As South Dakotans, we know all too well just how cold it can get here in the Great Plains during the winter months. Before the first major snowfall of the year, it’s important to take the time to make sure our families, homes and vehicles are prepared for the winter season.

Organizations like the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service encourage South Dakotans to have winter weather supply kits in vehicles, as well as the home. This kit should include water, non-perishable food, a shovel, battery-powered radio, a flashlight, warm clothing and blankets, medication and emergency contact information, among other items. The South Dakota Office of Emergency Management has published a 2012 Winter Weather Preparedness Guide, to read it, visit www.oem.sd.gov.

Our family has a NOAA Weather Radio, which alerts us of any potential weather threats. The weather radio warns of approaching strong winds, severe wind chills and blizzards. I would encourage people to take action to ensure they’re aware of potential weather threats, whether through the use of a radio like the one our family uses or through other means.

In addition to compiling a winter weather supply kit, South Dakotans should ensure that all vehicles are winterized and that the gas tank is full to prevent the fuel line from freezing. The Red Cross also encourages homeowners to maintain heating equipment on an annual basis. So before Santa makes his way down the chimney, make sure to have the fireplace and furnace cleaned and inspected by a professional.

Many communities across South Dakota are sponsoring coat drives, where individuals can donate old or extra winter coats for those who are in need. For example, Kidz-n-Coats is a program that donates winter coats to children in the Sioux Falls area. I encourage South Dakotans across the state to reach out to area organizations to see what opportunities are available in each community.

Although some may grumble about snow or the falling temperatures, there are also many who enjoy snow – like my son, Booker. Not only will we make sure we have our snow shovels ready, the Noem household will also be pulling snow sleds out of storage. The winter months provide unique opportunities for families to spend time together building snowmen or ice skating, but we shouldn’t forget that cold temperatures and icy conditions should be taken seriously.

Rep. Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s lone U.S. Representative, elected in November 2010. She serves on the Agriculture, Education and Workforce and Natural Resources Committees.

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