Howling winds drive ice and snow against the windshield, hiding the road as you dutifully follow the trail left by the car ahead. The car’s heater whirs loudly on high, blasting hot air at the glass to stop it from fogging, though white haze is still creeping in at the edges. As the trail ahead disappears, you’re left wondering if you missed your turn, and you’re forced to stop, unfolding a map to try and find where you may have gone astray.
You think you find it, a left that should have been right, and the car grumbles as you slide it back into gear. Gentle pressure on the accelerator gets you nowhere, and your heart pounds as you try the same in reverse. Nothing. You haven’t seen another set of headlights for 20 minutes. You are alone, and stranded.
What do you do?
Winter Storms are common in much of Canada, blanketing huge tracts of land in snow and giving the country its moniker of ‘great white north.’ Snow can be accompanied or precluded by driving winds, limited visibility, and ice rain. When one or more of these forces combine the results can be challenging, or even deadly, for the unprepared.
Today we’ll be discussing specifically what to do if you are stranded in a vehicle during a blizzard, but for great information and all sorts of blizzard and snow related tips, check out getprepared.gc.ca.
If you find yourself in the situation described above, do not leave your vehicle unless you can see your destination nearby. If there’s an open Starbucks and you can see the iconic green mermaid, head inside and wait out the worst of the storm. Otherwise, stay with/in your car, it’s a good wind break and much easier for a potential rescuer to see than a lone person.
To keep the air in the car fresh, open the window slightly on the sheltered side of the car, away from the wind. You can run the engine for short bursts, about 10 minutes of every 30, but make sure your exhaust pipe isn’t plugged by snow first. This is extremely important. A plugged exhaust pipe can lead to deadly carbon monoxide fumes pooling in your car. These fumes don’t have a smell and are very difficult to notice. Inhaling a lot of carbon monoxide can kill a person in minutes, with only a few symptoms to give warning. Dizziness, tension-like headaches, vertigo, and breathlessness are all things to watch out for.
If you have a phone call someone to let them know where you are (as best you can) and what the situation is. Try to refrain from using your phone too much (I know Candy Crush is tempting) to preserve the batteries for any other emergency calls you might need to make.
Keep moving to work warmth into your hands and feet. Movement also helps you to stay awake, which is imperative. Your heart rate drops during sleep, and your body will have a harder time staying warm. If you have a shovel and decide to clear a space around your car, be careful not to over exert yourself. Combined cold, exertion, and sweat can cause hypothermia and heart attacks.
Packing some basic warmth and survival supplies into your car is an excellent way to give yourself every advantage in winter survival situations. Food, water, a survival blanket (or sleeping bag), and hand warmers should be an absolute minimum, with jumper cables, ice scrapers, and work gloves also making great additions. Total Prepare also carries a professionally compiled Deluxe Vehicle Kit, which has a little bit of everything.
Packing a kit, staying with your vehicle, keeping warm and awake, and being mindful of carbon monoxide are perfect first steps to surviving a harrowing day or night trapped in snow. Wave down any passing cars that can take you somewhere safer, or wait out the storm so you can dig out your vehicle. If you have any tips or tricks for surviving a vehicle related snow-mergency, let us know in the comments!
Thank you for reading and stay toasty!
Written by Zenia Platten – Writer and emergency preparedness professional.