A relaxing drive up to a mountain cabin can turn into a disaster during this time of the year. All it takes is a wrong move, and in a blink of an eye, your vehicle is covered in snow. You are now stranded, cold and isolated in your own car. Being trapped in the snow is a scary prospect, but you can prevent such scenario if you prepare in advance.
When people become trapped in their vehicles, they have only two options: they stay put or they walk out. The decision you make depends solely on how the weather develops. If the storm is over and there won’t be another one following, perhaps walking out is your best option. However, if you’re not prepared for a long walk, you should stay put. Frostbite and hypothermia are your worst enemies during such scenario.
If you are not sure how long the storm will last or if another one will follow, you should stay in the vicinity of your car. In bad weather, your card is your lifeline and will provide you with better chances o making it, rather than going into the wilderness.
10 ways to avoid being trapped in your car during the winter season
Be prepared for the season
You may say that this is a no-brainer, but you will be surprised how many people ignore this advice. People should prepare before they even leave the house for any type of drive in the snow. No matter how short you think the ride will be, you should pack your trunk with a few snow necessities. A shovel, an ice scraper, a get home bag, a few snacks and bottle of water become mandatory during this time of year. Make sure you pack an extra change of clothes and a sleeping bag as a backup measure.
Besides those items, you should also get some road flares, a fire starter and a survival hatchet. I also carry a metal canteen that helps me melt snow in case needed. Not to mention, that every vehicle should be equipped with a proper aid kit.
If you get trapped, keep your cool and assess the situation
Most people start panicking when they see their car trapped and covered with snow. This only leads to a waste of energy and you will miss essential things. Rather than cursing or crying, stay calm and plan your way out. Think about the essentials and figure the proper answer for each situation. Are you alone? Is this a populated road and are there any cars around? Do you have a radio or working cellphone to find out how long the storm will last? Check your surroundings and the gear you have in your vehicle. Do you have the necessary items to wait it out?
Your mind is your best survival tool and you should make the most of what you have. You can use the floor mats to insulate the windows of your car. You can even cut strips of the seats to wrap yourself in if you don’t have blankets or a sleeping bag. Think of ways to make it and don’t give up!
Signal for help
If you get trapped in the snow, you should signal for help to get noticed. As I said before, having road flares or reflective triangles can really help in such situation. You can even put a reflective triangle on the top of your car to increase visibility. Lift your wipers and tie strips of colored fabric to them. Youcan also honk the horn three long bursts to attract attention. You shouldn’t keep your emergency blinkers on unless your car battery is strong enough.
In a previous article, I wrote about how to signal for help when being stranded in the wilderness. If you have the means, start a fire and feed it with green foliage to produce smoke.
Ration your fuel
Most modern cars will use about 0.25 of a gallon of gas per hour in idle mode. So if you have plenty of gas, your fuel could last for about two days. The trick is to know how to use the heater without wasting fuel. A maximum of 15-20 minutes per hour should provide you with enough heat and time to be found.
An important thing to remember is that you need to clean the tailpipe and grille. You need to provide the engine with air and you must make sure harmful exhaust gases can be evacuated. Not cleaning the pipe is a fatal mistake people make and carbon monoxide seeps into the car, killing them. Make sure you open a window slightly to allow fresh air to get into the car. Open the one that is farthest from you and downwind from the storm.
A close friend of mine keeps a flex hose in his trunk in case he gets trapped in the snow. He will use it to attach it to the muffler and place it above the snowfall. This is actually a clever idea.
Try to dig your way out
If you get trapped in a snow bank, there’s no point in waiting for the snow to melt. If the weather is calm, you can use your shovel to dig yourself out. The main point here is that you can use any kind of item you have to move the snow without having to touch it.
You should also pay attention to your energy level, avoid overexertion since your body may already fight to stay warm. Take your time and take breaks to finish the job.
Do whatever you can to stay warm if you don’t have proper clothing. You can wrap tissues or strips from the seats around your fingers and toes. Make sure you cover your head as well since it’s the part of your body which losses hit the most. Try to huddle together to share body heat and don’t forget to run the heat every hour.
Another important aspect is to stay dry as you will not be able to warm yourself in wet or damp clothes. This is why it’s better to have an extra change of clothes. Sweating is also another cause of hypothermia and you should avoid intense effort. Also, make sure you don’t bring any snow inside the car.
Keep moving if you get trapped
During cold weather, your muscles will stiffen and you will waste a lot of energy to warm up. They get even colder if you don’t move. This shy you need to keep moving when you are awake. You can bicycle your legs, stretch your arms and clap your hands and do all sorts of torso movements to stay active. All these actions will keep the blood flowing and create heat.
Stay hydrated and eat some food
You need to keep your strength and you will need food and water to do so. Melt some snow if you don’t have enough water and ration your food if you have limited resources. You should never eat snow, no matter how desperate you are. The more hydrated and fed you are the warmer you will be if you get trapped in the snow.
Avoid unnecessary actions like hunting and fishing. It’s not like in the movies and you need to have the experience to hunt during winter. Animals are not as active during this time of the year and you can’t afford to wander around in the cold. Not to mention that the amount of energy you spend will most likely not be replaced by what you manage to catch.
Related reading: Winter Trail Survival Food – 3 Easy Recipes
Check your body for cold injuries
Cold-related injuries such as frostbites and hypothermia are silent killers. They will permanently damage your body before you even realize it. Keep circulation flowing to your extremities by moving. Limit skin exposure to snow and wind to a minimum. Check your fingers and toes for signs of frostbite with every chance you get. When frostbite sets in, your toes and fingers will turn ashen white, then blue and finally black. During the first stage, they will turn numb, and you may not even realize there’s something wrong. A visual inspection will save you a lot of trouble.
Don’t split up
When you get trapped in your car, you shouldn’t get out unless absolutely necessary. A blizzard can be deadly if exposed to it even for only a few minutes. Don’t wander around trying to find help, to save the rest of the party. There is no guarantee you will make it to safety or even find your way back.
Venturing out by yourself should be avoided and this scenario turned out deadly for a lot of people. The more people in the car, the more body heat you can share. If you must leave the car behind for some reason, make sure you all leave together.
During this time of year, you will see on the news a lot of people being trapped in the snow. Year after year is the same story and people never learn from their mistakes. I honestly don’t understand why they don’t take some time to get prepared for a drive through a storm. Why put everything at risk when you could make a basic winter survival kit? All the items you prepared, won’t go to waste and you can use them each year. Even more, chances are you already have all the items you need in your home and it won’t cost you anything to be prepared. Drive safe and pass this information around!