What you need to know to be ready for the weekend winter storm

CHARLOTTE — The Carolinas have started preparing for potential winter weather as a winter storm is expected to sweep across the region this weekend.

In Charlotte, Quan Johnson was stocking up on window insulators and firewood, working off the list his wife sent him Thursday.

“Just in case the power goes out, we want to keep everything nice and toasty for my 9-year-old,” he said. “I’m just getting started, we still have many more stuff to get. Might get more socks and all of that.”

Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks told Channel 9 Thursday crews from out of state will arrive Friday to stage vehicles and check equipment.

“Oftentimes, we’ll stage them in a central location in that region,” Brooks said. “And then, we can disperse them, you know, within just a couple hours to wherever they need to go.”

Others scooped up bread and milk from grocery store shelves.

Emergency crews spent Thursday loading up, too.

At Mecklenburg County’s EMS agency, MEDIC crews spent Thursday morning getting ambulances prepared for the winter storm, making sure they can get through icy and snowy conditions when people call for help.

“It’s been all hands on deck to make sure we are getting ahead of the storm,” said Dustin Edwards, the logistics manager at MEDIC.

They prepared de-icers and ice scrapers for crews. They also have 20 days worth of fuel on hand. The agency is already dealing with staffing shortages; it said it has administrators on deck to help respond to emergencies.

MEDIC is expecting an increase in accident calls and slip and falls, in addition to possible calls related to carbon monoxide.

“If families lose power and they bring in a gas grill to try to heat their homes, that’s a big no-no, don’t do that,” said Nick Howard, the assistant operations supervisor for MEDIC.

MEDIC told Channel 9 this would be the first winter storm where a majority of its ambulances have 4-wheel drive, instead of chains on the tires. Even still, first responders will be navigating the same treacherous conditions to get to those who need help.

“Are our response times going to be longer than normal? It’s possible,” Howard said. “It all depends on the amount of snow and ice we get. We want to make sure citizens understand that. We have to be able to safely navigate to your house.”

Staying safe is one of the reasons Johnson said he was preparing early -- so his family could stay home and off the roads.

In a statement the Charlotte Department of Transportation said crews started treating streets to protect drivers. Beginning Thursday, street maintenance crews pre-treated about 1,200 miles of road and 155 bridges and culverts in Charlotte’s city limits.

Crews loaded 35 trucks with spreaders and plows to be available over the weekend depending on the weather the city receives. Crews will report for duty over the weekend as needed, CDOT said.

>> CLICK HERE to see the City of Charlotte’s emergency plan for ice control and snow removal.

State officials are also preparing for winter weather conditions. Gov. Roy Cooper said residents should prepare now so they can avoid inconveniences and emergencies during the storm. Cooper said you should have a way to receive weather alerts -- which you can get through our WSOC weather mobile app -- keep an emergency kit stocked and ready, and prepare for potential power outages.

Travel isn’t advised, but if you need to get out, make sure you keep a winter emergency kit in your car, like an ice scraper, snow shovel, sand or kitty litter for traction.

Driving in Winter Weather (from NC Department of Transportation)

The N.C. Department of Transportation proactively plans for winter weather and has crews ready to clear roads, but driving during and after rain, ice or snow can still be dangerous.

The NCDOT told Channel 9 it is focusing pretreatment efforts on interstates in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties, and on the Monroe Expressway in Union County. State forces are applying brine on other bare pavement routes, including four-lane divided primary roads, then moving to secondary roads. Brine, a solution of water and 23% salt, is used to pretreat roadways in dry conditions when the temperature is above 18 degrees and can be applied up to 48 hours before a storm.

Although the guidelines on this page can help prevent a wreck, the only way to be certain is to stay off the roads.

Before Driving

  • Be sure your vehicle is running well and equipped properly for driving on potentially dangerous roads.
  • You should have a supply kit that includes an ice scraper, snow brush, extra windshield wiper fluid and anti-freeze and a basic automotive tool kit that includes jumper cables and flares.
  • Put in supply kit in your trunk in case you get stranded. Include a flashlight, first-aid kit, blanket, shovel, sand (to give tires traction), non-perishable snacks and drinking water and safety flares. You might want to include other items based on your personal needs.
  • Be sure you have at least a half-tank of gas in your vehicle (short commutes can turn into long ones when a storm hits) and a full reservoir of windshield washer fluid.

Venturing Out

First, don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. If you must:

  • Slow down and maintain a safe following distance between you and other vehicles. Pass with extreme caution. Excessive speed is the No. 1 cause of wrecks in winter weather.
  • Do not use cruise control.
  • Approach bridges and overpasses with extreme caution since they accumulate ice first. Do not apply your brakes while on a bridge.
  • Come to a complete stop or yield the right of way when approaching an intersection where traffic lights are out. Treat this scenario as a four-way stop.
  • Clear as much as possible snow and ice from your vehicle – from the windows, mirrors, roof, hood, trunk, bumper, headlights and tail lights – of snow and ice to keep it from blowing off and obscuring your view or hitting other drivers’ vehicles.
  • Drive smoothly, without sudden accelerating, braking or turning.

Black Ice

Appearing as wet spots on a road, black ice is often the result of melting ice and snow that refreezes into thin layers.

Although NCDOT does its best to treat areas that are prone to black ice, it is unpredictable, and most of the time, drivers aren’t aware of it until it’s too late.

  • Don’t drive unless you absolutely have to do so. The safest way to avoid black ice is to stay off the roads
  • If you do have to drive, do so at a slow speed and leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front of you.

