JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
The first snowfall in Anchorage typically comes in the last couple weeks of October. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson residents can look east toward the Chugach Mountains and see the frost level creep lower with every passing day.
On Oct. 21, 2017, Mother Nature blanketed Anchorage with an overwhelming two-tenths of an inch of snow, the first of the season. That day, the Anchorage Police Department reported 29 vehicle collisions and 13 calls from people in distress or stuck in a ditch.
People new to the Last Frontier and especially those unfamiliar with a frosty winter climate are encouraged to take extra precautions this winter, said David Spellman, JBER Occupational Safety Office occupational health and safety specialist. Not having a winter-ready vehicle could worsen an already stressful situation.
The JBER Occupational Safety Office is encouraging Alaska residents to start the winter season right with their slogan, “Ready your vehicle, ready yourself, and be ready for an emergency.”
Ready your vehicle by performing a regular tune-up or maintenance before snow flies, Spellman said. Some vehicles have specific cold-weather needs. Consult your owner’s manual for specific requirements.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when the temperature drops, so does battery power. For gasoline and diesel engines, it takes more battery power to start a vehicle in cold weather. For electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, the driving range is reduced when the battery is cold.
“All-season tires can be enough to get people from point A to point B, but snow or studded tires are recommended because they provide an extra level of traction,” Spellman said.
According to the Municipality of Anchorage’s website, studded tires are legal only between Sept. 15 and April 30 each year.
“There are a lot of people who wait until the last minute to get their tires changed,” Spellman said. “You risk longer wait times or non-availability by waiting.”
People more mechanically inclined can take advantage of the JBER Auto Skills Center.
The shop is home to a full array of equipment, tools and knowledgeable staff for do-it-yourself maintenance and repair to personal vehicles. People with JBER access can take advantage of the three tire machines and balancers for a fee.
Be ready for an emergency by keeping a winter kit in your vehicle and stocking it with all the things you might need.
Recommended items include: a first aid kit, cellphone charger, flashlight, hand warmers, water and nonperishable snacks, boots, gloves, warm clothes, jumper cables, flares; a snow shovel, ice scraper and snow brush, tire chains, and an insulated weatherproof container to store the items.
Ensure you have at least a half tank of gas at all times, Spellman said. There’s only one road in and out of Anchorage and what is typically a 30-minute commute to base for people who live in the Valley can turn into a multiple-hour standstill.
“With the first freeze you’ll see an increase of vehicles in ditches along the highway,” Spellman said “People need to know if this happens to them, they won’t be the only one waiting for a tow truck. It’s not uncommon for towing companies to have wait times in excess of eight hours.”
Ready yourself by leaving for work early and checking drive times on GPS.
“Drivers will see changes in their vehicle performance in cold weather driving,” Spellman said. “Get to know your vehicle’s performance on slick surfaces by driving slower than the posted speed limit, and increase your following distances.
“Winter is coming, and accidents will happen,” Spellman said. “By preparing for winter driving conditions, people can prevent a tough situation from getting out of control.”
For more tips on winter driving, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/winter-driving-tips.