Monday, November 22, 2010

Foul Weather Travel

As I write this, much of the United States is experiencing some form of nasty weather. In some places it's snow or freezing rain, in others it heavy rain, and some locations are being whipped by strong winds. To my friends in Florida and Hawaii, all I can say is that this post won't apply to you — you lucky dogs.

But for the rest of us, we're entering an early cold season, thanks to La Nina. Areas of the country that normally have mild winters are already seeing abnormal cold temperatures and snow. Central Montana today is 45 degrees below normal!

On top of that, we are sneaking up on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when many of us will be traveling to join with family and friends to enjoy some time together. Bad weather and travel can spell trouble, so this is a time for us to prepare our vehicles and ourselves for the possibility of difficult travel conditions. Here are some suggestions:
  • Be willing to cancel the trip. I know this sounds extreme, and goes against the grain — especially for most men (I don't mean to sound sexist, but this is simply the truth). We guys tend to think we can plow ahead and overcome everything, and the hormonal inability to pull the plug on a trip can lead to disaster. It's best to deal with reality, have compassion on your passengers, and exercise wisdom — even if it means canceling the trip. 
  • If you decide to travel, wear appropriate clothing. That means footwear that you can comfortably walk a few miles in, through snow or slush. It means weather-appropriate layers made of fabrics that will turn the wind and rain, won't absorb moisture from outside, will breathe, and will wick away from your skin the moisture you create by exertion. Headgear and gloves (or mittens) should be an integral part of your wardrobe considerations. This doesn't mean you have to dress in all that clothing while driving, but at least have it in the vehicle with you so you can use it if necessary. 
  • Make sure the vehicle is up to the trip. If traction is likely to be an issue, four-wheel-drive is best, front-wheel-drive is second best, and rear-wheel-drive is least favorable. A 2x4 truck with an empty cargo bed is worst of all, insofar as losing traction is concerned. Good tires help a lot. In snow and ice country, studded snow tires or chains will work wonders. If you're carrying chains, make sure you know how to install them. When I say know how, I mean actually do it a few times, not just read the instructions. 
  • Carry specialized items of equipment such as a shovel, ice scraper, snow brush, bags of sand for traction aid, and winter windshield washer fluid. Carry a cell phone and charger. I carry a SPOT Satellite Messenger, in case we get into real trouble and need to call for rescue. 
  • Keep the gas tank topped up. 
  • Do not be tempted to take shortcuts. Stick to main routes of travel, because that's where help will be when you need it. 
  • Take a supply of food and water, and a sleeping bag or blanket for each person. Have several methods of starting a fire — Bic lighter, storm-proof matches, flint 'n steel striker,  and some prepared tinder material. There have been cases where folks have had to survive for many days off the beaten path before rescue arrived. The ability to stay alive might depend on what you are carrying in the vehicle and your ability to start a fire, both for the warmth and for signaling. 

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