It’s a harrowing statistic, but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), approximately 70 percent of winter weather-related injuries occur in an automobile. Many of those vehicle-related injuries may have begun with someone simply leaving the house to run an errand, make a short trip to visit family or friends, or take care of routine business. The weather turns unexpectedly bad, road conditions rapidly deteriorate and suddenly, what was an ordinary drive can become an overnight ordeal.
Just because you don’t live in the Northeast, the upper Midwest or the Western mountains, don’t think that something like this can’t happen to you. Even in areas where snow is a rare event, cars can slide off icy roads and become stranded in freezing weather, leaving passengers stuck right there with them. Here’s how to make it through a freezing night in your car and ride out events until help can arrive.
One of the first things to do as winter approaches is be sure you have stored a few key items in your car. If you wait until you need them to try to round them up, it may be too late. Essential items to include in a winter survival kit, according to a combination of recommendations by Wisconsin Emergency Management’s Ready Wisconsin initiative and Ready.gov, include:
Other essential winter tools in severe weather country include jumper cables, a small shovel, tire chains and rock salt, sand or kitty litter to provide added traction when stuck on a slick surface.
If you’re leaving for an extended trip, always check weather and road conditions before departing. If poor conditions are forecast, you may consider postponing your trip. Also, Ready.gov says to let others know when you are leaving, which way you will be traveling and when you should arrive at your destination, so they can alert authorities and provide them with solid information to help in finding you should the need arise.
Fill your car with fuel and make frequent stops to stretch, relax and refill your tank, never allowing it to get much below a half tank. Should you become stuck and need to spend the night in your car, the ample gas will allow you to start your car throughout the night and run the heat for short intervals.
If you’re stuck in your car and immobile, first, call for help. Don’t overexert yourself and don’t leave your car and begin walking for help. Typically, you have a better chance of being found if you remain with your car, which may also provide the best shelter from the elements. However, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety warns against running your car constantly.
Instead, be sure the exhaust pipe is free from snow and roll down a window enough to vent the car and prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Run the car for short 15-20 minute intervals to warm up and then turn it back off, using blankets, a sleeping bag, hand warmers and the body heat of others in your car to stay warm. Keep yourself alert and your mind occupied by eating snacks and reading a book until help arrives.
Originally published January 3, 2013