Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving Thanks for Safe Winter Travels!

In case you couldn't tell by the frigid temperatures and the snow some of us saw this weekend, winter is here. Just to make sure that point is hammered home, all of Western  New York is under a Winter Storm Watch from Tuesday evening through Wednesday evening. While six inches of snow may not be enough to scare us hearty Western New Yorkers, history tells us we'd do well to make sure we're prepared.

Warming station for stranded drivers at the Cheektowaga
Senior Center on 12/1/10
This is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, with over 43 million Americans expected to hit the roads. During Thanksgiving week 13 years ago, I was working at Channel 7 when this happened. Looking outside the downtown Buffalo studios, the streets looked like a war zone, with abandoned cars spread across the highways, blocking travel even for those trying to brave the massive snowstorm. Thousands were stranded. I spent the night with dozens of stranded travelers in the lobby of the hotel across the street, since every room had long been filled by other stranded travelers. I was only a month into my Red Cross career when a lake effect snowstorm forced the closure of parts of the Thruway near Cheektowaga on December 1, 2010, giving me my first shelter experience as we set up a warming station for the thousands of stranded motorists. (It wasn't over the holidays, but I was also a senior in the Marion Jr-Sr High School when an ice storm knocked out power to thousands and kept us out of school for a week in 1991. Not to date myself or anything...)

Volunteers serve a hot meal to drivers, some of whom had
been stranded over 24 hours when a snowstorm closed
portions of the Thruway in December 2010
It's almost as if winter storms are part of the Thanksgiving tradition in this region. And even if you can handle the snowy driving, other drivers or road closures can still leave you stuck. Try to wait until things are clear to hit the roads--I'm sure your family will keep the turkey warm for you. But if you must drive in wintry conditions, here's some safety tips to help you arrive safely:
  • Pack emergency supplies like blankets, water and snacks, flashlight and first aid kit.
  • Vehicles should be in good working order before heading out. Fill the fuel tank, check air pressure in tires and top-off windshield fluid.
  • Buckle up and obey all traffic signs.
  • Avoid distractions while driving like using mobile phones to talk or text.
  • Designate a driver who won’t be drinking whenever alcohol is served.
If your using planes and trains instead of automobiles this Thanksgiving, we've got some safety tips for you as well. And of course, this is just the beginning of the winter season, so make sure you're prepared to make it through the snow at home and on the roads!