It’s that time of the year again- winter is here. At this moment, from the comfort of my office window, I’m watching my town get covered up in a blanket of snow. I can’t help but think about the beginning of a season that is daunting for me, and perhaps daunting for you too.
My least favorite part about winter is commuting to the city. Driving to work, the grocery store, running errands, picking up the kids from school— actually, anything that involves driving on snowy and icy roads really scares me. Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to hibernate from November through March, the demands of life won’t allow me to do that so I have learned to adjust to the cold weather.
Before moving to the mountains, I had no idea how to stay safe on winter roads, nor how to prepare my car for extreme cold, but I’ve learned some winter safety tips in the last nine years that I hope you too can benefit from.
How to prepare car for winter
When preparing your vehicle for the winter season, you have to keep a couple of things in mind.
- Perform basic car maintenance. Make sure your vehicle is running optimally so it can withstand the harsh weather conditions. I recommend taking it to a trusted mechanic for a routine checkup where they can inspect your car battery and cables, the wear on your tire tread, the pressure of the tires, the lights, and all the liquid levels, including the antifreeze and oil. If your heater is not working, get that fixed as well, or buy a portable car heater. Complete this winter checkup a month before the snow arrives.
- Prepare for the possibility of becoming stranded and/or becoming a good Samaritan by helping someone else who may be stranded. It’s absolutely necessary to keep a kit in your car that is stocked with emergency supplies such as non-perishable food, water, tire chains, tools for signaling, jumper cables, and a first aid kit. Continue reading for the complete checklist of snowstorm survival kit essentials.
What is the likelihood of getting stranded in a snowstorm?
Before I answer this question, let’s look at some of the powerful winter storms that occurred in the last few years.
Remember the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011? The massive pileup of cars stuck in the snow caused hundreds of Chicagoans to become stranded in their cars overnight.
In 2014, Atlanta experienced a snowstorm that left thousands of people stranded in the interstate also through the night.
In 2016, more than 500 people were stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, following a blizzard that had been forecasted. Some people were taken to nearby hotels, however, others remained in their cars until the following day.
How about the 2018 snowstorm in Fukui, Japan that left 1,500 vehicles stranded on the highway for more than two days?! Many of those people could not abandon their vehicles so rescue teams did the best they could to deliver food, water, and other essential supplies to the motorists.
In January 2019, Washington state received so much snow that resulted in several multiple-vehicle accidents. This left all the drivers on the highway behind them- approximately 300 of them- stranded in their cars.
Then in March 2019, approximately 1,100 Colorado drivers became stranded in their vehicles during a massive hurricane-style blizzard.
So what do these events have to do with you?
Well, let’s just say these stories are not as uncommon as they may seem. You may hear of them briefly on the news, but it’s one of those things that can happen to anybody.
Perhaps the chances of becoming trapped in a large pileup might be low since it only occurs in select places every year. But realistically, if you live and drive in a place that receives snow, you run a risk period.
Whether your car is the only one that becomes stranded or there are a few other hundred people piled up next to you, the possibility is there regardless so you should become prepared ahead of time.
What to do if you get stranded in the snow
Have you thought about surviving a blizzard in your car? Not many people have. Imagine dropping temperatures, your gas gauge on low, and your body craving a meal and water.
Although every scenario is going to look different, the following tips and precautions may help ensure your safety until help arrives.
- Stay calm and think through your next steps. Determine whether or not it’s safe to stay in your car while you wait for help to arrive. If your car is stuck on the side of the road, or a place where you don’t risk getting hit by other motorists, then it may be best to stay in the car and away from the elements. If the wait exceeds your expectations and you have an option to get to a warm place of temporary shelter, it might be a good idea to do that. If your car went into a ditch, get out and find a safe place to go while you wait for help.
- Call or signal for help. If you have a working phone, call a loved one. In the event of an emergency, always call 911. Note that your phone may turn off due to extreme cold temperatures even if it’s at a full charge, so it’s not always a reliable resource. If your phone isn’t working, use a signal to draw attention to you and your car. This kit contains a roadside triangle, lights, reflective blankets, and a whistle that can all be used for signaling. If your car has an antenna, hang something bright or shiny over it to make yourself be seen, since it’s difficult to distinguish snow-covered objects in those conditions. If you’re close to a gas station, store, or restaurant and are able to walk there, you might find it easiest to ask for help in person.
