The tropics might seem a world away from the Tri-Cities, but cooling waters beneath the ocean surfaces at the Earth's midpoint bulge are credited with a local winter forecast that's colder and wetter than usual.
Climatologists say it's a La Nia year, which likely means more snow in Pacific Northwest mountains or heavy rains in the region's lower elevations. That's prompting health and emergency management officials to warn residents to be prepared for the perils a blustery winter could bring.
The state Department of Health noted in a news release that windstorms in 1995 and 2006, floods in 2007 and snowstorms in 2008 provide lessons of the health risks that go hand-in-hand with unusual weather patterns.
Flooding from heavy rains and melting snow can make well water unsafe to drink, for example. Flood waters can carry diseases and contaminants that make people sick if a well floods.
The department advises anyone with a flooded well to assume drinking water is contaminated and to use only boiled or disinfected well water, or to stock up on bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, dishwashing, preparing food and making ice.
Well water should be boiled for one minute at a rolling boil and then cooled before drinking, department officials said.
Prepare for severe storms and power outages by stocking up on emergency supplies, they advise.
Recommended supplies include a gallon of water per person per day, canned food, a can opener, infant formula, medications, a camp stove or barbecue to be used outdoors, blankets, a battery-powered radio, flashlight and batteries, pet food and a safe alternative heat source if the power goes out.
Choosing the right heat source is important, as using gas or kerosene heaters or camp stoves indoors can lead to fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.
Blocked chimney flues also can be a source of carbon monoxide -- an invisible, odorless gas that can kill a human being within minutes.
Carbon monoxide fumes also can seep into homes from generators or idling cars in garages, or from outdoor generators placed too close to open windows or vents.
Benton County Emergency Management suggests keeping a working fire extinguisher on hand to deal with fires that can break out when people use space heaters or wood stoves.
Drivers should check antifreeze levels, make sure the car heater and defroster, tires, brakes and the exhaust system are in good repair, and call 5-1-1 to check for road closures before setting out.
An emergency kit should be kept in the car, even for short trips. It should include nonperishable food, blankets, warm clothing, a snow shovel, sand for traction, a battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
"Even if you're not going over the mountains, you want an emergency kit," said Sara Schwartz, spokeswoman for Benton County Emergency Management. "If you get a flat tire between Kennewick and Pasco, you're going to want warm gloves, a shovel and that sort of thing."
w Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org