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What To Do If You Are Trapped In A Blizzard

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Defensive Driving Tips

Record snowfalls have been wreaking havoc across the country this winter, and it looks there’s still lots more to come. As mounting snow banks turn city sidewalks into tunnels, it’s a good time to review some tips for dealing with snow emergencies, particularly what to do if you find yourself stuck in your car during a blizzard. Seventy percent of blizzard-related deaths occur among those who are travelling during the storm. While travelling in inclement weather is never ideal, it can be necessary, and so it’s always best to be prepared.

If you find yourself driving in snow that is so heavy you can no longer see adequately, it’s time to pull over and wait for the storm to subside somewhat. Of course, the danger in doing so is that your car will be snowed in. Be prepared for this situation, even if it seems unlikely. Recently, drivers in Chicago found themselves trapped on Lake Shore overnight. Being prepared for such a situation can help to keep you safe and more comfortable in the case of disaster.

First, don’t get out of your car unless you can see a building of some sort from your car. Blizzards, like fog, can be extremely disorienting; you don’t want to end up walking towards what you think is shelter only to discover yourself further from your goal and unable to get back to your car.

While it’s important to keep running your heater at regular intervals, you don’t want to run the heater constantly. Aim to keep the heater on for about fifteen minutes each hour. First, you want to conserve gas, as you can never be sure how long you may be stuck. You also don’t want to risk carbon monoxide poisoning. For this reason, you should check to make sure that the tailpipe isn’t blocked. You should also crack one of the windows slightly to allow air to circulate. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches; if you or any passengers notice these symptoms, exit the car and open the windows to ventilate. Since carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, these symptoms are the only warning signs you will have.
Next, make sure that you travel prepared in winter. During the colder months, it’s a good idea to keep your car stocked with an emergency kit that includes:


  • High calorie, non-perishable food items such as granola bars, trail mix, packets of sugar, chocolate, etc.
  • One or two heavy blankets
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Extra hats and gloves
  • A brightly colored cloth or flag
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Jumper cables
  • Two empty coffee cans
  • One or two rolls of toilet paper
  • Bottles of rubbing alcohol
  • Bottles of water, provided the bottles are not completely full. Remember that water expands when it freezes
  • A Swiss army knife

Some of these items are self-explanatory: small amounts of food can radically increase your chances of survival, while the blankets and extra hats and gloves will keep you and your passengers warm. It’s important that you keep moving in order to stay warm; in particular, make sure to keep your extremities warm and dry. You can also huddle together with other passengers for warmth. Put on as many layers as possible; garbage bags or other plastic bags can be used as an extra layer. You can also cut material out of the seats for insulation. You can make holes in the seats and curl up inside, placing the cut out material over your body for warmth.
Make your car more visible in order to alert rescuers. Attach the bright cloth to the highest point on the outside of the car, such as an antenna or roof rack. At night, turn on the headlights and the dome light within the car to increase visibility.
Take stock of your food and ration it appropriately. Plan so that your food will last at least four days. Also make sure to keep hydrated by drinking small amounts of water throughout the day. If you don’t have water available, you can melt snow using the matches and one of the coffee cans. If you don’t have this equipment, then you can suck on small amounts of snow. Make sure to find snow that is clean and away from road salt and chemicals and don’t eat too much at once. Small amounts of food and water can go a long way. In December 2000, a man in Oregon survived inside his car for sixteen days on M&Ms, orange juice, and a quart of water.
In order to conserve gas (or if you run out), you can make a can heater using rubbing alcohol and toilet paper. Remove the cardboard center from the toilet roll, place the paper inside a coffee can, and soak in rubbing alcohol. Set the paper alight. The flame will keep burning for a fairly long time, provided you continue to replenish the rubbing alcohol.
While in the car, keep your seat belt buckled as much as possible, in case traffic begins to move again, snow shifts, or another similar disruption occurs.
If help doesn’t arrive for a long time and you’re unsure when you’ll be able to escape, you can light a tire (starting with the spare tire) in order to stay warm. Do so at least fifteen feet away from the car. Cover the tire in gasoline and light with a match; don’t approach the tire to light it. Instead, toss the match from a distance. The tire will burn for 10-12 hours, producing heat and a thick black smoke that will help to attract attention. Be careful not to inhale the smoke, however.
As a last resort, you can try to walk to safety. This can be very dangerous. First, make sure to bundle up and cover all exposed skin using clothes or cloth from the car seats. If your car is heavily submerged, try to assess the depth before digging out. If you think you’re more than three feet under, tunneling won’t be safe. Even if there is less snow, be very careful, as you don’t want the snow to collapse on you as you dig.
To read more on a broad range of subjects from How To Change A Tire to How To Jumpstart Your Car, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

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