By Jeff Fox

As the first full blast of wintry weather hits the area, officials remind area residents that it’s time to get ready for whatever the coming months bring.

Get ready

The American Red Cross recommends having your cars winterized and in good condition. Check the battery, lights, heater, defroster, wipers and washer fluid, antifreeze and tires. Carry a cell phone when you drive, and keep it charged. Have an ice scraper, shovel and jumper cables, plus a disaster supplies kit with flashlights (with fresh batteries), extra blankets or clothing, non-perishable food, matches and candles and a first-aid kit. Also, have kitty litter or sand for traction as well as a tow rope or chain.

Other suggestions

• Plan long trips carefully. Keep an eye on the TV or ear on the radio – a weather radio is a good investment – for weather and road conditions. Let someone know where you’re going, as well as your route and expected arrival time.

• Give snowplows plenty of room to operate.

• Take it easy. Accelerate and brake gently, making it less likely that tires will spin on snow or ice. Brake by pumping the pedal, and if your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system – often just called ABS – read the owners manual and make sure you know how to use those brakes.

• Should you get stranded, stay with your vehicle. Don’t walk for help, especially in a blizzard. Keep fresh air circulating via a downwind window, but run the motor for warmth only now and then. Move your arms and legs to help circulation and stay awake. If you get outside the car, work slowly in the snow, avoiding over-exertion and the risk of a heart attack.

What’s what

• There are specific criteria for a bad storm to be classified as a blizzard: at least three hours of sustained wind gusts of 35 mph or higher, plus considerable snow or blowing snow that reduces visibility to a quarter of a mile or less.

• A winter storm watch means conditions are favorable for the storm, and those are usually posted from 12 to 48 hours ahead of a storm. A winter storm warning means conditions that could cause injury, death or significant property damage are imminent. That means two or more of these: half an inch or more of sleet; heavy snow and wind moving it around; and a mix of freezing and/or frozen precipitation causing life-threatening conditions.

• Frostbite and hypothermia require immediate medical attention. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance typically in the fingers, toes, ear lobes or tip of the nose. Exposed skin can develop frostbite in half an hour when the wind chill is minus 20 (a temperature of zero to 5 above and a wind of 25 mph, for example, puts the wind chill in that range). Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls to less than 95 degrees, and it can be fatal. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.

Safe at home

Take precautions around the house, too. Make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working. Be extremely careful with space heaters – no extension cords – and don’t use fossil fuels such as propane, kerosene or heating oil in enclosed spaces because burning them creates carbon monoxide, which is colorless, odorless and tasteless but deadly.

Home fires increase in the winter, and that’s primarily related to heating issues. Make sure your heating system is well-maintained. Keep flues clean, and don’t use a liquid fuel or cardboard to light a woodstove or fireplace. Use generators outdoors, as they also put off carbon monoxide. Have a fire-escape for the whole family. If the lights go out, use flashlights instead of anything with an open flame.

More winter safety tips are at

For the record

Winter officially starts with the winter solstice, which arrives at 11:11 a.m. Dec. 21. That’s the shortest day of the year, with sunrise at 7:34 a.m. and sunset at 4:49 p.m. in Kansas City.

Other Kansas City area winter data:

• The area gets an average of 18.8 inches of snow each winter.

• The coldest temperature ever recorded here was minus 23 degrees, on Dec. 22-23, 1989.

• Individual snowfalls of 10 inches or more have been recorded 17 times in the 126 years of record-keeping in Kansas City. The heaviest recorded snowfall in one storm is 24.2 inches on March 22-24, 1912.

The 11 inches that fell Feb. 25-27 of this year is the 11th highest recorded. That was the first 10-plus-inch snowfall since 1987.