, review your actions during an incident and learn from every storm that occurs so you are that much more prepared for the next event.
National Weather Service
Director of Emergency Management
Amarillo / Potter / Randall Office of Emergency Management