Winter weather waits in wings: your role is to prepare now

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Winter officially starts Dec. 21, but snow, sleet and freezing rain could fall before then if the wrong weather systems collide.  That’s why government and private service agencies are preparing – and urging everyone to do the same.

When it snows, those who keep things rolling are ready.

"We still have virtually all the salt that we had last year. We have about 29,000 tons in our district and we have all of our materials but we are always stocked up at the beginning of a winter,” said Dan Ream, a maintenance superintendent at the Missouri Department of Transportation.

After a mild winter last year, MoDOT did a dry run anyway this year to make sure its drivers are ready and know their routes.

"We worked out a few bugs that may have cropped up during the winter," Ream said.

Winter power outages and freezing temperatures also open shelters, and volunteers at the American Red Cross are ready to spread the warmth.

"We've increased the number of shelters in Springfield/Greene County since last year. We have over 2,000 volunteers and we've sent 54 so far to deploy to the northeast to help with Hurricane Sandy. We still have more than enough to, if something were to happen here, to respond and take care of the needs of the people,” said Greg Gaines of the American Red Cross’ local disaster services chapter.

You might ask yourself, "Are my car and house winterized?"

The American Red Cross suggests having these items readily available in your car and house to prepare for those frigid winter months:

• Water—at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day
• Food—at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
• Flashlight
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
• Extra batteries
First aid kit
• Medications (7-day supply) and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
• Multi-purpose tool
• Sanitation and personal hygiene items
• Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
• Cell phone with chargers
• Family and emergency contact information
• Extra cash
• Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
• Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
• Tools/supplies for securing your home
• Sand, rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery
• Warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, boots and extra blankets and warm clothing for all household members
• Ample alternate heating methods such as fireplaces or wood- or coal-burning stoves

"Have the ability to get information. Be able to have a NOAA weather radio or a normal radio and be able to get information being put out by your local government and agencies telling you what to do in a time of disaster,” said Gaines.

Government agencies are ready to serve.

"The NWS here in Springfield -- we really emphasize the word service, so we're here to serve everybody; that's our job. So, that's why we have the NOAA weather radio, that's why we have our web site. That's why we have Facebook and Twitter. So we can interact and communicate with our public as much as possible,” said Doug Cramer of the National Weather Service.

The NWS also advises superintendents in the region on weather conditions when they are making those crucial decisions on whether or not to cancel school.

"We started working with superintendents very closely about five years ago and it started out here in Greene County and Christian County, and we have now since expanded that to all 37 counties,” said Cramer.

As the Ozarks prepares for winter, it's important to have a plan and get prepared in your household

"If you wait until the disaster happens, then you're in a panic and worried about what to do,” said Gaines.

KY3 meteorologists Ron Hearst, Sarah Jones and Brandon Beck contributed to this report.