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Preparing for the storm: When it comes to winter disasters, make a plan ahead of time and avoid risky choices
The last few months have seen exceptionally dry weather in the Cascade foothills. But Mother Nature often has tricks in store.
Even though this winter is predicted to be mostly mild, Bob Rowe, Snoqualmie Fire Chief, stresses that it’s important to start thinking about preparedness early.
It’s the neutral years, he says, that historically have had the really big storms.
“There’s always anomalies,” he says. This year saw odd patterns—drought in the Northwest, record numbers of tornadoes in the east. So you can’t take an easy winter for granted, Rowe says.
“We can’t stress preparedness enough,” he added.
Whether it’s a wet winter or a dry one, there is usually at least one serious weather event every winter in Western Washington, says Josie Williams, spokeswoman for Eastside Fire and Rescue.
“Even if it’s not serious, it does put a stop to people’s activities,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just not safe to go out.”
The winter of 2012 was a doozie. During the Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend, the Valley endured a three-or-four day blackout, the result of an ice storm that shattered trees, downed power lines and closed major roads for days. It came in the wake of a snowstorm that snarled local routines days earlier.
The massive ice storm of January 2012 challenged local authorities in several ways. The city of Snoqualmie worked with the just-opened YMCA to open an emergency shelter, which posed hurdles as there was no generator there at the time. With Snoqualmie Parkway and Highway 202 closed between Snoqualmie and Fall City, neighborhoods became more isolated. Gas stations and stores saw lines form for essentials like gasoline.
The January storm wasn’t as bad, though, as the Election Day storm of 2006, which shut down power for some Valley residents for nearly two weeks.
Williams, who lives in Fall City, went nine days without power in the 2006 storm.
“Every day, we had to get gas for the generator,” she recalls.
When a disaster happens, it’s often too late to stock up. When Williams went to the supermarket during the 2006 outage, she noticed that essentials like candles were often sold out.
“You’re competing with everybody else during these times,” she says. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by planning and shopping early. It’s important to store extra water, food, flashlights and other essentials well ahead of time.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of a disaster, and the need to react. Some thinking ahead of time is well worth it.
“Think about what you’re going to need on a camping trip,” Williams advises. “These are the kinds of things you have to fall back on.”
“The biggest issue is the attitude that ‘it won’t happen to me,’” Rowe said. “People say it only happens to faraway places. It doesn’t happen to my family.” But the reality is that disasters do happen here.
Planning, getting a kit ready, gathering supplies are vital to being ready for the possible.
“Plan to let each other know you’re safe and where you’re at,” Rowe said.
A warm coat, good set of shoes, a list of medication, are a good starting point. See our full list here for kit ideas.
After last year’s multiple-day power-outage, EFR stresses the need to be careful about carbon monoxide. If people are using kerosene heaters or stoves, they need to ensure they are used in a well-ventilated area.
EFR is concerned that people who keep extra gasoline may end up inadvertently creating fire dangers.
The same warning goes for families who rely on candles during outages. If you need to leave the room, put out the candle; don’t leave it burning unattended, as that could lead to a fire.
During a disaster
It’s important to pay attention to the emergency announcements, evacuation orders and signs that say when roads are closed. When floods come, firefighters have to put themselves in harm’s way to help people who underestimate the danger.
You should never try to drive or walk through flooded areas. There’s a chance that hidden pitfalls await below what looks like shallow waters.
Driving past a flood barricade is a poor choice, there’s a chance you may not get back—or that someone else may not get back because they have to come save you.
Rowe stresses the acronym, TADD: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
“We rescue numerous people off the tops of their cars,” Rowe said. “Because they do an illegal maneuver, I have to put my crew in harm’s way.”
It’s much better for everyone if you park your car on high ground and wait for floodwaters to recede.
The firefighters can’t force anyone to evacuate in a flood, and it’s common for some experienced residents to try to ride them out. But if they experience a medical issue or need rescuing, that also becomes a dangerous situation. Rowe asks residents to raise fuel and chemicals out of harm’s way as well.
Both the cities of North Bend and Snoqualmie broadcast travel restrictions on the local emergency radio channel, AM 1650.
The Snoqualmie Emergency Operations Center (EOC@ci.snoqualmie.wa.us or (425) 888-5911) is open during local emergencies and disasters to provide information to the public as needed or requested.
Citizens may contact the EOC to request specific information or find out about community resources that may be available during an emergency. However, for personal emergency assistance, dial 9-1-1.