How To – Surviving A Winter Snow Storm Trapped In Your Car

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    Every winter we hear reports of people who are trapped in their vehicles for long periods of time due to winter snow conditions. This past week Buffalo, NY saw vehicles on a 13 mile stretch of highway trapped in their cars and trucks for over 20 hours and this is in a relatively urban type environment where emergency services could have responded in minutes under normal conditions.

    If you are on a long stretch of country road or a interstate highway your chances of surviving such a situation are probably about the same as those people trapped on a 4 lane city highway and that means it will be up to you to save yourself.

    So, lets take a look at some of the things you can do to plan for being stranded in a winter snow condition.

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    The First Rule of Surviving

    The first thing that you must do if you want to make it through this situation in the best possible way is to keep your head and not panic.

    Panic can happen at the initial time when you are stranded or anytime until the event is over.

    Just remember people crossed the US in wagons on horses and by foot and they often did it alone. Also remember that when you were a kid it was almost impossible for your parents to get you to come inside when you were out playing in the snow.

    At the very worst you will need to walk yourself to help and even if it takes hours or even a day or two it is possible for you to survive.

    Assess Your Injuries

    After you realize you are stuck and have got a grip on your situation you need to take care of any injuries if you were in an accident. Being able to take care of injuries in an emergency situation is really beyond the scope of this HowTo and you should think about taking a Red Cross first aid class or finding other materials that can help you understand the basics of first aid.

    To find your local American Red Cross please go to: http://www.redcross.org/en/where and enter your local zip code.

    Assess Your Situation

    Like we said above there are many locations that you can get stranded. It can be in a rural or city environment. It can be during the  day or night and you can be alone or surrounded by others in the same situation.

    Once you are calm and have assessed any injuries you want to make sure you are in a relatively safe location.

    The time from when the incident first happened until this point should only be a matter of a minute or two depending on any injuries you may have.

    Turn on your Emergency Safety Blinkers. Emergency blinkers take a lot of power from your car’s battery so you only want to leave them on for a few minutes. Once you feel you are in a safe location you can use your turn signal which uses much less power if you feel the need to turn your car’s engine off due to accident damage.

    Stay in your car

    If your car is located at the bottom of a hill where cars may lose control and crash into you then you must either drive or leave your car for safety when you know you are not in danger of being hit.

    If another vehicle is headed for a crash into your vehicle try to move to the opposite side of the car if you can. If not then keep your seat belt on until all activity has ended.

    If you are not in risk of another accident then staying in your vehicle will keep you warm and dry.

    You should run your vehicle for no more then 15 minutes out of every hour to provide heat.

    When your engine is running you will need to first exit your vehicle and make sure there is no snow blocking your tail pipe. You will also need to crack your window slightly to allow fresh air into your vehicle and do not smoke (or try not to) because it will reduce the amount of fresh air in the car and require you to open a window which means running the vehicle more often.

    Stay Warm and Dry

    Staying dry is one of the most important things in cold weather. Once you are wet from snow or perspiration it is difficult to keep warm because your wet clothes will wick away the heat from your body.

    Placing shopping bags over your socks will help keep your feet dry.

    If you have some garbage bags you can cut three holes in the bottom for your head and arms and put it on under or over your coat. This will prevent wind from blowing through your clothes if you go outside your vehicle.

    You can also place them around your legs to keep warm.

    If you are inside your vehicle and have newspaper stuff it crumpled into the plastic bags that you are wearing as insulation.

    Call For Help

    If you are alone and unable to free the car yourself call for emergency help. You can call the police at this time or you can simply call a local tow truck service. Calling the Tow Truck yourself may be quicker. I suggest doing this first if you are not in any danger and have not had an accident with another vehicle.

    If you need medical assistance then call 911.

    Getting Your Car Free

    Once you feel that you are in a safe situation you can exit the vehicle if you believe you are able to free the car yourself.

    Freeing your vehicle is not as difficult as you may think but you must approach the  process with a little planning.

