ROCKINGHAM — State and local officials sounded the alarm Thursday, urging residents to prepare for the winter storm forecast to strike the region late Friday.
Richmond County Emergency Management Director Donna Wright said one of the most important things for people to remember during a snowstorm is to avoid travel if possible.
“The best advice is for people to stay off the roads unless it is an emergency,” Wright said in an email. “It not only puts the individuals in the vehicle at risk, but (also) the first responders who will be called out to help them. The National Weather Service does not anticipate this event to result in widespread power outages, but our citizens should be prepared just in case.”
By 4 p.m. Thursday, the NWS had issued winter storm warnings for Richmond and a wide swath of other counties in central North Carolina. Some parts of South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana could also see wintry precipitation with this storm system.
Wright said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency advises people to prepare for winter storms long before the season’s arrival, but it is not too late to play catch-up by making sure the following elements are in place:
• Sufficient heating fuel. You may become isolated in your home and regular fuel sources may be cut off. Store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove.
• Adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.
• Make a family communications plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
FEMA also suggests monitoring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio for timely broadcast warnings of deteriorating weather conditions.
In a press release from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, the N.C. Highway Patrol urged motorists to heed the following protocols while traveling snowy or icy roads:
• Leave early (and) allow more travel time; expect delays.
• Reduce speed. Driving at a lower speed enables the ability to stop and allows for greater reaction time if approaching hazards within the roadway.
• Increase distance between vehicles. It takes significantly longer to stop on snow covered or icy roadways.
• Clear all windows on your vehicle prior to travel. Having unobstructed vision is vital to avoid running off of the road or becoming involved in a collision.
• Illuminate your vehicles headlamps.
• Use caution on bridges and overpasses as they susceptible to freezing before roadways.
• Avoid using cruise control. Cruise control can cause the vehicle’s wheels to continue turning on a slippery surface when speed needs to be decreased.
• Ensure your vehicle has a full tank of gas in the event you are stranded for an extended period of time.
• Charge your cellular phone prior to departure.
• Take a blanket.
• Notify a family member or a friend of your travel plans prior to departure. If you travel is interrupted, someone will know.
• Be patient. Weather also limits first responders and increases response time.
• Attempt to move your vehicle out of the roadway if you are involved in a minor, non-injury traffic collision — especially if you are in a dangerous area such as a curve or a blind hill.
• If you find yourself stranded, stay with your vehicle. Motorists who leave their vehicle attempting to obtain assistance could easily succumb to the freezing temperatures.
•To check the status of road conditions, motorists are asked to go to the Department of Transportation’s website at https://www.ncdot.gov/travel/. Officials are requesting the public to dial 911 and *HP for emergency purposes only.
Another press release from N.C. Electric Cooperatives sought to assure residents that their energy providers are prepared for the storm and ready to respond should outages occur.
“Electric cooperative members are asked to report power outages or any dangerous situations caused by the storm to their local electric cooperative,” read the press release. “For outage-reporting phone numbers and the counties served by each co-op, refer to www.ncelectriccooperatives.com/co-ops/coops.htm. Stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates and safety tips in the event of power outages in electric cooperative service territory this weekend.”
Wright reminded residents with tablets and smart phones to download the ReadyNC mobile app from readync.org. The app, she said, has the most updated weather and road conditions.
Gov. Cooper, in second press release Thursday, advised people to keep alternative heating sources prepared.
“If you have a fireplace, store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood,” it read. “Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure your family knows how to use them. Do not use charcoal grills or generators indoors; the fumes can be deadly.”
Other advice included shutting off electrical appliances if the power goes out to avoid a power surge when service is restored, use flashlights instead of candles, huddle in no more than two rooms and stuff towels and rags in cracks under doors to increase insulation.
And finally, for those who must drive, Wright said using certain techniques when negotiating hills can prevent vehicles from winding up in ditches.
“Don’t power up hills,” she advised. “Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible. Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.