Winter is coming: Be prepared to drive in ice and snow

When severe weather hits, the difference between being safe or being stranded in your vehicle can often come down to how well prepared you are.

Winter storms can make roads extremely dangerous or impassable. Always pay attention to the winter forecast before heading out in your vehicle so you don’t become stranded, according to Troy Erbentraut, manager of OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center disaster preparedness team.

There are some things to do to your vehicle – either by yourself or by a mechanic – before the winter season is upon us. Here are some tips from

  • Check the antifreeze levels
  • Make sure the battery is in good condition and charged
  • Inspect the brake system
  • Make sure to have clean fuel and air filters
  • Check the oil
  • Inspect the heater and defroster to make sure they are in working order
  • Replace windshield wiper blades and check the washer fluid level

Other winter weather preparedness tips recommended by Erbentraut include:

  • Carry a warm blanket (or two) in your vehicle large enough to accommodate the number of passengers you have in your vehicle.
  • Pack extra gloves, boots, coats, hats and a first aid kit.
  • Have a shovel, sand, or kitty litter (the non-clumping kind) or ice melt in your trunk. These products can help you get out of an icy spot.
  • Carry snacks and water to keep hunger at bay in case you become stranded in your vehicle.
  • Keep an LED flashlight or battery-powered lantern in the vehicle to provide light in the event you become stranded at night.
  • Make a habit of keeping your fuel tank over half full to help eliminate the risk of running out of gas in the winter.
  • Pack flares, light sticks, flagging tape, or other reflective items to put around your vehicle or on your coat so you will be visible to other drivers if you’re stranded at night.
  • Put paper and pen for making a sign in your glove box. Should you become stranded and choose to leave your vehicle, make a sign with your name, contact number and destination in the event emergency responders are called to your vehicle.
  • Keep your cell phone fully charged. Turn it off when not in use to preserve battery power. Also turn off Bluetooth and wi-fi settings to help preserve power. Although these do not pull much power in newer phones, all battery power is precious in an emergency. Also, remember to have with you a battery-powered car charger and regular charger for your cell phone.
  • Keep a set of jumper cables, basic tools and an ice scraper in the trunk.

“All you need to do is plan ahead and you’ll be ready for whatever the winter driving season has in store,” Erbentraut said.

Know winter weather watches and warnings

With the winter season right around the corner, you should familiarize yourself with terms that are used to identify extreme weather alerts. The following descriptions are courtesy of

Freezing rain – Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.

Sleet – Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes any moisture on the road to freeze and become slippery.

Wind chill – Wind chill is the “real feel” temperature outside and is different than the air temperature.

Winter weather advisory – This is when winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter storm watch – When a winter storm watch is possible in your area, pay close attention to an NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or local TV news for more information. The National Weather Service issues a watch when severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, may affect your area but the location and timing remain uncertain. These watches are issued 12 to 36 hours in advance of a potential storm. You can search for your local National Weather Service office on Facebook or Twitter to follow them for updates.

Winter storm warning – This is issued when a winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.

Blizzard warning – A blizzard warning is issued when there are sustained gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and there is a considerable amount of falling or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile. During this time, the conditions are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.

Frost/freeze warning – This is issued when temperatures are expected to drop below freezing.

In the event of severe winter weather, make sure to check for any winter weather-related closings or cancellations at any of the OSF HealthCare locations.

Last Updated: April 26, 2018

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About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016.  A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Iowa and Illinois.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook, bake and read. She freely admits that reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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