    First you must clear the snow that is trapping your car so using an emergency shovel if you have one or your hands or other scooping device like a piece of plastic or a hub cap dig the snow from around your car providing at least 2 feet of distance on all sides and as much room ahead of your vehicle in the direction you will try to move.

    Once the  snow is free around your car you need to dig under the wheels to remove any packed snow under the car.  It is amazing that a vehicle with hundreds of horse power can be trapped by a little snow wedged under the car but it really can.

    Getting Moving

    When you first start to try moving your vehicle you want to move slowly.

    If you have 4 wheel drive place the vehicle in 4wd.

    Place the vehicle in gear and allow the car to move under its own power without giving it gas.

    If the vehicle does not move slowly in Drive or First or Reverse depending on the direction you need to move then it is probably stuck on something. … you know when you are in a flat parking lot your car will move on its own without your brakes being applied so keep this in mind.

    Rocking The Car
    Try moving in the opposite direction without giving the vehicle gas and see if you can get some running distance then come to a complete stop and drive forward slowly using just enough gas to keep yourself going.

    If you apply too much gas you will dig a hole or fill the treads of  your tires with packed snow which will reduce the friction.

    If you are spinning your tires you are trying too hard.

    Once You Are Free

    Once your vehicle is free you want to drive slowly without stopping if you can to the nearest safe location. It is better to roll very slowly at 1 or 2 miles per hour and keep your car moving then to come to a complete stop and risk getting stuck again.

    If You Can Not Get Free

    If you find that digging out your vehicle is beyond your ability and you have called emergency services or a tow truck and they will be delayed for a long period of time then the best thing to do is stay inside your vehicle.

    Running your vehicle to keep warm can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if the exhaust gas from your tailpipe is blocked. Exit your vehicle and dig the area free of snow.

    Run your vehicle for no more then 15 minutes out of an hour.

    When the car is not running turn your headlights and emergency lights off along with your radio and accessories to preserve your battery.

    Water is more important then food for the first 2 days.  You can collect snow in a plastic bag for melting. Do not use your body temperature to melt the snow. Do not use a container that has been used for gasoline or radiator fluid or any other chemical for storing water you will drink even in tiny amounts it can be poisonous or at least make you very sick at just the time when you need to be at your best.

    Do not drink alcohol or take medications that could make you sleepy. You want to stay awake as much as you can and keep your whits.

    If you happen to see a low flying helicopter or airplane blink your high beams and emergency flashers while sounding your horn to attract attention for up to 5 miles.

    Walking Your Way Out

    Your decision to abandon your vehicle will be very important and should only be done as a last resort.  If you know there are homes or businesses within a few miles of your location then you can probably walk the distance if you are healthy.

    Do not walk at night. Staying with your car if you can is much safer and it is colder at night. If someone is looking for you then the flashing of your turn signals will be much easier to see then you out in the middle of nowhere.

    Leave a note within your vehicle with your name and describe the path you will take to find help. Police can easily get into your car and leaving it on a window may mean it blows away.

    Final Note

    It is difficult to plan for any disaster or problem of this type but taking basic steps like making sure your vehicle is in good condition, charging and bringing your cellphone and storing some food such as nuts or other items with a long shelf life that won’t freeze or need cooking can make the situation much easier.

    Bringing a small supply of medicine with you is also important. Whenever you go out you should have enough to last you a day in a small pill box.

    I suggest no matter what the situation that you always keep a change of clothes in your vehicle. Jeans some shoes, a shirt and a hat along with a blanket can go a long way.

    Also it is important to not drive in weather conditions you know your vehicle can not handle. This is true for SUVs and Trucks too. Often people believe their on the street vehicles are the same as off road racers. To a small extent a Pickup can be better in the snow but when the back end of the vehicle has not weight over the drive wheels it can often be worse  in the snow then a tiny Honda with front wheel drive.

    Remember its only a couple inches of snow that can end up stranding you especially if wind is blowing it into piles and you endup on top of that pile with packed snow keeping your vehicle from moving.

    Take precautions .. plan and bring supplies and remember your cellphone.

    And Don’t Panic.. It is nothing to be scared about.

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