A relaxing drive up to the mountains to play in the snow seemed like a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Just a nice leisurely drive up the canyon road to visit Old Man Winter. While building snowmen and pelting your girlfriend with snowballs, ominous black clouds roll in. The temperatures plummet, and dime-sized flakes begin to fall. In a blink of an eye, your car is covered. Before you’re able to dig it out, it’s too late. You’re stranded, cold, and isolated, your car completlety stuck in the snow..
You have a choice: walk out or stay put. What you do depends solely on the weather. If it is a brief storm that another one won’t follow, perhaps walking out is your best bet. However, frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly if you’re not prepared for it, and you’d better make sure you know exactly where you are going. In situations like this, those who leave the vehicle’s relative safety get lost in the snow and die within sight of it.
If you are unsure of how long the storm will last or the severity of it, don’t leave the general area of your car. Your car is your lifeline. Like an igloo, staying within the confines of a snowed-in vehicle will give you much more chance at survival than out in the wilderness on your own.
Before you even leave the house for any driving in the snow, make sure you are well prepared for any winter emergency. Although you may have planned for only a few hours’ tour into the wintery playground, pack your trunk with a few snow necessities. These include a shovel, an ice scraper, a Get-Home bag, snacks, and a few water bottles.
Have those survival items you should always carry in your car: a few road flares, ways of making fire, and a knife or hatchet. Extra blankets or a sleeping bag to help stave off the cold should be included, as well as warm hats and gloves. Keeping a good-sized first aid kit is suitable for common injuries, and a metal container will help melt snow and hold extra water.
Panicking never solves any crisis, and you’ll use up energy doing so. Stay calm and always plan for a way out. Are you alone? Are there other cars around? Is there help nearby? Turn on the radio or use your phone’s apps to figure out how long the storm will last.
Take stock of your surroundings and the gear or equipment inside the car. If your car becomes stuck in the snow, you ould use extra blankets, towels, oe even extra clothing. Be creative with what you have available: the floor mats can be used as insulation against the windows, while you can cut strips of the seats to wrap your feet in.
During winter, carrying an emergency kit with flares and reflective triangles in your trunk is a good idea because you’ll want your car to be noticed. Lift your wipers and attach red strips of cloth to them (to the antennae too). If your battery is strong enough, keep your emergency flashers on and honk the horn (three long bursts at a time) to get attention.
If you have the means, start a fire and keep feeding it green foliage so that it will smoke. Oil-soaked rags will produce a black pall that should be seen over a great distance. If there isn’t a clearing in the snow, contain the fire in an upended hubcap or license plate on top of the snow.
Consider yourself fortunate if you have plenty of gas. If so, you can use the heater to run your car from time to time. At idle, an average car uses about 0.16 of a gallon of gas per hour. Therefore, a full 15-gallon tank will last about three days. But be sure to use it sparingly, 15 minutes max per hour, because you might be stuck longer than three days.
It is important, however, to keep your tailpipe and grille clear. Air needs to get to the engine to run, and exhaust gases need a place to go. If not, carbon monoxide can seep into the car’s cabin. During winter, keep a length of metal flex hoses wide enough to fit over your muffler and long enough to reach above the snowfall. To play it safe, keeping a window cracked when running the engine is a good idea to prevent carbon dioxide from building up inside the car. Open the window that is farthest from you and downwind from the storm.
Start to dig yourself out if it is safe to do so. No sense in just sitting there, waiting for the snow to melt. Watch for overexertion, as your body may already be taxed trying to stay warm. Try not to sweat.
If you don’t need to get out of the car, don’t. A blizzard can be deadly, even after being exposed for only a few minutes. Trekking off by yourself has ended poorly for many people, so it is best to stay together as long as possible. Plus, the more people in the car, the more body heat will help keep everyone warm. If you have to leave, leave together.
Do your best to stay warm. Wrap tissue around your fingers and toes if you don’t have gloves or thick socks. Keep your head covered. Huddle together and share body heat. Stay in the center of the car, away from the sides. If you have the means, cover the windows to help insulate the vehicle’s cabin.
Staying dry is one of the most important steps to staying warm. Wet clothes will wick away heat from your body quickly, so if you must go outside, avoid sweating. Keep as much snow out of the car as possible when you return.
Staying well-fed may be challenging if you have limited resources, but there is plenty of water around you. You can quickly melt snow in your engine compartment for water (inside the metal container you brought). Eating as much as possible so your body can continue to create heat is best. The more hydrated and fed you are, the warmer you will be.
If you can avoid it, don’t waste time looking for animals or fish to trap or hunt. You will likely not find anything in the winter as animals are less active. Plus, the energy expended in the cold will likely not be replaced by what you can catch.
When cold, muscles stiffen, and a lack of movement only makes them colder. When awake, stay moving. Bicycle your legs, clap your hands together, and stretch your torso. This will increase blood flow while creating heat.
It is a good idea to keep a window cracked to prevent carbon dioxide from building inside the car and allow fresh air to enter. Open the window that is farthest from you and downwind from the storm.
Frostbite and hypothermia are silent killers; they can permanently damage your body before you even realize it. Your car getting stuck in the snow is no laughing matter. It is essential to keep circulation flowing in your extremities, such as your hands, feet, lips, nose, and ears. Limit your skin’s contact with the snow, and keep wind exposure to a minimum.
Check your fingers and toes every chance you get for signs of frostbite. They will turn ashen white at first, then blue, then black. Early in the process, they will grow numb, so you may not even notice anything is wrong without a visual inspection.