Be prepared & be smart
November 13, 2006
Well, it is mid-November and as I write this column it is hard to comprehend that it is winter. Today, it should be nearly 80 degrees outside! Yet, a few short weeks ago a day long blizzard hit the area around my home and it was certainly unpleasant. No, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t much of a storm. As a far older gentleman reminded me repeatedly, “This ain’t nothing. I remember the Blizzard of ’49.”
The storm that struck southeast Colorado brought down power lines, closed roads and basically shut down El Paso County for 24 hours. Emergency service crews were strained. Volunteers manned their fire stations and the search and rescue crews were out and about rescuing folks that had become stranded in their cars. As I responded from one call to another with the Falcon Fire Department (we had 41 calls for emergency services during the storm) it caused me to scratch my head and ask, “Why?” So, now in the comfort of a warm office I thought I would take a few moments to offer some practical and legal advice on winter storm travel.
First off, the legal advice. If you driving in our Western States you are best to heed the reports, signs, and signals posted by our respective state highway patrols. In Colorado, driving on a closed highway or operating a vehicle in violation of a “chain law” earns you up to a $100 fine, plus surcharges. One of those surcharges is if as a result of operating your vehicle in violation of a closure or other restriction, you block traffic in any lane, you can be fined another $500. Wyoming’s Troopers take great pleasure as I recall in snagging folks that dodge the road closure signs and barriers during a storm. The penalty is $100. Of course, that gets followed up by the cost of the tow truck. Getting pulled out of the drift on the I-80 Summit is never cheap. Driving around those barriers on Nebraska’s highway system can cost you a $100 fine as well.
The best legal advice? Please obey the traffic laws and especially the road closures. In the West, the weather is fickle. In Cheyenne, it can be 70 and sunny while on the infamous Summit there is a skating rink and a scene of carnage that looks more like a junk yard than an Interstate highway. Our state departments of transportation and our very professional Troopers really do know what they are doing when they close the roads.
As one of the volunteers that goes out to rescue folks that were driving in the storms, just a reminder about some practical advice. Everyone should have their car or truck ready for winter. That includes putting a survival kit in the vehicle. A great listing of what you should keep in your vehicle during the Rocky Mountain winters is available at: http://www.nebraskatransportation.org/rca/docs/winter-aware.pdf. The biggies are those items that will keep you warm, fed, hydrated and allow you to signal and call for help.
One word about keeping warm ” your car’s heater is great, but there are dangers. It is suggested that you keep a window cracked to allow for ventilation; only run the engine 15 minutes on every hour; and, make sure that the tailpipe is clear of snow and ice at all times. The biggest danger in using your vehicle for shelter and warmth is carbon monoxide poisoning. By ensuring ventilation and proper venting of the emissions, your vehicle is an outstanding refuge. It is so good in fact; please stay in your vehicle if you get stranded. Attempting to walk out of a storm is a recipe for a personal disaster. Call for help ” search and rescue or the fire department will get to you, in the order of need of you and your fellow travelers. Folks in the greatest danger get rescued first.
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This last storm I just kept wondering. There was plenty of advance notice and the weather was uniformly rotten. Why leave the warmth and safety of your home, only to get stuck on the highway? The explanations folks gave for being out ranged from not thinking it was that bad to needing cigarettes, soda or beer. In my humble opinion, it is hardly worth the trip and stay at the local Red Cross shelter ” though they are great people to spend time with doing a great job. When a storm is in the forecast, be prepared and stock up.
As for the comments of that old-timer concerning the Blizzard of ’49, check out the phrase “Blizzard of 1949” on your search engine of choice. You can see how bad a winter can get in the Plains and Rocky Mountain West. It should motivate you to be prepared.
The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.