Drastic winter calls for drastic measures
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Known as the snowiest Air Force base in the world, Misawa Air Base hosted winter awareness briefings Nov. 3-7 led by the 35th Fighter Wing Safety Office.
The briefings were mandatory for all military members who have not experienced a Misawa winter. Briefers from local organizations provided information on how to stay safe during the winter season.
The annual snowfall average for Misawa is 140 inches. These drastic winter conditions spark an increase in vehicle accidents, cold weather-related injuries and housing fires.
"Last year Misawa had nights of record-breaking snowfall, totaling almost 200 inches for the whole winter," said Col. Timothy Sundvall, 35 FW commander. "You've got to be careful because the weather will go from clear, blue skies to a blizzard where it snows three or four inches in a matter of minutes."
For the first time in 18 years, Misawa City Japanese National Police joined the on-base briefing.
"Winter season is around the corner and the Aomori Prefecture is known as a difficult area to travel during the winter," said Sumihisa Yamahira, Misawa City Police chief.
Yamahira and other members of Misawa's JNP explained the dangers of the approaching winter season and stressed the importance of making lawful and appropriate decisions while exploring Misawa and the Aomori Prefecture.
During the winter months of fiscal year 2014, the number of vehicle accidents rose by 47 percent. All-weather or winter tires are required on vehicles from Nov. 15 through March 31 every year to help prevent accidents. Drivers are also encouraged to maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles and make speed adjustments appropriate to weather conditions.
Along with winter comes the danger of cold weather-related injuries to include frostbite, hypothermia, influenza, and slips and falls.
"Ensure you cover and protect your head and your extremities, and stay warm and hydrated," said Capt. Joseph Teodoro, 35th Medical Group aerospace and operational physiologist.
Misawa's largest source of non-sport related winter injuries are due to slips and falls.
"Walk slowly, watch your step and don't let what you're carrying distract you," said Teodoro.
Last year, winter sports resulted in 27 mishaps, many of which were the result of ill-preparedness. Before taking any roadtrip, tell someone the planned time of return and make sure to pack the appropriate gear.
As the holiday season approaches, a number of decorations, including Christmas trees and lights, create new dangers for Misawa residents if not handled properly.
"Don't cover the exits, exit signs or emergency lighting, and make sure the exits are clear," said Master Sgt. Juan Soriano, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron assistant chief of fire prevention. "Make sure to never adorn Christmas trees with flammable decorations or place them near heat sources."
Winter at Misawa presents the chance to explore Japan and participate in a number of activities. Whether it's snowboarding in the Hakkoda Mountains, participating in the Lake Towada Winter Festival, or decorating for the holidays, understanding all safety precautions will ensure a mishap-free winter season.
"There are techniques and ideas about how you can avoid being part of these accidents," said Sundvall. "Prepare for the winter, be safe, and enjoy it."