FORT LEE, Va. – The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center says the Southern United States will likely experience a warmer- and drier-than-average January and February.
Not too much to worry about, right?
Weather and weather effects can be unpredictable. The snowstorms that surprisingly swept across Texas in 2021, causing millions to lose power, are a good example of why rosy forecasts should not determine if – or to what extent – one should prepare for winter weather. In fact, cold-weather preparation is critical in the Fort Lee area.
“Winter weather emergencies affect hundreds of people every year,” said Elwanda Baugh, operations specialist, Department of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “Fort Lee is situated in an area where snow accumulation can and often occurs, causing the post to experience delayed openings or early releases. When emergencies occur, military and civilian organizations respond, but it takes time to mobilize, and they focus on the most critical needs first.”
That makes the phrase “preparation, preparation, preparation” imperative to community members who want to keep themselves safe as weather becomes increasingly unpredictable. Planning builds confidence in abilities to respond quickly and appropriately. Building an emergency kit provides peace of mind in knowing the necessary supplies are on hand to ensure survival and comfort in case grocery stores and other conveniences become unavailable for a few days. Knowing evacuation routes and emergency shelter locations will make movement much more convenient.
Although cold weather brings about many hazards, Baugh ranks driving conditions among the top areas of concern.
“Driving safely under wintry conditions is a challenge,” Baugh said. “Freezing rain, sleet, black ice, packed snow, excessive speed, and summer tread tires all contribute to vehicle accidents during the winter months. The installation does a tremendous job keeping the roads clear following the occurrence of snow or ice. Outside the installation, the priority is the main thoroughfares. Side streets and lesser used roads are normally left for the snow to melt.”
Baugh warns that black ice – the condition of roads being icy and slippery, but with few visible signs of it – can be particularly worrisome for drivers.
“I think one of the most dangerous encounters we may face would be ice on roads and bridges or black ice in drivable areas,” she said. “We certainly want to use caution during those circumstances. Start with checking your vehicle and making you have the proper tires. Also, check to see if you have emergency items – water, blankets, flashlights, jumper cables, cones, phone chargers, et cetera – in your vehicle in case something arises.”
Those preparations would have made a difference during a snowstorm and black ice conditions that shut down large portions of Interstate 95 just north of Richmond earlier this year. The weather event stranded hundreds of motorists – including Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine – in vehicles for more than 20 hours.
In planning for winter weather, consider the various factors and scenarios associated with common conditions. For example, what home preparations are appropriate for accumulated snow? If you have kids in school, what are the emergency notification procedures, and do they have good contact information on file? If you already have an emergency kit, when is the last time you checked your flashlight batteries or the condition of canned goods?
The planning process can start with a visit to https://ready.army.mil. The site is built on four categories – “Be Informed,” “Make a Plan,” “Build a Kit,” and “Get Involved” – that can support any preparation strategy, Baugh said. It also provides resources and tips for all types of weather conditions and emergency situations.
Additionally, the readiness website includes a section on safekeeping pets, which are often overlooked in emergency plans.
“If pets cannot come indoors, make sure they have a dry, draft-free enclosure,” Baugh said. “Check their water bowls to confirm the water is fresh and unfrozen. Salt and other chemicals used to melt ice can irritate a pet’s paws. Wipe their paws with a damp towel before the pet licks them.”
While there is much to consider in planning, several other checklists and emergency preparation guides are freely available to make the process easier, such as the downloadable app listed on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website. It features comprehensive preparation walk-throughs and real-time weather alerts. The app can be downloaded at www.fema.gov/mobile-app.
At Fort Lee, installation military members, civilian employees and contract personnel are required to sign up for the ALERT Mass Warning Notification System, which sends emergency information via email, telephone or text message. While many are added to the system automatically when logging into the local network, users must still ensure personal contact information, including after-duty hours contact information (e.g., personal cellular phone number or landline numbers, email addresses, home address, etc.), is entered into the system and regularly updated or verified every 90 days to remain current and accurate.
Community members also are encouraged to check Fort Lee’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ArmyFortLee when inclement weather approaches, as up-to-date emergency information is shared there in near real-time, including notifications about post closures or delayed openings. Yet another resource is the Digital Garrison app, which provides alert message capability for your selected installation: www.armymwr.com/happenings/digital-garrison-app.
For more information, visit the U.S. Army Garrison’s Hazardous Weather guide website. Located at https://home.army.mil/lee/index.php/hazweather, the guide explains how command weather decisions are made; where emergency notifications can be found; and even offers advice on building an emergency kit; it also is available as a downloadable poster.
Extreme weather events can cause massive property damage and human suffering. They test how well community members have planned and prepared. Those who ignore planning stand the greatest risk of hardship. Proactive individuals who take the time to educate and equip themselves increase their chances of avoiding injury or death and safely riding out the disaster.