Prepare now for winter hazards

Winter weather advisories were issued for the western Upper Peninsula and north-central Wisconsin.

This is nature’s way of telling us Old Man Winter is on the way.

In preparation of another long winter season, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has proclaimed Nov. 3-9 as Winter Weather Awareness Week in Michigan, and Nov. 4-8 is Winter Awareness Week across Wisconsin.

During Winter Hazards Awareness Week, area residents are encouraged to learn about the dangers associated with cold, snow and ice and how to stay safe during the winter season.

“Last winter was very unusual,” said Matt Zika of the National Weather Service at Marquette.

“From a statistical standpoint temperatures averaged above normal with near normal snowfall. The winter started out very mild and without much snow,” he said.

“However, by the middle of January the weather pattern flipped. The second half of winter was dominated by cold and snowy conditions. A large majority of the seasonal snowfall was compressed into the second half of the winter,” Zika said. “With below normal temperatures that lasted well into the spring, many perceived the winter of 2012-13 as a cold and snowy one especially compared to the last few years.”

And who can forget the late wintry cold in Wisconsin?

The coldest temperature in the winter of 2012-13 was 30 below at Upson (Iron County) on Feb. 4, 2013.

Upson also had the most snow with 186.4 inches in the 2012-13 winter season, while Timmerman Field in Milwaukee had the least with only 25.6 inches. Most of the central and southern counties had 50 to 70 inches, which was well above normal.

“According to the National Weather Service, Michigan had another warm winter, but that isn’t the entire story,” Zika said. “Winter, as defined as the months of December, January and February for temperature statistics, averaged above normal with most locations experiencing a top 25 warmest winter on record.”

“December was very warm with most locations experiencing a top 10 warmest December,” he said. “December also featured very little snow because of the warmth. January’s temperatures resembled more of a roller coaster as they peaked several times in the 50s to near 60 only to plunge below zero a couple of days later.”

“As the calendar turned to February, a more typical winter pattern emerged and that continued into the early spring,” Zika said. “In contrast to the warmest March on record in 2012, March 2013 was well below normal for average temperatures and well above normal for snowfall for nearly the entire state.”

“The winter was very wet with a combination of rain and snow. Most locations had a top 20 wettest winter. Despite the overall warmer temperatures, there was enough cold air to mix with enough storms to produce near average snowfall for the entire state,” he said.

So what’s the long-range forecast for this winter?

“At this point in time, there are no clear signals on how the 2013-14 winter will go,” Zika said. “There are essentially equal chances for temperatures and snowfall to average above normal, near normal, or below normal this winter.”

Below normal, normal, above normal? Let’s get real, folks.

This is the Upper Peninsula and northeastern Wisconsin, so put away your tank tops and shorts for a few months.

We will get snow, blowing snow, below-zero temperatures with chances of freezing rain and heavy snow thrown in for good measure.

That’s why we have Winter Weather Awareness Week. This is the time of year to brace ourselves and prepare Mother Nature’s harshest season.

Now is the time to set aside emergency supplies for your home and vehicle(s). This includes a first aid kit, battery powered radios (including a NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio), flashlights, shovels, tow ropes, booster cables, windshield scraper, extra batteries, matches, blankets or sleeping bags, cell phone adapter, warm clothes, and non-perishable food.

Keep vehicles properly maintained and filled with fuel to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation while traveling.

And remember to always check the latest weather forecast before leaving home, taking note of any advisories, watches, or warnings for winter weather.

If you expect adverse weather during your trip, tell someone at both ends of your journey where you are going and the route you intend to take.

Report your safe arrival. Make certain that both parties have your cell phone number and license plate number before you start your trip.

If you do get stuck, do not abandon your car and walk into a snow storm.

This is the time to use your emergency kit, and wait for help to arrive.