How to Survive a Winter Night in Your Car
Winter storms can be unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous — especially if you’re driving. Before you hit the road this winter, here are a few tips on how to prepare for inclement weather and what to do if you need to survive a night in your car.
Know the Risk
In general, it’s best to stay off the road when severe winter weather is predicted. It may sound harrowing, but about 70 percent of winter weather-related injuries occur in an automobile, and about 25 percent of injuries happen to people caught out in a storm, National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) reports. According to Ready.gov, the cold of a winter storm can increase the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. Combating the rain, snow, wind and ice could lead to overexertion from shoveling snow and car accidents due to dangerous driving conditions.
In addition to paying attention to weather reports on TV, radio and the internet, Ready.gov suggests making sure your cellphone is set up to receive wireless emergency alerts. Weather alerts, which are part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, are similar to text messages and notify you of serious weather conditions and recommended actions. You can also tune into your local NOAA Weather Radio station for continuous weather broadcasts, official watches, warnings and more.
It’s generally a good idea to winterize your car every year before winter weather rolls around. A tune up, properly inflated tires, new windshield wiper blades and topped-off fluids may help prepare your car for the lower temperatures and help it better handle inclement weather. And it’s a good idea to keep a fully stocked winter emergency kit in your car, just in case. Some items to include are:
- First aid kit
- Essential medications
- Flares or reflectors to signal for help and warn other drivers
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Cellphone and portable charger
- Jumper cables
- Snow and ice scraper
- Snow brush
- Survival blanket or sleeping bag
- Tire chains and/or tow straps
- Extra set of winter clothes
- Snow shovel
- Non-clumping kitty litter or sand for traction
However, an emergency kit and winterizing your vehicle don’t guarantee safety in a storm. If your area is under a winter storm warning, it is best to stay off the road. If you’re already on the road, seek shelter right away if inclement weather is approaching and driving conditions are expected to be hazardous. You may also want to share information about your trip before you leave. Tell a friend or family member your destination, your planned route and when you expect to arrive, recommends the American Red Cross. That way, if your vehicle gets stuck, they will know where to tell the authorities to send help.
If You Become Stranded
If you’re stuck in your car and immobile, you’ll typically have a better chance of being found if you remain with your car — which may also provide the best shelter from the elements. Here are some important tips to help you survive the night.
Call for Help
Even if you’re unsure if the situation is a true emergency, 911.gov recommends dialing 911.
Stay in Your Vehicle
After you’ve called for help, stay in your vehicle and wait, says the Red Cross. Do not leave the car, as blowing snow may cause you to become disoriented and lost.
Make Your Car as Visible as Possible
While you wait for help or wait out the storm, the American Red Cross suggests signaling that you need help. For example, raise the hood after the snow stops falling or, if you have a radio antenna, add a piece of colored fabric, preferably red, to it. Weather.com recommends turning on your hazard lights, and you may also want to set out reflectors from your emergency kit.
Concentrate on Keeping Warm
Inside the car, do light exercises — such as moving your arms and legs, and clapping your hands — to maintain circulation. If another person is in the car with you, huddle for warmth. Use extra layers, such as removable floor mats or even a paper map, to help trap more body heat, the American Red Cross advises.
You can also run the engine for about 10 minutes every house to keep warm, says the Red Cross. Only run the engine for short amounts of time and ensure that the exhaust pipe is clear of snow to help reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
This will help you avoid dehydration, which makes you more susceptible to the potential health hazards of cold weather, according to the American Red Cross. The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends keeping a gallon of water in your vehicle.
Hopefully you stay safe and warm during a winter storm, but it’s always a good idea to be ready, just in case. With these tips, you can better prepare for handling a winter storm and surviving a cold night in your car.
Originally published on November 3, 2016.