Jessica Mathews /

Local utilities are preparing for a large winter storm expected to hit the lower peninsula with snow, freezing rain, and strong wind gusts starting this afternoon - potentially resulting in power outages, downed wires, and other safety hazards.

Consumers Energy says its Storm Restoration Team has been monitoring the developing storm for several days and is ready to respond. The utility says crews were being staged ahead of the event in areas where they expect the greatest damage. Consumers says it has also been preparing trucks and essential materials needed to assist with any restoration efforts.

With forecasts calling for freezing rain and strong winds, there is said to be the potential for downed wires. Customers are reminded to stay at least 25 feet away from downed wires and anything they are touching, keep children and pets away, and report the issue by calling 9-1-1 and Consumers Energy at 800-477-5050.

The utility asks that motorists be alert to crews working along slick roads, saying drivers should slow down or stop and wait for oncoming traffic to clear so they safely can go past workers on roadsides.

Complete preparation tips for severe weather and storm safety are available in the attachment.