When Winter Storm Jonas rolled into the East Coast, everyone knew it was coming, but that didn’t prevent some people from getting caught in the cold. For instance, 500 vehicles on a Pennsylvania turnpike got stuck in traffic during the storm, after several trailer trucks jackknifed on the road. It took 24 hours to clear the turnpike before stranded passengers could go on their way.
Fortunately, this wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, and National Guardsmen could still reach the drivers to deliver essential supplies. But even with their help it was no picnic, and it was still a dangerous situation for all involved. It just goes to show that when a storm is in your path, no matter where you live, you should prepare yourself and your vehicle for the possibility of being stranded in snowy weather. Obviously, the worst case scenario would involve being stranded in a remote area, where you don’t have the benefit of reaching help. Here’s a few of the most important things you should remember if that ever happens to you:
Should You Stay or Go?
Say your car malfunctions, gets stuck, or crashes in a remote area during a blizzard. If there’s nothing you can do to get the vehicle moving again, you have to make the tough decision of whether to stay in the vehicle or to leave and find help (it should go without saying that in this hypothetical scenario, you don’t have a cell phone signal). In most cases, you’ll want to err on the side of staying, unless you know for a fact that you can reach help by foot within an hour or two.
Don’t overestimate your abilities though. Nobody wants to face the possibility of staying in their car for several days or weeks, but many a stranded driver has died over the years, because they left to get help and succumbed to the elements. But before you even consider leaving the house, there’s a few things you should have stocked up in your vehicle.
There are some basic, common sense supplies you should have in the trunk or backseat and ways to prime your vehicle for bouts of cold weather. To prepare for being stranded in a vehicle, you need to think about all the things you would take if you were going camping, but minus the tent. Non-perishable food, water bottles, wool and polypro clothing, sleeping bag, hand warmers, tools, first aid kit, etc. The food you take should consist of really high calorie substances, loaded with fats, carbs, and proteins. Just make sure to keep your food and water inside a cooler to prevent them from freezing and swelling (canned foods may not be the best idea).
You’ll also want a bring portable camping stove of some kind, so you can melt snow into drinking water and warm up your food. It’s not uncommon for people to get stranded in their vehicles for more than a few days, and you may not have the space to store enough water for that time frame. Just remember that you can’t use the stove for warmth. Using stoves inside your vehicle could be very dangerous and could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s best to use the camping stove outside and have hand and foot warmers to maintain body heat.
Tools and Signaling
There are a few more items you should keep in your vehicle that you probably wouldn’t take on a camping trip. In all likelihood you won’t be inside your car for every moment of the day, so rubber boots are a must. You should always have road flares on hand, but in this case, you’ll need them to signal any search and rescue teams that might be looking for you. If you keep reflective emergency triangles in your car, those would also be useful for advertising your presence. And finally, you should consider a small or collapsible shovel for digging out your tires, as well as sand or kitty litter to give them traction.
If you decide to hunker down for the night, the first thing you’ll need to do is insulate your vehicle. If you have any newspaper, books you can tear up, or extra blankets, it would be wise to tape them to the windows. However, glass is already a decent insulator, so your highest priority should be to insulate the edges of the doors and windows, or wherever cold air might get in. You could also cut out the stuffing in the seat cushions or use the floor mats.
Alternatively, you can use the snow to your advantage. In 2012, a Swedish man survived alone in his car for two months, despite the temperature falling to -30C . Experts attributed his survival to the fact that his car was buried in snow, which created an igloo effect and kept him warm. It wouldn’t be bad idea to build up a wall of snow around the edges of the car. There is a catch however. If your car is completely walled off then nobody will see you. It would be crazy to completely bury your car, and don’t attempt this unless you have something colorful or reflective to let people know where you are.
If your engine is still running, it would be a good idea to turn it on periodically so you can build up some heat in your vehicle. If your car is properly insulated, you may only need to keep the engine idling for 15 minutes at a time, every hour or so. You’ll have to keep it up however, if you want to prevent the fuel lines from freezing over. Just remember to go outside every now and then and clear any snow out of your exhaust pipe. Failure to do so could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
On a final note, it’s best to avoid this kind of situation in the first place. None of us want bad weather to ruin our plans, but when a snowstorm arrives, you should really just hunker down at home and stay off the roads. Keep your vehicle in tip-top shape and make sure your gas tank is full, just in case you absolutely have to drive. Snowstorms aren’t just inconvenient. Any attempt to brave them could prove deadly.