Experts: It’s not too early to be winter-ready

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HANCOCK COUNTY — It’s not the topic most people want to think about, but it’s that time of year, with dropping temperatures and winter weather on the horizon. State and local officials are urging people to be prepared for travel in less-than-ideal conditions.

There’s a 40% chance of snow as early as Sunday in the area.

Governor Eric Holcomb proclaimed Nov. 7-13 Winter Weather Preparedness Week in Indiana, and local officials have supported the cause.

Capt. Robert Harris, the public information officer for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, said now is a good time for people to start thinking about cold weather and bad road conditions.

One of the most important things people can do is make sure their cellphones are fully charged, Harris said, and to have a mobile charger when traveling. It’s also good to let family or friends know when and where they’re traveling.

“That way if someone doesn’t arrive when they should, responders know a possible route to check,” Harris said.

The county highway department does a good job maintaining the roads after storms, Harris noted. However, when extreme winter weather hits in volume, the road crews and first-responders can be delayed, so stranded drivers must be prepared to wait.

“Most importantly, slow down and drive safe,” Harris said.

Gary Pool, the county engineer who oversees the highway department, said the pandemic has made preparation for the season more difficult, particularly when it comes to repairing equipment.

“But, we are getting there,” Pool said.

Pool noted the county is short a few snowplow drivers as well

The highway department, which takes care of about 600 miles of roads, monitors forecasts several days in advance and plans its strategy based on the type of precipitation that’s being predicted. Roads are often pre-treated with liquid salt brine and regularly treated with rock salt. In colder temperatures, salt and brine alone take longer to activate, so additional chemicals are used to boost effectiveness.

Drivers are encouraged to carry an emergency kit in their vehicles with food, water, a phone charger, sand or cat litter, flares or bright LED alternatives, a flashlight and blankets. It’s also a good idea to keep vehicles full of gas, emergency preparedness experts say.

People should also have bottled water, food, and essentials at home in case of power outages or impassable roads.

Along with local officials, the National Weather Service and officials from Indiana Department of Transportation are encouraging people to take steps now to prepare for the hazards that come with winter weather.

That includes tips like slowing down for conditions, especially on snow-covered roads and never tailgating or driving beside a snowplow as drivers may not be able to see vehicles close by.

The safest place on the road during a winter storm is behind a snowplow, but for drivers who must pass, they should do so carefully and remember to use appropriate speed for conditions.

According to the National Weather Service, there are over 66,000 variations of winter storms. Snow, ice, freezing rain and fog can all present challenges for winter travel. Roads can become slick, even after pre-treatment and regular treatment during and after a storm.

Tony Bratcher public information officer for the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department, reminds drivers that just because the weather is getting colder it doesn’t mean there will be less construction on the roads and in the neighborhoods and people need to slow down and keep their eyes open.

“Colder weather can bring excessive mud and water to roadways near construction sites,” Bratcher said. “Right now we have increased traffic on all county roads, because on any given day a road is closed and that sends more traffic to our county roads.”

Bratcher also noted despite colder weather, many kids still walk to and from school in the winter; drivers need to watch out for them.

“We have to share all the roads no matter what time of year it is,” Bratcher said.

Other tips include having a mechanic check your vehicle to ensure it is in good good working condition and making sure all fluids — including windshield-washer fluid — are topped off.

It’s also good to know your vehicle. Today’s vehicles have many built-in driver-assist safety features some people may not be aware of. Now is the time to review your owner’s manual to be well-informed.

For people traveling with children, it’s also important to make sure safety seats are installed properly and all riders wear a seat belt, Bratcher said.

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