The old joke goes that the world can be divided into two types of people: People who love winter and normal people.
Even so, normal people find themselves traveling in hazardous winter-weather conditions every bit as much as the people who love winter. Personal safety and the safety of your family are paramount – and no one knows this is as well or is as passionate about it as Sam Champion. The veteran weatherman and host of The Weather Channel’s must-see AMHQ is an advocate for weather preparation of all kinds – particularly preparation for dangerous winter weather.
Along with TWC Weather Producer Kathryn Prociv, Sam talked about how you should prepare for winter travel, and when you should just stay inside.
You can hear the full interview with Sam and Kathryn on the BHTP Connections podcast, coming later this month.
BHTP: When is winter weather too dangerous to go out into?
Sam: Winter-weather survival is about being experienced, about knowing what your limits are and, again, how prepared you are. I pay very close attention to the amount of moisture and the amount of wind in a storm. If a storm’s winds are in excess of 30 or 40 miles an hour, and you have the potential for more than six inches of snow, you’re looking at a pretty hardcore winter storm. Conditions out there are going to equal whiteout conditions. So you’ve got to know the amount of wind, you’ve got to know the amount of snow, and you cannot put yourself or your family in harm’s way. Basically, there’s no reason to go out in a winter storm except to be getting yourself home.
Kathryn: And really, it’s all relative. Wisconsin can handle a lot more than we can in Atlanta. Last year we got an inch or two and it shut down the whole city. But like Sam said, and I’m sure you all know, be smart about it, because winter storms can last just as long if not longer than thunderstorms. Thunderstorms tend to lose their punch as soon as the sun goes down, but winter storms don’t care. If anything, they get more ferocious at night, because that’s when it gets colder. So it’s knowing the forecast, knowing your limits, and really having the local knowledge of your area – knowing what roads get plowed first or don’t get plowed at all, so you can stay away from them.
BHTP: If you do have to go out in winter weather, first of all, what precautions do you feel drivers should take, and if you do become stranded, what should you do at that time?
Sam: As you get into the winter driving season and you have to get about your life and you have to go to work every day and the kids have to go to school, then you need to have everything that most of you know about. You have to have extra clothes in the trunk, you’d better have some sand or salt in the trunk, you’d better have extra water and food in the trunk of the car. Your trunk had better look like you’re going on vacation, because anything can happen on the roads in winter, and you want to make sure you’re prepared for all of it.
I’m not just talking about people who live 30 miles away from the nearest town. I’m talking about people who live in town as well. These are the supplies you just should have, because you don’t know when a road’s going to be closed and you have to take a detour, or you just think you can get home at night, and the snow slows you down and it takes you six hours to get home.
A lot of people laugh at the Atlanta ice event, particularly people up north, but I want to tell you how that happened and why it truly isn’t funny. And it can happen anywhere. Atlanta’s a city that doesn’t see a lot of winter, true, but that’s not why people were stuck on the roads for 20 hours. What happened is these highways and roads are built low. The off-ramps go uphill in many areas, and the roads are built in kind of like a valley.
So when they told people to go home because there’s going to be snow, they didn’t stagger how people leave the buildings. They didn’t say, “City workers go home at 3, high schools let out at 2, offices go out at 1.” They sent everybody home, and everybody got on the roads at the same time. Any city has bad traffic at its get-to-work and go-home times. Now it was four times worse. And as the snow started to fall, regular traction wouldn’t let you get up the off-ramps, or get down the on-ramps because they’re hills. So cars started to spin out. Now the cars are crashing into other cars, the roads are slippery, rescue workers couldn’t get onto the Interstates because all the ramps were blocked with wrecks, and this just cascaded into where people are now running out of gas, and everything has to be towed off the roads. It’s a really good lesson, even for cities up north, on why you have to have a plan. You have to have a strategy for how you community’s going to handle every disaster, how are you going to move people, and you have to have that for your family as well.
You have to say, “Okay, I live here. I know we’ve got snow, I know we’ve got storms. If it looks bad for me I’m going to leave work an hour early. I’m going to get on the roads early. Bob, you pick up the kids, Ted, you’re going to get this, Carol, you’re going to do all that, make sure we have frozen pizza or whatever it is we want.” It’s about having a plan and knowing how you’re going to handle these things, because they are going to happen in your area, and they do, every year.
Editor’s Note: One great way to protect all you winter travels is with travel insurance from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Its plans protect every trip and every traveler. Get it here.