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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Mother Nature is flexing her muscles this month, especially in the Northern half of the country, which has seen its share of foul weather in December.

With January right around the corner, don't expect a break in that weather. If anything, it'll be worse — the Farmer's Almanacpredicts a winter season that will be frigid with "bitter cold and heavy snow" for much of the country.

With bad weather blowing in, it's smart to prepare now for driving in all that snow, sleet and icy weather.

That's where Geico, the Washington, D.C., insurance carrier, wants to help. The company is out with a checklist of tips and steps to take to handle Mother Nature and Old Man Winter, who seem determined to deliver a blow to travelers over the next few months:

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Winterize your vehicle. Check the car battery, fluid levels, lights, windshield wipers, tires and brakes — make sure all have been thoroughly taken care of before backing the vehicle out of the driveway this winter.

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Keep an eye on your gas gauge. Icy conditions can do serious damage to your vehicle's fuel lines (and yourself) if the gas tank is empty or near empty. It hampers performance and puts you and your loved ones in danger if you run out of gas in heavy traffic or on a remote country road.

Keep your lights clear. Take special precaution with your headlights and taillights. In snowy weather, your lights need to be clear of the heavy, wet stuff, Geico advises. If they're not clear, it reduces your visibility and makes it tougher for other drivers to see you coming.

Also see: It's a Great Time to Buy a Used Car>>

Stay off the phone. Using your cellphone on the road isn't advisable in any weather — just like any distraction that keeps you from focusing on driving is an invitation to an accident. But in wet, snowy, icy weather, you're really raising the odds by yapping away on your cellphone — or much, much worse, trying to text while driving.

Slow down. Drive 10 miles per hour slower in rough weather (and even slower on the open highway). That gives you more time to absorb traffic patterns, watch out for icy patches and snow on the road and give you plenty of time for braking when needed. Geico recommends keeping a safe distance of three seconds between your vehicle and the one in front of you.

In wintery conditions, leave early, drive slower, make sure your car or truck has the proper liquids, lighting and tire inflation before hitting the road. Oh, and a good first-aid kit, some extra blankets, food and clothing tucked away in the trunk are fine ideas too.

— By Brian O'Connell