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The Farmers' Almanac is predicting a "biting cold & snowy" winter for the Great Lakes this year. Are you ready? Of course, the Farmers' Almanac could be all wet like it has been before, but this being Michigan and Grand Rapids being an hour away from the big lake, it's pretty much guaranteed we'll have some snow. Are you prepared to drive in it?
Now is the time to go over your vehicle with a flashlight and a magnifying glass. What do your tires look like? Are the treads still good or do they look worn? It's better to err on the side of caution because with the ice and snow coming, you'll be asking a lot of those tires. If you've decided they're still in good shape, check the air pressure in all of them, including the spare.
What do your fluids look like - oil, coolant, brake, and transmission fluid? Don't forget to top off your windshield wiper fluid with the freeze resistant kind. The salt from winter roads can completely obscure your windshield, and you need to see to drive. Look at your windshield wipers too. If it's been more than six months since you changed them, they probably need replacing. Make sure your brakes and your lights - head and tail - are in good shape as well. You will be using both more on those dark and icy roads.
Once you've checked over your vehicle, it's time to stock the trunk with supplies for any emergency you hope you will not have. Getting stranded in cold weather is a dangerous situation and you need to be able to deal with short term basic needs. Include:
- a blanket
- a shovel
- a flashlight
- jumper cables
- waterproof matches
- a first aid kit
- food and water
- a bag of sand or kitty litter for traction
You will also need a good scraper, of course, and not just for emergencies. I'd also recommended adding a candle and a medium sized metal tin, the kind that popcorn sometimes comes in. If you light the candle and keep it in the tin, it will provide both light and warmth while you wait for help to come or figure out how to get yourself unstuck. A cell phone is also very handy in emergencies, although, of course, plenty of us have driven through many a Michigan winter without one.
The driving in Grand Rapids is not as exciting as it is right on the lakeshore, but it can sometimes get interesting. Generally speaking the City of Grand Rapids and the counties are adept at snow removal, but if you're driving in falling snow, slow down and be careful. The traffic on the west side of the state is not as suicidally insane as it is on the east side, but there are still plenty of people who will think they're invincible and will tailgate you until they can zoom by. Ignore them and be cautious. Leave plenty of room between you and the next car. Patience is a virtue. It will deliver you home safely.
A few notes about the roads: The cable guardrails the state installed on the highways crisscrossing West Michigan keep skidding cars in traffic instead of sliding off into ditches, so build some extra in your travel time for the accidents that will clog up the roads. And the streets in Grand Rapids are terrible, a series of badly covered over potholes that reemerge with the salt and cold every year. Make sure your shocks and struts are up handling them. If your struts are bad, your tires will be bad sooner or later, and bad tires lead to accidents.
Finally, remember that people forget how to drive in snow and be extra careful during that first snowy period while they are learning again. An ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure!
Rachel Potter has lived with her family in the Riverside Gardens neighborhood for 16 years. She is passionate about better living through food, exercise, sleep, herbalism, and community building.
Reports on: Food, herbalism, dogs, Creston