- Stay warm. Prevent hypothermia by maintaining your body heat. Turning the car on for short periods of time (about 10 minutes every hour) will give you a boost in warmth— this is considering that your heater works! If not, you can get a portable car heater or seat warmers. If you run the engine intermittently, make sure that the exhaust pipe is cleared from any snow to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Another way to stay cozy inside the car is by covering the windows with space blankets (also known as emergency blankets). By facing the shiny side inward, your body heat will be reflected back into your car rather than escape through the cold windows. If your feet get wet from the snow, you can cut a piece of an emergency blanket (just enough to cover your foot) and wrap your foot around it like a sock, then put your shoe back on. Wear this makeshift foot-warmer until your foot regains warmth and mobility, and air it out periodically so it doesn’t trap in too much moisture.
- Hydrate yourself and eat nutritious snacks. We know that food and water are vital for survival, so make sure you keep your car stocked with protein bars and a few bottles of water. (Yes, there are ways to prevent the stored water in your car from freezing during the winter months. Find out how to do that here!) If stranded, analyze the situation you’re in and ration your portions carefully so that what you have will be enough to last you until help arrives.
Winter storm survival kit for your car
If your car got stranded in the snow right now and you had to survive with all the supplies you had on hand, how well would you do?
Until a few years ago, I know I would have suffered big time. I would have been lucky if I even had an extra bottle of water, much less a blanket or a winter storm emergency kit.
A car kit is essential when preparing for the winter season. The best snowstorm survival kit for your car will contain the necessary items to signal for help, as well as blankets and clothing to keep you warm, and food, snacks, and water to sustain you for at least several hours. If you live in an area prone to extreme cold weather and blizzards, it’s recommended that you keep enough supplies to last you a day or two, because your chances of becoming stranded in a snowstorm are that much higher. If you become one of the unlucky ones to end up in a large-scale overnight pileup, hopefully, you’ll be prepared!
This deluxe car kit contains most of the items you may need to survive a roadside emergency.
Included in this kit, you will find several means of signaling for help, such as an emergency triangle, a work light, a flashlight, a whistle, and reflective blankets. You will also find a set of jumper cables in case the freezing temperatures cause your battery to lose power. The ice scraper will be necessary for removing any snow that accumulates on your windshield while you’re pulled over. The kit includes several other items such as a first aid kit, water pouches, work gloves, adult ponchos, and paracord rope. Find the kit here!
No matter which snowstorm or blizzard survival kit you decide to get, you should always personalize it with a few of your own items. Some suggestions include:
- A NOAA Weather Radio. The National Weather Service provides information on the local weather in real-time. Stay tuned to the radio during inclement weather and obey any alerts or warnings. You can download the NOAA Weather app to your phone or buy their radio online. If you choose the latter, remember to store enough backup batteries.
- Non-perishable food. It’s up to you to decide how much food you want to keep in your car, but I recommend having a minimum of 4,000 calories. This would assure that you have enough calories for two days for one person, or for one day for two people. Click here for a complete list of food that won’t spoil in your car!
- Chains that fit your tires. You should always carry chains during the winter season, even if you have 4WD and AWD.
- Kitty litter, salt, or sand to create traction for your tires in icy surfaces.
- A rope or chain that will be strong enough for towing. A shovel might help too if you have the ability to dig your car out.
- A car cell phone charger.
- A change of clothes that includes a warm sweater, waterproof jacket/ windbreaker, warm sweat pants, wool socks, winter gloves, and a beanie.
- Two wool blankets. Wool is a good insulator and will help to retain your body heat. A sleeping bag is another option.
- A fire extinguisher. Cars are built in a very intricate way. A design flaw, an overheating engine or catalytic converter, an electrical problem, and a fender bender or accident can all be causes for a car catching on fire. It’s prudent to always keep a fire extinguisher in your car. Class B fire extinguishers are for flammable liquids and gases, Class C are for electrical fires, and Class ABC are multi-purpose- this one would probably be your safest bet. Also, make sure you learn how to use it in case you ever need it!
Remember to always travel with at least a half tank full of gas. Becoming stranded and having no gas is a recipe for disaster.
Let me wrap this up by saying— if you only take one key point from this post, please remember the importance of having a winter storm emergency kit in your car.
A kit is fundamental no matter what season of the year you’re driving in, but it’s crucial during winter weather. A survival kit might save your life so it’s definitely worth the investment.
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