JONESBORO— Snow and ice are a scenic part of winter, but in Georgia severe winter weather has the potential to devastate communities and affect millions of people. In Jan. 2011, a single storm delivered a thick layer of snow and ice that shut down transportation in parts of the state for five days, eventually affecting 70 percent of Georgia, according to Clayton County Office of Emergency Management officials.
“One of the primary concerns of winter weather is its ability to knock out heat, power and communications services,” said Clayton County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director/Fire Chief Jeff Hood. “Preparation is inexpensive and easy and can help you avoid potentially life-threatening situations.”
In the Southern Crescent area, the 2011 winter storm shut down schools, closed courts, government offices, roads and shopping malls. It disrupted travel at the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There were power outages, and Clayton State University closed its doors during the winter storm.
The most common months for snow and ice is January, said National Weather Service Meteorologist, Steve Nelson. He used the latest forecast of Nov. 8 to anticipate the winter forecast.
“It looks like we are moving toward a weak El Nino pattern,” Nelson said. “We are looking at about an inch or two above the normal precipitation, in the upcoming winter months. The winter months normally would be about 13 inches of precipitation.”
Nelson said precipitation could be categorized as rain, snow or ice.
He said his agency cannot predict if a snow storm will hit in January.
“We just don’t know that far in advance,” he continued.
The meteorologist said there is a possibility this winter could be colder.
“The daytime temperatures will also be slightly below normal,” he said. “The average highs in Clayton County for January are expected to be in the upper 50’s.”
“Being prepared for winter is often something we fail to do since the season tends to sneak up on us,” Clayton County EMA Fire Capt. Walter Barber. “That’s why we are urging citizens to take the steps necessary now so that they are prepared for severe weather which can happen relatively overnight.”
The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as “deceptive killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Instead, people die in traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold, Hood added.
Winter Weather Awareness Week is Dec. 3-7.
“That is a great time to make sure you are prepared for extreme conditions this winter,” said Barber. “We urge you to start preparing now.”
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security’s (GEMA’s) Ready Georgia campaign offers these tips:
Prepare a Ready Kit of Emergency Supplies
• Prepare a Ready kit of emergency supplies for your home. Include with at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food, water, a flashlight with extra batteries, a NOAA Weather Radio, adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm, as well as additional supplies for the unique needs of your family, such as medications.
• Keep an extra Ready kit in the trunk of your car. In addition to the basic essentials, consider adding an ice scraper, extra blanket, sand for traction and jumper cables.
• Ensure proper home insulation by placing weather stripping around doors and windows, allowing faucets to drip during cold weather to prevent freezing and opening cabinet doors to let heat reach un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
• Winterize your vehicle and keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent your fuel line from freezing.
Create a Winter Weather Plan
• Plan to stay inside, if necessary, for at least three days. If trapped outside during severe winter weather, try to stay dry, cover all body parts, and periodically move limbs to keep blood circulating. If possible, build a fire.
• Winter storms are often accompanied by power outages. Always exercise caution when using alternative light and heating sources:
• Use flashlights during power outages instead of candles to prevent the risk of fire, and keep plenty of extra batteries on-hand.
• Never bring portable generators, camp stoves and grills into your home; they should only be used outside. Keep them at least 20 feet away from your home's windows, doors and vents to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
• People who depend of electricity to operate medical equipment should have alternate arrangements in place in case power is out for an extended period of time.
• Learn how to keep food safe during a power outage.
• Avoid traveling by car in icy conditions. If you must go out and do get stuck, stay with your car. Leave the overhead lights on when the engine is running so you can be seen.
• Plan for pets to come inside and store adequate food and water for them.
• Create an emergency communications plan so family members will know who to contact if separated during a storm. Designate at least one out-of-town contact that all family members can call.
Stay Informed about Winter Weather
• Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio and monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet to stay informed of winter weather.
• Learn about the terms used to describe winter hazards such as freezing rain, sleet, winter weather advisory, winter storm watch and winter storm warning.
• Know the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when your body tissue freezes. Your extremities may have a white or pale appearance and may lose feeling. The most susceptible areas of your body are the fingers, toes, earlobes, or the tip of your nose. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and exhaustion. If you suspect you have frostbite or hypothermia, get medical attention immediately.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security has established a statewide emergency preparedness campaign to help residents to prepare for winter storms, called Ready Georgia. The Ready Georgia campaign is supported by Clayton County EMA.
Ready Georgia offers the tools needed to make an emergency supply kit, develop a communications plan and stay informed about potential threats.
Visitors to Ready Georgia’s website, www.ready.ga.gov, can create an online profile to receive a tailored plan for the entire family that includes the specific amount of supplies to put in their household Ready kits.
“They can also find local emergency contact information, learn about Georgia-specific disasters and read preparedness testimonials from local sports stars,” Barber said.
Children’s games and activities can be found on the ReadyKids page, and households with elderly or disabled family members and pets will also find specific information on preparing for severe weather. For preparedness on the go, families can also download Ready Georgia’s free mobile app to learn how to prepare for emergencies, create family communications plans and more.
For more information, visit Clayton County EMA’s website at www.readyclayton.com, or on twitter (www.twitter.com/CCFES) or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ClaytonCountyFireEmergencyServices.