Just as folks are getting ready to travel for the holidays, a severe winter storm is bearing down on many areas of the U.S. And that could result in people being stranded on the road, dealing with the snow and bone-chilling temperatures for hours on end — a potentially life-threatening situation.
Safety professionals and others say there are ways to protect yourself against such situations. Obviously, the best advice is to avoid traveling during severe weather if you can. But if you must get in your car, keep these six tips in mind.
Let someone know you’re traveling — and where you’re headed
This is one of the surest ways to protect yourself in case you do get stuck. And be specific with your contact — as in let them know the exact route you’ll be taking. “If something happens, this person will know where to start a search,” the National Weather Service says.
Always leave with a full tank in these kinds of wintry conditions. “Depending on how long you are stranded, you may need to run your engine to keep your battery charged and heating system functional in your vehicle,” says auto-accident attorney Steven M. Gursten.
Pack an emergency kit
You’ll need a variety of supplies and essentials to safeguard yourself if you’re stranded (it’s good to plan for up to a 72-hour emergency). Among the items commonly suggested: blankets or sleeping bags, non-perishable food, water, any prescription medications you take, a flashlight (make sure you have extra batteries), hand and foot warmers, phone charger, jumper cables, ice scraper, and whistles, flares or bright items (say, a red bandanna) to help guide authorities to your location. Also, if you’re traveling with pets or children, make sure you have any special items they would need.
And don’t forget the cat litter
And do so even if you’re not traveling with a cat. The litter serves an entirely different purpose in an emergency — it can provide traction to get out of an icy situation. And while you’re at it, have a portable snow shovel on hand should you need to dig out. It’s also important to keep the car’s exhaust pipe clear of snow, ice or mud to guard against carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Have warm clothes with you
It may seem the most obvious advice, but it’s crucial to bear in mind even for those who may be commuting to a job or heading out for a quick errand — the tendency is to dress lightly with the assumption you’ll be in and out of your car quickly. But that could get you in serious trouble. “Keep extra layers in your car,” advises former Navy SEAL Harding Bush, who’s manager of operations at Global Rescue, a provider of travel-risk management services “It doesn’t take much to throw a parka, wool hat, warm waterproof mittens and winter boots in the back seat or trunk.”
Conserve your resources
Keep the car’s engine and heater going only for short periods so that you can limit the chill in the car without running out of fuel too quickly. Similarly, don’t drain your cellphone watching videos or listening to music — you’ll want to use the phone only to call for help or communicate briefly with friends and family.