If You Start to Slide

  • Don’t panic.
  • Avoid using your brakes, if possible. If you have to, use them gently. (Apply gentle, steady pressure to anti-lock brakes. For standard, brakes that are not anti-lock, pump the brake pedal gently to avoid locking up).
  • Wait for your vehicle to slow down enough to regain traction before gently accelerating.
  • For rear-wheel skids, turn the steering wheel in the direction your rear wheels are headed. Instead of focusing on what your vehicle might be headed toward, focus on getting out of the skid.
  • For front-wheel skids, shift into neutral and don’t try to steer immediately. When your vehicle begins to slow down, steer in the direction that you want your vehicle to go. Then, put the vehicle into gear and gently accelerate.
  • If you begin to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Applying the brakes will cause you to further lose control of your vehicle.

If You Get Stuck

  • Don’t spin your wheels (doing so will only dig you in deeper). Instead, turn them from side to side to help clear snow, and then turn the steering wheel so the tires are as straight as possible.
  • Use a shovel to clear the snow in front of and behind your tires.
  • Spread cat litter, sand or salt in the cleared areas around your drive wheels.
  • Another strategy involves rocking the vehicle back and forth. (Check your owner’s manual first; some vehicle transmissions might be damaged using this strategy.) Shift from forward to reverse and back again, using a light touch on the gas pedal. Resist the temptation to spin your wheels.

What you need to know if you are flying

American Airlines has issued a travel alert for customers traveling through 66 airports in the Southeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast portions of the U.S. Additionally, we are proactively cancelling select flight sequences this weekend (Saturday evening and into Sunday morning) to help ensure the resiliency of our operation and provide our customers additional certainty in their travels. A few other notes:

  • We are working to proactively notify and accommodate customers impacted by cancellations to help avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.
  • Our travel alert allows customers whose travel plans may be impacted by the storm to rebook without change fees.
  • Customers are encouraged to check their flight status on aa.com or the American Airlines mobile app before heading to the airport.

HEAT YOUR HOME SAFE

Heat sources such as space heaters, fireplaces or wood and coal stoves can pose a fire hazard, and fatal fires peak in the early morning hours when most people are sleeping. Home heating is the second leading cause of fires in the U.S. To reduce the risk of heating-related fires, the Red Cross recommends these steps:

  • All heaters need space. Keep children, pets and things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, carpets or near bedding or drapes. Plug power cords directly into outlets - never into an extension cord.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace.
  • Never use a cooking range, oven, charcoal or gas grill to heat your home.
  • Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.

STAY SAFE OUTSIDE

If you must go outside, protect yourself from winter storm hazards:

· Wear layered clothing, mittens or gloves, and a hat. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Mittens or gloves and a hat will prevent the loss of body heat.

  • Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from severely cold air. Avoid taking deep breaths; minimize talking.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses much of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly away from the body.
  • Stretch before you go out. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. This will reduce your chances of muscle injury.
  • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a vehicle, or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.
  • Walk carefully on snowy, icy sidewalks. Slips and falls occur frequently in winter weather, resulting in painful and sometimes disabling injuries.
  • If you must go out during a winter storm, use public transportation if possible. About 70 percent of winter deaths related to ice and snow occur in automobiles

WINTER DRIVING SAFETY

Stay off the road if possible, during severe weather. If you must drive in winter weather, follow these tips:

  • Keep in your vehicle:
  • A windshield scraper and small broom. A small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels and a set of tire chains or traction mats. Matches in a waterproof container. A brightly colored (preferably red) cloth to tie to the antenna
  • An emergency supply kit, including warm clothing.
  • Keep your vehicle’s gas tank full so you can leave right away in an emergency and to keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road.
  • Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
  • Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
  • Don’t pass snowplows.
  • Ramps, bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways.
  • If you become stranded:
  • Stay in the vehicle and wait for help. Do not leave the vehicle to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards (91 meters). You can quickly become disoriented and confused in blowing snow.
  • Display a trouble sign to indicate you need help. Hang a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) on the radio antenna and raise the hood after snow stops falling.
  • Run the engine occasionally to keep warm. Turn on the engine for about 10 minutes each hour (or five minutes every half hour). Running the engine for only short periods reduces the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and conserves fuel. Use the heater while the engine is running. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and slightly open a downwind window for ventilation.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running so that you can be seen.

AAA Urges Caution for Motorists as Winter Weather Approaches

As winter storms move across the country, it is looking like parts of the Carolinas could also see snow or a wintery mix this coming weekend. AAA is encouraging drivers to be prepared and exercise caution as severe weather can be both frightening and dangerous for commuters.

“With the threat of snow and wintery mixes, we want to remind everyone to practice safety and be diligent behind the wheel,” said Tiffany Wright, spokesperson, AAA – The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas. “Rain, snow, and sleet can reduce your visibility, making it difficult to safely maneuver or even bring your vehicle to a complete stop if necessary.”

A winter weather advisory for snow means that periods of snow will cause travel difficulties. It’s important to be prepared for slick roads, limited visibility, and use caution while driving. Also, make sure your car is winterized and when faced with snowy or icy conditions, AAA recommends the following driving tips:

  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in bad weather, it is better to avoid taking unnecessary risks by venturing out.
  • Drive slowly. Always adjust your speed to account for less traction when driving on snow or ice.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Apply the gas slowly to retain traction and avoid skids. Don’t take off in a hurry and take time to slow down for stoplights. Remember – it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Increase your following distance. Allow five to six seconds of following distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. This extra space will allow you time to stop safely if the other driver suddenly brakes.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to smoothly apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal. Do not pump the brakes!
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of energy it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads may cause your wheels to spin. Try to get a little momentum before you reach the hill and let that carry you to the top.
  • Don’t stop while going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to move up a hill on an icy road. Get some momentum going on a flat roadway before making your way up the hill.

(WATCH BELOW: Avery County prepares for snow)