FAIRMONT - Even during droughts there are usually a few snowstorms in Minnesota in the winter.
This week is Minnesota's Winter Hazard Awareness Week. While temperatures may be mild for now, the chill of winter is not far off.
"Typically, after the first ice or snow accumulation is when we'll see the increase in minor accidents, vehicles in the ditch," said Martin County Deputy Jean Vath. "It seems we always need to re-learn driving in winter, learning not to overcorrect, slowing down, giving yourself extra time, just common sense and getting into those habits."
Part of common sense includes not going out on the roads when no travel is advised.
"When they're recommending no travel, then the best thing is not to travel," Vath said. "A lot of people now say, 'Well, I have a cell phone,' but they don't realize that they are endangering someone else; they're asking someone else to risk their safety to come rescue them."
Vath said waiting out a storm, allowing plows to clear the roads, will save time and energy in the long run.
"People can be fined for driving around barricades when roads are closed," she said. "If they become stranded, they can also be charged for their rescue. Some states are even going to civil penalties for rescues in those situations."
Disobeying a road barricade is a misdemeanor in Minnesota that can carry a fine as high as $1,000.
Even when there isn't a storm, blowing and drifting snow can make for bad driving conditions. Bitter cold temperatures also take a toll on vehicles, leading to breakdowns on the road.
"You always want to dress appropriately for the weather," Vath said. "We still see some kids being dropped off at school in flip-flops. But you want to be dressed warmly in case you end up broken down or in the ditch."
If stranded, the best piece of advice is to stay with the vehicle unless you can see a place to get help. But if there is blowing slow where the view is obstructed, it's best to stay with the vehicle to avoid getting lost.
"Stay with the vehicle unless you know for sure you won't be walking far," Vath said.
There is also the winter supply kit, which should include extra blankets and warm clothes; non-perishable foods; winter gear such as boots and gloves; shovels and ice scrapers; jumper cables and tow rope; cat litter or rock salt (to get traction on ice or snow); and a first-aid kit.
Finally, for those who have the cell phone handy, have the cell phone charger handy. If you need to call emergency services, stay calm and tell the dispatcher your location to the best of your knowledge.
While many cell phones have GPS to assist emergency personnel, any other information that can be provided for rescue is helpful.
More information on Winter Hazard Awareness Week can be found at dps.mn.gov/divisions/hsem
Winter travel information can be found at www.511mn.org