Oklahoma winter weather provides anything but ordinary

Vance Air Force Base, Okla. -- If you had told me on Jan. 20, 2002, I'd be cooking macaroni and cheese in my fireplace on the evening of Jan. 29, I would have laughed.
But as Jan. 29 got closer, I became rather mortified as I sat in the weather station analyzing weather data concerning this now "infamous" day.
You see, Jan. 29, 2002, now holds a distinct place not only in Oklahoma history, but in Vance Air Force Base and Enid history also. On this day, the worst ice storm ever to hit Oklahoma began. Freezing rain started to fall during the pre-dawn hours, and by the afternoon, tree limbs were coated with ice up to three-fourths inch thick and power failed in large parts of the city.
By late evening, the entire city, as well as the rest of Garfield County, had plunged into complete darkness. I remember driving around that night to see for myself just how bad it was. It seemed everywhere I turned there was a tree lying in the road. Downed power lines and power poles added to the mayhem. It was as dangerous a situation as I have ever seen.
The morning of Jan. 30 drove home the fact this wasn't a dream. The freezing rain had continued to fall through the evening. By the time the storm ended, nearly two inches of ice covered everything in sight. 250,000 people across the state were without power, and would continue to be so for at least five days, and in some cases, as much as 21 days. A drive through town that morning revealed endless lines of people at grocery, retail and hardware stores trying to get food, batteries and generators. The situation was desperate and remained that way for a week.
Vance AFB experiences a variety of winter weather. Snow and ice are the most significant. The 2002 storm is an extreme example of an ice storm, but Vance AFB experiences freezing precipitation and snow every winter. Snow can fall anytime between early November and late March. Snowfall amounts can range from a dusting to a foot. Though infrequent, our portion of Oklahoma consistently receives its annual dose of winter weather.
Driving on snow- or ice-covered roads is a challenge for all of us, regardless of driving experience. It only takes a light covering of snow to create treacherous driving conditions. Drive slowly and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles around you. Pay particular attention when driving along any road that borders open fields. Snow may obscure the road, causing you to drive off into a ditch or field without even realizing it! Everyone at one time or another has seen a driver that doesn't respect the weather, drives too quickly and finds themselves in a "sticky" situation. Slow down and stay alert.
Ensure your vehicle is in safe operating condition. Check your battery. Have the antifreeze checked for temperature protection. Make sure you have ample tread on your tires. Replace the windshield wiper blades. Check these items before winter weather occurs and increase the likelihood of safe vehicle operation.
Preparation is the key to surviving winter weather of any magnitude. Many people were caught unprepared by the 2002 storm. You may say to yourself "That happened in
2002. Nothing bad will happen while I am here." Well, you may be wrong -- "dead wrong." Do not wait to seek out firewood the day the weather is expected to turn bad. Get it ahead of time, or you may find vendors out of stock. Visit the grocery store as soon as you hear inclement weather may be on the way. If you wait until the last minute, you may find yourself staring at empty shelves.
Got gas? Fill your tank before the storm hits. Make sure to contact someone outside of the affected area, so they know where you are and your plan of action. Do you have a cell phone? Don't count on it working. Cell phone communications could be down for several days after a storm. The key to easing the adverse effects of winter weather is being prepared in advance.
If inclement weather is expected to occur, stay tuned to the radio, television stations and if possible, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio. These sources provide the best and most critical information concerning upcoming winter weather.
Remember, if a winter storm watch is issued, it means hazardous winter weather conditions may occur within the next six to 36 hours. A winter storm warning means hazardous winter weather conditions are occurring, imminent or highly likely in the area.
By exercising caution and preparing ahead of time, a lot of heartache can be saved down the road. Don't let this winter catch you by surprise, out in the cold!