SIKESTON -- With all the shopping and gatherings, people are on the road a lot this month. And since weather conditions can quickly change, motorists had best make a list and check it twice to make sure they are ready for the trip.
One of the biggest things to remember, said Lt. Jim McNiell of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop E, is to allow plenty of time. "Always leave earlier than what's necessary," he said.
And if road conditions are bad, it's a good idea to wait until mid-day to leave, if possible. "Roadway conditions have a tendency to improve as the day goes on," said McNiell. "Sometimes it just takes a little while and a little patience."
Before wintry weather hits, it's also important to have vehicles winterized.
Jason Hughes, manager at Plaza Tire, recommended motorists take their vehicle to a reputable service shop to get a 27-point or 15-point visual inspection before hitting the roads. "Just to make sure that everything is pretty much what it needs to be and where it needs to be," he said.
The older a vehicle is, the more important it is that it be checked, McNiell added.
It's also important to take some supplies while you travel, just in case. "The main thing is blankets and some flashlights," Hughes said. "And a first aid kit is never a bad idea."
DPS officials suggested packing a survival kit with a flashlight, windshield scraper, paper towels, extra clothes, blankets, matches and candles, booster cables, a compass, maps, sand, chains and high calorie non-perishable food.
He also suggested taking a change of clothes, stored in the trunk inside a plastic bag. "With the weather we get around here, you never know when it will get cold and wet and you'll have to change," he said. For instance, a vehicle may go into a ditch and be submerged in water. While those in the vehicle will get wet, the clothes should remain dry, Hughes said.
A news release from the Sikeston Department of Public Safety advised cleaning all snow from windows, headlights and taillights before driving, as well as checking to see if the windshield wipers and defroster are working. McNiell also suggested motorists start their trip with at least half a tank of gas. He added that motorists should take a fully-charged cell phone, as well as take an extra cord. A send help sign is another good thing to have on hand, which can usually be obtained from local law enforcement.
He also suggested gloves, sock caps and a thermos with a warm drink, as well as a shovel someone can use to help dig themselves out.
In this area, black ice is one of the biggest concerns, said McNiell. "It just has a tendency to catch you by surprise."
He reminded drivers not to ride their brakes if their vehicle begins to slide. "Just tap your breaks," McNiell advised. "If you lock the wheels up, you have no control of that vehicle whatsoever."
There are usually more accidents in the first storm of the season, and especially in the first couple of hours, he noted. "It usually takes that first storm for people to start slowing down and being conscious of it," McNiell said. "Then people start adjusting their speeds."
The Bootheel hasn't seen any severe winter weather yet.
Ryan Presley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's office in Paducah, Ky., said that although there is quite a bit of precipitation in the forecast for Southeast Missouri over the weekend, none of it is predicted to be winter weather.
"But there is a good chance of that northwest of the forecast area, in St. Louis, Springfield and Kansas City," he said.
However, predictions can change relatively quickly, he said, as was seen with Thursday's unpredicted sleet. "That was a fast-moving system, which is often difficult to keep up with," he said.
Once winter hits, it's more important than ever for motorists to slow down. There's an obvious reason why the number of traffic incidents increase in the winter -- "people are just driving too fast for existing conditions," McNiell said.
Whenever there are bad conditions, McNiell said motorists have to be attentive to what is going on around them and be wary of others' driving.
"You've got to drive defensively -- I can't encourage that enough," he said. "Expect the worst to happen and be prepared to take action."