A major snowstorm is coming to the Midwest and Great Plains during some of the busiest days for travel this year. Here’s how to stay safe while driving, especially on rural roads.
A massive snowstorm is going to hit many Midwestern and Great Plains states during some of the busiest days for holiday travel.
“This event is gonna be impacting a large portion of the United States and more than just snow,” says Emily Klaus, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Kansas City. “It’s gonna be impacting it in wind concerns, in windchill and in extreme cold concerns.”
The American Automobile Association estimates that 112.7 million people will travel more than 50 miles away from home this year between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 — 3.6 million more than last year. Out of that nearly 102 million Americans will drive to their destinations.
‘Try to beat the snow’
Experts recommend when possible to be flexible with travel plans. Travelers should pay attention to weather forecasts both from where they’re leaving and their destinations, according to Klaus.
“Just trying to beat the snow, or if you’re gonna be traveling into the snow leaving earlier so you’re not driving into a winter storm,” she said.
Nick Chabarria, a spokesperson for AAA Missouri encourages people to change travel plans when possible.
“We don’t recommend anybody go out unless they absolutely have to during the course of the storm,” he said. “Let the plows, the road crews, get out there, do their work, make the streets safe again.”
One thing to keep in mind for rural areas is that it may take longer for the roads to be cleared.
“With more rural areas, depending where you’re at, you know, more rural could mean, a little bit different terrain being more hills, more wooded areas and that kind of presents its own challenges when you’re driving in snow and ice,” Chabarria said.
He suggested leaving plenty of time to get where you’re going safely, driving as slowly as needed and leaving lots of room between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
Prepare your car for the drive
Chabarria encourages people to get their batteries tested at the auto shop before traveling, to ensure that the battery doesn’t die during the trip. If a battery is more than five years old, he recommends just getting it replaced.
“Dead or disabled batteries are the number one reason that people call AAA during the winter months,” said Chabarria. “And they can account for about 30% of all of our service calls throughout the winter.”
It’s also important to check the tread on the car’s tires. You can do that by sticking a quarter upside-down in the tire’s grooves. If the top of George Washington’s head is visible, the tires need to be replaced.
“Make sure your tires are properly inflated. That’s not only gonna keep you safe on the roadways, but also help you get the most fuel efficiency from your vehicle if you are taking a road trip,” he said.
Pack an emergency kit
If something does happen, it’s useful to have an emergency kit. In rural areas, help might be farther away, which is why it is important to make sure your cell phone is charged and keep blankets and warm winter clothes handy to face those extreme cold temperatures.
“This is going to be extremely cold weather that we’re not used to seeing here in the Midwest,” said Klaus. “Now, it’s not impossible, but it’s just not common.”
Some things to pack in your car:
- Jumper cables
- Blankets and winter clothing
- A cell phone charger and power bank
- Snacks and water
- A flashlight and batteries
- A first-aid kit
- A snow brush and ice scraper
- A snow shovel
- Some sort of traction material, e.g. sand, salt, kitty litter
- Hazard triangles or LED flashers
Eva Tesfaye covers agriculture, food systems and rural issues for KCUR and Harvest Public Media and is a Report For America corps member. This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.