MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s one of the few briefings mandatory for active-duty personnel and Defense Department civilians here.

Even seasoned residents are expected to attend the base’s annual winter awareness briefings, which start next week.

With the amount of snow and ice typically expected, winter in Misawa is not to be taken lightly, said Lt. Col. David Murphy, 35th Fighter Wing chief of wing safety.

He’s got statistics to back that up.

Two sailors spent the night in the Hakkoda Mountains after getting lost while snowboarding last year — a winter in which the wing also lost 55 duty days to cold-weather mishaps, the largest percentage from snowboarding injuries. The last winter-related fatality involving a military member was in 2001, when an airman and local resident were killed in a car crash.

Driving safely on snow and ice-slicked roads will be a focal point of the briefings, Murphy said.

“Traffic mishaps usually double in an average winter,” he said.

Last winter, Murphy said, that trend didn’t hold up during a season of mild temperatures and 73.7 inches of snow — the fifth lowest since 1948. Average snowfall in Misawa is 134 inches, according to base officials.

Misawa historically sees its first snowfall by Nov. 11, according to Aomori Meteorological Observatory records. As of Friday, Misawa had yet to see its first dusting. The first snow in the Hakkoda Mountains was Oct. 13 — three days earlier than usual.

Regardless of when Misawa’s first snow falls, by Nov. 15 base residents are required to have four snow or all-season tires on their vehicles, or chains available for the drive wheels.

Although all-season tires are legal, base officials recommend snow tires, Murphy said.

“Most of the Japanese go to winter tires,” he said.

Those venturing into the backcountry this winter will be reminded at the hour-long briefing of how to do so safely.

Last February two Japanese skiers were killed and eight injured in a Hakkoda Mountains avalanche.

“There tends to be the misconception that avalanches are not a big deal (around here) when, in fact, they are,” Murphy said.

Not all topics will be about the outdoors. Space-heater safety is on the agenda.

Base residents may only use space heaters approved by base safety, Murphy noted, and kerosene heaters are prohibited in all facilities.

Other topics to be covered include types of frostbite, signs of hypothermia, turkey fryer and Christmas tree safety, renter’s insurance, snow removal and winter sports injuries.

Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

2007 winter briefing schedule

This year’s winter awareness briefings start Tuesday in the base theater.

All military members and Defense Department civilians are required to attend one session, expected to last one hour. Family members and contractors are encouraged to attend.

There are four sessions daily this week: Tuesday through Friday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

A makeup briefing will be at 1 p.m. Nov. 20.

Another session at 3:15 p.m. Nov. 20 is for school teachers and family members only.

Call wing safety at DSN 226-2702 for more information.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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