Mother Nature sent a clear message this week: Winter is no longer tapping at the door, it's coming through it.
Tuesday and Thursday's snowy weather left the roads in the central Kenai Peninsula area plenty slick and may have even kept a few folks from getting to the voting booth.
We know that winter will strike sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, but most of us aren't prepared, no matter when it happens. What makes it worse is that some of us continue to drive as if the roads are dry.
Well, wake up, folks. What little of it we had, summer is definitely over.
The change in seasons not only requires a change of tires, but also driving habits. And this year there's one more reason to prepare your vehicle for winter: your wallet.
In this time of tight budgets and soaring gas and oil costs, whatever we can do to save money is a bonus -- no matter how big or small.
For starters, take the time to check your vehicle.
* Check your antifreeze. Make sure it can handle temperatures that get as low as 20 degrees below zero.
* Do you need an engine block heater? There are two types -- either the kind you plug in overnight, or the quick-heating type. They are designed to help your engine start easier in cold weather.
* Studded tires all the way around are the safest.
* Be prepared: Do you have winter wiper blades, jumper cables and washer fluid? These basics can make a difference when the weather is bad.
* 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.
Now think safety behind the wheel. You've heard the tips from us many times, but they bear repeating. If one more person puts them into practice each season, it's potentially one less accident. With that in mind, here are some winter driving reminders:
* Common sense is the best defense against accidents. This means slow down and increase the distance between your car and other traffic. Slowing down not only drops your chances of locking bumpers, it also saves you fuel, which saves you money.
* Moose will appear out of nowhere. Slowing down and glancing the road's edges help eliminate problems.
* A winter survival kit can keep an inconvenience from turning into a catastrophe. It should contain a flashlight, blankets, booster cables, a warning device (flares or reflective triangle), a small bag of abrasive material (sand or cat litter), a cloth towel or roll of paper towels, a small shovel, water, some emergency food and a book of matches.
* 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. Avoid 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.
* No matter how short a trip you're making, dress for the weather. If you have car trouble or are involved in an accident, you'll be glad you took the time to don your boots, coat, hat and mittens. At the least, keep some winter clothes in the car for an emergency.
* 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.
It may be earlier than usual, but this week's snowfall reminds us it's never too soon to expect a change in the weather.
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.
Let's not spoil it by causing accidents that could have been avoided with just a little care and foresight.
Be careful out there.
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