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Preparation is key to fewer winter worries

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- January 2014 was the coldest winter in 72 years.  The base closed for several days due to icy roads and poor driving conditions.  Are we ready for another winter of fun? 

According to our own weather forecaster, Jim Tart, the National Weather Service predicts another really cold winter due to El Nino.  What is El Nino?  According to NASA, El Nino is an abnormal warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific; it is one part of what's called the Southern Oscillation. El Nino occurred during 2014 and will continue through 2015.  As a result, it will bring us a colder and dryer winter. 

The average low last January was 34 degrees or just above freezing. That was ten degrees below the normal average every day. This year, in the third week in November, the base had three record lows in one week.  We were at freezing or below for four days that same week.

What can we see for this coming winter? According to Tart, our predictions (or the study of climatology) are based upon averages over a long period of time, so it does not always give a true picture of what we can expect. That is where our base weather can assist us in some preparation.

If there is a freeze advisory the base will put out a warning 12 hours in advance. If it is expected over the weekend weather will speak with the leadership and a message will come out before members leave the base on Friday. The base will get a freezing precipitation warning with a one hour lead time. 

Now that we know what the base will be doing to assist us, what can we do ourselves to make it through another harsher Mississippi winter? 

Three areas where winter weather affects most people is with freezing pipes, vehicle preparation and with winter travel.  CAR CARE Recommendations by the Car Care Council:

1. Have the battery and charging system checked for optimum performance. Cold weather is hard on batteries.
2. Clean, flush and put new antifreeze in the cooling system. As a general rule of thumb, this should be done every two years.
3. Make sure heaters, defrosters and wipers work properly. Consider winter wiper blades and use cold weather washer fluid. As a general rule, wiper blades should be replaced every six months.
4. Check the tire tread depth and tire pressure. If snow and ice are a problem in your area, consider special tires designed to grip slick roads. During winter, tire pressure should be checked weekly.
5. Be diligent about changing the oil and filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil can spell trouble in winter. Consider changing to "winter weight" oil if you live in a cold climate. Have your technician check the fuel, air and transmission filters at the same time.
6. If you're due for a tune-up, have it done before winter sets in. Winter magnifies existing problems such as pings, hard starts, sluggish performance or rough idling.
7. Have the brakes checked. The braking system is the vehicle's most important safety item.
8. Have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed.
9. Check to see that exterior and interior lights work and headlights are properly aimed.

Preventing Frozen Pipes from the American Red Cross
Before the onset of cold weather, prevent freezing of these water supply lines and pipes by following these recommendations:

· Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer's or installer's directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
· Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
· Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
· Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a "pipe sleeve" or installing UL-listed "heat tape," "heat cable," or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes - even ¼" of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.

AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:

· Avoid driving while you're fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
· Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
· Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
· Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
· Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
· If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
· Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
· Always look and steer where you want to go.
· Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.

In the end, it comes down to one think, preparing.  By preparing now, you will be ready for another colder and dryer winter.