What if Your Vehicle Gets Stuck In a Blizzard? How to Weather The Storm.
by Brandon Hunt
A devastating winter storm is surging through the East Coast. Thousands of people are left without power, flooding is occurring in some areas, and people are left stranded at airports or on highways.
In contrast, from where I am currently writing (out West) our winter has been relatively mild. It’s a strange disconnect knowing that thousands of people are struggling right now.
As I check for situation updates on how the East Coast is faring, I wonder how people are getting along, and if they were prepared for the storm or not.
Nevertheless, what is happening back east prompts me to ask myself, what if I was stranded in my car during a blizzard? What items would I want in my car…just in case I get stuck?
It’s a good thought exercise in determining level of personal preparedness. I also realize this article will be of no help to people back east right now. But it can serve as a warning or wake up call for the rest of us, hopefully prompting us to take action and prepare before a storm strikes.
Nowadays we have awesome technology and capabilities. We have meteorologists who have the tools to predict the weather….and there’s Punxsutawney Phil, a weather prognosticator in his own right. Despite the occasional wrong prediction, the forecasters are often correct, providing us ample warning.
With enough warning time people should be able to prepare for what is coming.
So, if I were to prepare for the possibility of becoming stranded on a highway during a severe winter storm, here is what I would do…(I hope this will give you some ideas as well).
Prep Your car
Begin with a general winterization with my vehicles:
- Check, top off or change fluids: oil, radiator, windshield.
- Inspect the wiper blades. Nothing worse than bad wiper blades smearing gunk across the windshield while driving.
- Check and clean the battery, if needed. Also, look at the tires for wear, slow leaks, and tread depth. Decide whether you prefer all-weather tires or snow tires.
- Keep either snow chains, traction matts, or even sand or cat litter to provide traction.
- A window scraper is helpful.
- It’s a good idea to add a good folding shovel to help dig out if you’re trapped.
- To round out seasonal preparation, store an autokit in the trunk. The kit should have a tow rope, jumper cables, a small radio, lights and light sticks, emergency blankets, duct tape, food rations and emergency water. A well put-together auto kit will round out overall auto preparation.
- Avoid a low gas tank. Try to keep a full or at least half-full tank of gasoline.
What to keep in your car
Along with winterizing your vehicle, you’ll want to put together your own winter survival kit. If you’re kind of new to preparing for emergencies, it can feel overwhelming figuring out what to include in a kit.
Whenever I plan or prepare a kit, I think of the four basic needs that are essential to survival: shelter, water, warmth and food. Those are the categories I use to determine what I need to gather first, and then I move on to other important essentials such as hygiene. But the four basic needs are where I like to begin whenever I put together a kit.
So, what items would I gather for my winter-stranded-in-the-car-kit? Check the list below.
- Well, your vehicle will provide you shelter from the blizzard. However, it’s not a bad idea to include an emergency tent, in case you need extra insulation.
- Store extra water in your car. Be aware that water bottles will likely freeze.
- Some emergency auto kits contain survival water pouches too.
- Although the chances are high you’ll be stranded for 24 hours, try to have enough water for at least three days.
- Pack some old winter clothes to store in the vehicle. Layering your clothing will help you through the night. Add a cap for your head, as that’s where you lose most of your body heat.
- A spare sleeping bag rated for extreme cold is not a bad idea.
- Include some spare emergency blankets. Aside from their intended use, mylar blankets are quite versatile.
- Again, some pre-made auto kits include ration bars. They’re not complete meals obviously but they'll keep you fueled.
- One or two packs of MREs. These are awesome because you can eat them cold, or use the provided chemical heater to warm up the food.
- Find non-perishable calorie dense food: peanut butter, crackers, granola, energy bars, canned meats even.
- Flashlight with spare batteries and light sticks.
- An AM/FM radio to listen for weather updates.
- A metal cup or mug.
- Matches and candles for melting frozen water or snow in your metal cup.
- A good knife or two, plus a multitool, and any other tools you think might be useful.
- A bundle of paracord, which is always good to have on hand.
- Duct tape. Why not? It has about 1000 uses.
- Hygiene. Well, your body is going to continue to function as normal and sooner or later you’ll have to take care of it. One option is something like the Potty Box with liners and Eco Gel. The potty box folds flat so it is easy to store. The Eco Gel will eliminate any potential mess and smell.
- Maybe an old book for entertainment, to occupy your mind and time.
What to do
First off, stay calm and realize you’ll get through it, though you may have to wait out the storm.
If you have cell phone service, call your family to reassure them you’re alright. Call 911 if you can get through. Emergency units might be busy, but letting the emergency operator know you’re stranded makes them aware of problems in your area.
Make your vehicle as visible as possible. Tie a red cloth, if you have one, to your antennae; turn on your hazards; set out a warning triangle; use the paracord or duct tape to secure light sticks to your vehicle. Just increase the visibility of your vehicle however you can.
Every hour start your car and let it run for at least fifteen minutes. It’ll give you a little heat, but more importantly will prevent the engine from becoming too cold. Once inside your vehicle avoid opening the doors; however, leave a slight opening in one window to allow fresh air inside, and avoid potential carbon monoxide poisoning.
Eat and drink water to help your body stay fueled and fight the cold, but don’t eat too much as the digestion process requires a lot of blood, potentially leaving your extremities susceptible to the cold. Be aware of the symptoms for hypothermia and frostbite.
You might be tempted to leave your vehicle, thinking you're close enough to a town and you’ll find your way. In an extreme blizzard or white out, you could lose your way within a matter of feet. It’s much safer to stay in your vehicle.
Ultimately, don’t lose hope. The storm may seem bad but it will pass.
Hope It Doesn’t Happen To Me, But…
It’s only a matter of time until we’re caught unaware.
Yet, at least with something like a severe storm, we usually have some advance warning. If the weather prediction is wrong and the storm isn’t too bad, great. But if we ignore the warning and don’t prepare before the storm hits…
Yeah…then we kick ourselves.
I’m not saying that preparation will solve all of the problems or turn aside a storm. But preparation will make a big difference in how you respond and handle the storm.
As I said earlier, this post probably won’t be of use to people already in the blizzard. Those of us watching from a distance, though, can learn from it. Ask yourself what you would do, and then prepare for the common disasters of the season.
At Emergency Zone, we think of these situations, and all we want is for people to be prepared. We believe everyone should have some level of preparation. So, if you have questions or comments, you're looking for help because you're new to prepping, or you even have suggestions or tips for us, please leave us a comment or contact us. We’d love to hear from you.