For some reason, that first snowfall of the season always seems to catch us off guard — perhaps we’re just in denial about the prospects of another long cold winter. Fortunately, local emergency responders have mid-October highlighted on their calendars, because we kept them plenty busy when the first accumulation of the white stuff arrived this week.
It’s a good reminder to those of use who travel the Kenai Peninsula’s roadways to make sure our vehicles are ready for the conditions, if we haven’t already.
Of course, you’ve heard the safety tips at least as many times as the number of winters you’ve spent in Alaska. But they bear repeating. If one more person puts them into practice each season, it’s potentially one less accident. If your car is set, check in with the rest of your family, friends, neighbors — sometimes we all need a little reminder.
With that in mind, some seasonal tips:
■ Check your antifreeze. Make sure it can handle temperatures that get as low as 20 degrees below zero.
■ Inspect your winter tires for excessive wear. Winter is not the time to try to get by with worn tires. If you need to change over to winter tires, better to do so now than after you’re in the ditch.
■ Be prepared: Do you have winter wiper blades, jumper cables, washer fluid? How about a rag or towel to clean off dirty headlights? Warm clothes, boots, gloves and a blanket in case you get stuck out in the cold — or come across someone else who is? These basics can make a difference when the weather is bad. A winter survival kit can keep an inconvenience from turning into a catastrophe. It should also contain a flashlight, booster cables, a warning device (flares or reflective triangle), a small bag of abrasive material (sand or cat litter), a small shovel, water, some emergency food and a book of matches.
■ Get a tune-up. This is the best way to make sure you don’t have an unexpected breakdown. Any problems can be corrected before the cold makes them a major issue. Check your oil and other fluids, belts and your battery. It only takes one thing to turn a simple trip into a nightmare.
■ An ice scraper and good windshield wiper blades are a must for good winter visibility. Don’t try to save time by scraping just a little hole in the ice off your windshield. A credit card is no substitute for an ice scraper. Steer clear of those drivers who have not cleared their windshields — they can’t see you. Also, don’t forget to clear the snow from your headlights and taillights.
Once the vehicle is ready, make sure the driver is, too. Common sense is the best defense against accidents. Slow down and increase the distance between your car and other traffic. Watch for moose — they can appear out of nowhere. Put down the cell phone — road conditions demand all of our attention.
Remember, four-wheel drive does not protect you from accidents. It may help you maneuver through snow, but it absolutely will not help you stop on a slick road.
For the most part, winter is an enjoyable time on the Peninsula. It’s a time to celebrate the uniqueness of our northern climate, listen to the snow fall and bask in the dance of the northern lights. A little preparation can ensure that it stays enjoyable — or at least tolerable.
Be careful out there.
In short: Some simple preparation now, and some common sense on the road, can mitigate the hazardous driving conditions sure to come our way.