Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stranded and Snowbound In A Vehicle

What do you do if you end up stranded in a vehicle that is trapped by snow?

First, try the cell phone or CB radio, if you have one. The earlier you can make contact with the outside world, the faster you’re going to get rescued. Do whatever you can to make your vehicle visible to other drivers, and to let them know you’re in trouble. Turn on the emergency flashers. Tie a colorful bit of cloth to the radio antenna. But don’t stand outside waving your arms and screaming into the wind — you’ll only put your own survival at risk.

Stay in the vehicle and take steps to prevent cold weather injuries like hypothermia and frostbite. Stay dry, do everything you can to prevent heat loss from your body. Dress warmly. Crawl in a sleeping bag. Cover your head. Drink plenty of water, and stoke up the inner fires by eating high-energy foods. Do mild exercise to warm your body.

Running the vehicle engine to operate the heater is tempting, but futile, and potentially dangerous. The futility is because it takes a long time for an idling engine to warm up enough to provide heat through the vehicle's heater system, and as soon as you turn off the engine, the interior gets cold almost immediately because of the lack of insulation. The danger part of it is due to the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning from the engine exhaust. If you’re stranded for very long you’re going to run out of gas anyway, so work on other ways to stay warm.

Every once in a while, crack the window open a little, so you don’t breathe down all the oxygen and end up suffering from oxygen depletion.

Here’s a basic list of items you should carry in your vehicle when traveling during winter weather.

  • Cell phone and a phone battery charger that will work through your vehicle’s cigarette lighter, so you don’t end up with a dead phone battery when you’re trying to call for help.
  • GPS — by using the GPS and cell phone, you might be able to contact authorities and tell them exactly where you are stranded.
  • Even better is a SPOT Satellite Messenger ( or a personal locator beacon (PLB). With one press of a button, you summon emergency rescue teams to your GPS coordinates.
  • Sleeping bags or blankets for everyone in the vehicle. Add a reflective emergency blanket for each person, because the reflective mylar will help preserve body heat that otherwise would be lost.
  • Chemical hand warmers. When activated, these provide several hours of warmth. These are one-time-use items, but the good news is that they’re inexpensive to buy.
  • A thermos bottle full of hot water, hot coffee, hot tea, or hot soup for each person in the vehicle. Prepare this just before leaving the house to drive through winter weather conditions.
  • Water to drink. Dehydration contributes to hypothermia, so make sure everyone has water to drink.
  • High energy food bars, to help stoke the inner fire.
  • A windshield ice scraper and brush, so you can remove snow from the hood and emergency flashers of the vehicle and make it more visible to rescuers.
So if you find yourself stranded and snowbound in your vehicle, try to make contact with the outside world. Then do your best to stay dry, stay warm, stay hydrated and fed. Then stay put, the rescue will come.

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