Monster winter storm: five ways to stay safe and prepared

Americans in 33 states from Oklahoma to Massachusetts are now dealing with a highly dangerous winter storm that will dump a combination of snow and ice on roads, houses and power lines. A significant amount of the precipitation is expected to be ice either in the form of freezing rain – rain that freezes on contact with the ground – or ice pellets, such as sleet. Experts say these are five things you can do to cope with the storm:

1. Driving

LM Otero/AP
This driver probably did not heed AAA's winter-weather driving tips.

In this kind of storm, winter driving experts say the best advice is not to drive. Postpone a trip for a day, or try to do business via webinar. But, if you absolutely have to get in the car there are lots of things you can do.

First, make sure you can see and be seen, says Bill Van Tassel, head of driver training for AAA, the motorists’ club based in Heathrow, Fla. That means cleaning off snow from the roof of the car, for example, so it does not slide off and blind a nearby driver. He recommends turning on your lights and using turn signals much earlier so other drivers can adjust their driving.

Second, drivers have to be aware that they might lose traction. His advice: if a driver’s traction is cut in half, the car’s speed needs to be cut in half, if not more. “The biggest error is to drive like it’s dry even though you don’t have the traction,” he says.

Third, even if the car has anti-lock brakes, all-wheel drive, and sophisticated traction-control devices, he says safe winter drivers should “drive as if you don’t have them.”

Fourth, if the car does go into a skid, he says AAA has simplified its advice. “We use to say steer into the skid,” he says. “But, now we tell people just look and steer where you want to go.” In addition, avoid slamming the brakes or punching the gas, he says. “You want to stay smooth so the car stays balanced."

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