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Southwest IL, STL winter storm driving tips, car survival kit

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National Weather Service St. Louis officials are expecting several inches of snow accumulation in southwestern Illinois and St. Louis Tuesday night into Wednesday, and travel is expected to be difficult.

Officials are advising those who have the option to stay home to consider doing so to avoid a potentially dangerous commute.

A winter storm warning is in effect until 18 Wednesday for a number of counties in the metropolitan area, including St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Louis and others.

If you must venture out on the roads, preparation and caution are key. Here’s what NWS officials advise keeping in your vehicle, plus tips on how to minimize the dangers while driving.

What should you have in your car in winter?

The NWS recommends keeping up with winter vehicle maintenance, especially checking your brakes, lights, battery, defroster, exhaust, heater, windshield wipers and cooling system.

Keep your gas tank at least half full and try to travel in a group of other vehicles when driving in more rural areas.

Your car’s winter survival kit should include:

NWS officials also recommend keeping abreast of weather conditions by checking the radio.

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Tips for safer winter driving

Keeping in mind that it’s best to stay home during hazardous weather whenever possible, AAA offers tips on how to minimize the dangers when you hit the road:

  1. Drive slowly. You will likely have lower traction on snow and ice, so adjust your speed accordingly.

  2. Do not use cruise control when driving on smooth surfaces.

  3. Accelerate and decelerate slowly to avoid slipping.

  4. Increase your following distance to five to six seconds.

  5. Know your brakes. Regardless of whether you have anti-lock brakes, keep your heel on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure to the pedal.

  6. Avoid stopping unnecessarily. It’s easier to get started if you’re already rolling slowly as opposed to starting from a full stop. AAA advises motorists to slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, if possible.

  7. Do not drive up hills. Applying extra gas on snowy roads will just make your wheels spin, AAA says. Instead, try to get some inertia going before you hit the hill and let it carry you to the top. When you reach the top of the hill, reduce your speed and go slowly downhill.

  8. Don’t go up a hill.

What to do if you are stuck

If your vehicle stalls in winter conditions, stay in your car and keep your radiator and exhaust pipes free of snow. Do not venture out into the snow as you may get lost and will be without shelter.

The NWS advises motorists not to try to shovel out or push their cars, as this can exhaust you and lower your resistance to the cold, potentially putting your life at risk.

When you’re stranded in your car during a winter storm, run the engine and heater sparingly. Crack a window for ventilation and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, and make sure the ice doesn’t close the windows and cut off the air supply.

If you’re stuck in daylight, tie a colored cloth to your antenna if you have one. Often turn on a flashlight or dome light at night. If you have to leave your car, tie yourself to a lifeline to your vehicle to prevent you from getting lost.

If you are alone, stay awake and alert. If you have other people with you, make sure that at least one person is awake at all times. Exercise your arms and legs to maintain blood circulation and keep your body temperature up.

Meredith Howard is a service reporter at the Belleville News-Democrat. A graduate of Baylor University, she previously freelanced with the Illinois Times and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.