FORT LEE, Va. (December 15, 2011)-- Winter weather made an early visit to northern and southwest Virginia, dumping about five inches of snow in late October, while centrally located counties dealt with cold temperatures and rain. November brought mild temperatures and December has been uncharacteristically warm. Fort Lee has enjoyed 60-degree days filled with sunshine. It seems as though winter weather has lost its way, but it's certain the cold temperatures and frost will soon greet all Virginians.

Knowing what to do when adverse weather arrives is the first step in staying safe and alive. It may not seem dangerous to start the day without cold weather clothing when only walking from the house to the car to the office; but what would happen if the warmth of a building was traded for an emergency; would you be prepared?

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Fort Lee Safety Office and the Installation Operations Center want everyone to be prepared for winter weather.

"Making a plan is the most important thing that Virginians can do to ensure their family's safety," said Michael Cline, state coordinator of emergency management. "Making a plan doesn't cost anything, and it can greatly reduce the potential loss of life and property during the winter months."

When making a plan, choose an out-of-town relative or friend to be your family's point of contact for emergency communications. Decide on a meeting place if your family cannot return home because of closed roads. Discuss with your family what you would do in case of severe winter weather in your area.

Stay informed before, during and after a winter storm. Listen for up-to-date information from your local media and emergency officials.

In the event Fort Lee is closed due to inclement weather, the Installation Operation Center's status hot-line will offer up-to-date information about the conditions at the installation. Fort Lee's Status Hotline number is (804) 765-2679.

Television and radio stations throughout the greater Richmond area, as well as Portsmouth and Tidewater will be notified of any closing.

If the post has a delayed opening, the message will inform personnel to report by a specified time and liberal leave is in effect. A closing of the installation refers to all non-essential personnel. Essential personnel, who are typically those whose duties may be vital to public health, safety, welfare and national defense or the operation of essential facilities or functions, will still report to work. In the event weather creates hazardous driving conditions the installation may close early with an announcement made by the senior commander with input from the garrison team, including the directors of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, the Department of Public Works and the Safety Office.

Staying aware of closings - including roadways - is important during any weather-related event. Make sure your battery-powered radio is working and you have extra batteries in case the electricity goes out.

Snow and ice storms can cause lengthy power outages, life-threatening low temperatures and dangerous road conditions, Cline warned. Injury and death from hypothermia, heart attack, stroke and traffic crashes are all too common during the winter season.

"To help ensure you stay safe in any kind of weather event, keep an emergency kit in the home, in the car and in the office," said Tim Lawrence, director of safety for the Fort Lee Safety Office.

For home, start with the basics: three days' food and water, a battery-powered and or/hand-crank radio with extra batteries and a family emergency plan. Add a first aid kit, any needed medications, blankets and warm clothing, supplies for special members of your household and pet items.

For your car, start with some bottles of water and food bars; a bag of sand or kitty litter to provide traction under tires, hats gloves, blankets and a cell phone charger.

For your office, have some bottles of water, food bars and a radio to hear local information about whether or not it is safe to travel. Officials may advise staying in place until it is safe to travel.

“For winter travel, the most important thing to do is plan ahead,” Lawrence said. “Check weather reports and road conditions, know your driving route, inform folks when you’ll arrive and slow down during inclement weather. And having emergencies supplies or a kit on hand is always recommended.” 

Traveling unprepared during a winter storm can pose the greatest risk. Driving is most dangerous when the temperature is at or under 32 degrees F. If the road is wet, patches of ice are possible, especially on bridges and curves. Following these tips will help you stay safe:

• Avoid using cruise control while driving in winter weather conditions.

• Keep a safe distance of at least five seconds behind other vehicles and trucks that are plowing the road. 

• Don’t pass a snowplow or spreader unless it is absolutely necessary. Treat these as emergency response vehicles. 

For more information on preparing for winter weather in Virginia, visit www.ReadyVirginia.gov and click on Stay Informed.