If the storm of the century or just brutal Old Man Winter hits your neck of the woods and you have the unfortunate experience of getting stuck and stranded, you need to know what to do. Here are 10 lifesaving tips if you’re trapped in a car in a winter blizzard.
Keep Your Composure – First and foremost, you have to maintain your sanity. No sense going off the deep end and imagining yourself and any passengers freezing to death and your bodies remaining undiscovered until spring. That’s likely not going to happen – unless you’ve veered so far off well-traveled roads that you’re nearly completely lost yourself. It’s best to maintain an upbeat attitude, not only to convince yourself but also others in your party that you’ll soon be out of this mess.
Determine How Stranded You Are – Maybe the situation isn’t as bad as you think. If the blizzard subsides, at least long enough for you to venture out of the vehicle to determine your predicament, that’s a good sign. Check to see if your vehicle is able to get out of the snow or if you’re truly stuck. You may be able to dig out around the wheels or lay down branches, boughs or drop sand on the snow (if you have sandbags in the trunk). If you’re completely unable to drive your vehicle out of the snow, you’ll have to stay put until help arrives. But do all you can to get out of there if at all possible – after the blizzard stops, that is.
Parcel Out Water and Any Food – Since you don’t know if you’ll be stranded for hours or days, the best thing you can do with any water and food is to divvy it up carefully and pace it out so that it lasts for the duration of your confinement. No bingeing on candy bars and salty snacks. That stomach growling will soon lead you to regret eating up everything you have and likely make you more depressed than if you have a plan to ration food/water for everyone in your vehicle.
Make a Call for Help – Most smart car travelers (driver and passengers) carry a fully-charged cell phone with them at all times. Use yours (or theirs) to make a call for help. Call AAA, 911, someone you know with a tow truck or 4WD vehicle, snow chains – anyone who can help. After you reach someone and get an estimate of how long it will take to reach you – assuming you can give logical directions or coordinates – you’ll feel much better about being rescued.
Entertain the Troops – It’s very likely that if you’re traveling with small children, they’re going to be antsy and easily upset at this abrupt confinement. That is, they’re likely to have a tantrum, start to cry or keep asking “When are we going home?” They’ll also need to go to the bathroom, so this is something you’ll have to deal with (for yourself and other adults as well). While you wait for help to arrive, engage everyone in games, word puzzles, and serial storytelling, whatever it takes to keep their minds off the situation. If they’ve brought along videogames or electronic devices that have enough battery power to still operate, that’s all the better.
Try to Dig Out – You’ll need to ensure your vehicle is visible to emergency workers or the folks you’ve called to help you out of this situation. You’ll also need to clear away snow, mud, ice and debris from the tailpipe so you all don’t perish from carbon monoxide creeping into the cabin when you run the engine periodically to keep warm. If the snow’s drifted and makes it nearly impossible to get out of the vehicle from the driver’s side, try all other doors, even the tailgate or crawling out windows after you punch through the snow. Be sure to rest in between attempts to extricate yourself from a buried car. You’ll need your energy for the long haul, particularly if it takes a while for help to arrive.
Stay With the Vehicle – Winter survival experts say you’ll have a better chance of making it through this blizzard if you stay with the vehicle. Don’t try to walk for help. You could get lost, suffer frostbite, be struck by a vehicle, or worse. Besides, if you have others in your party, they’ll need you to reassure them. If you’re alone, you don’t have a prayer going off on your own. At least if you stay with the car, that’s a known identifier when someone comes looking for you – assuming they do.
Count it Down – Keeping track of the passing hours is also important if you’re trapped in a car in a winter blizzard. Why? The snow has to stop sometime, or at least let up sufficiently to enable you to get out of the vehicle for bathroom breaks, to clear the exhaust pipes, affix a scarf or something to the antenna or create a makeshift SOS in the snow with branches, twigs, rocks, etc. Knowing what time of day or night it is also helps you initiate sleep and wake time, with adults taking shifts so that there’s always someone awake to call for help from passing vehicles or rescue parties.
Run the Engine Once an Hour – Hopefully, you have a full tank of gas. If it’s at least a half tank, try to limit yourself to running the engine and heater once an hour and only for the time it takes to warm the vehicle. Generally this is 10 minutes or less. It’s better to bundle up with any extra coats, blankets or throws you have in the vehicle that take the chance that you’ll run out of gas and be unable to warm the car intermittently. Huddling together also creates warmth and is comforting to others.
Be Sure to Do Some Form of Exercise – to Keep Moving – You won’t be able to do calisthenics in a trapped car, for sure, but you can clap your hands, flex your muscles (isometric exercises) and, if you can get out of the vehicle for brief periods, stomp your feet and jump up and down a few times. This keeps your blood flowing, releases endorphins and contributes to a better sense of well-being than just sitting for endless hours worrying about what might happen next.
Once you are rescued, thank your lucky stars, say a prayer of gratitude and resolve never to travel anytime the weather forecast is for blizzard conditions. You and your family deserve better than this. Bottom line: Be prepared, be smart and use common sense to survive being trapped in a car in a winter blizzard.