Before I talk about winter road emergencies, I’d like to tell you a little story that will probably raise the hairs on your neck, even if you’re sitting in front of a fire.
I don’t know how many of you know how crazy I am, but the answer to that is: pretty.
I’ve settled down somewhat since I was younger, and sometimes when I look back on things I did and chances I took, I shudder and thank God that I’m still alive.
For a time in the late 60s I lived in Boulder, Colorado. Those were the days of hippies hanging out on The Hill asking for spare change, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. (Come to think of it, it hasn’t changed that much, and now weed is legal. Far out, man!)
The best part to me, though, was all the live music. There were many clubs that had fantastic cover bands that played the hits of the day – Stones, Cream, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. The Beatles released the White Album during this time. I spent my evenings listening to music and dancing, while hanging out with friends. It was a great time for music.
I had some friends in a band called Baby Blue (weird name for a band I know; they never got famous). They had gotten a gig in Grand Junction, and on a wild hair, I decided to go and see them. On Friday night after work, my 19-year-old self set out in my trusty rear-wheel-drive 1962 Chevy Nova. Of course I didn’t check the weather. By the time I was on I-70 and heading up into the mountains, it had started to snow.
I had no snow tires, no chains, and nothing in the way of emergency supplies except a spare and a jack. There wasn’t a lot of traffic (most people were smarter than me), but there were semis laboring up the road in the snow, which were fully snow-packed by this time. Snow was still coming down like mad, and nary a snow plow was in site.
For those of you who have been skiing in Colorado, this was before the completion of I-70. No Eisenhower Tunnel. No four-lane highway, just two little lanes and a guardrail going over Loveland Pass.
There was a car in front of me who was passing semis going uphill. I thought, ‘If that car did it, I can, too.’ I guess that God had plans for me that didn’t involve crashing head on with another car and spinning off the road and down the mountainside.
Somehow I made it over Loveland Pass to Grand Junction in one piece.
You May Have No Plans to Drive Into a Mountain Snowstorm, But …
Do you remember the 2014 Atlanta snowstorm? Hey, Atlanta is in the south – peaches, mint juleps, boiled peanuts. And for crying out loud, there wasn’t that much snow! The snow began as flurries about noon. When it started to ice over a short time later, many businesses, government offices, and schools shut down early. Cars soon packed the freeways, and in one hour traffic went from 20 mph to a standstill.
A mere two inches of snow paralyzed the city. With cars parked end-to-end on the roads, plow trucks couldn’t get through with salt and sand. Thousands of people, some only a couple of miles from home, were stranded in their cars overnight. Life is crazy. Who could have predicted something like this would happen?
If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another Thing
Road emergencies are inevitable. If you drive at all, at some point in time you will be faced with a roadside emergency. A flat tire, a broken fan belt, a leaking radiator, or a dead battery are just a few of the common occurrences we can expect when we travel. No one can predict when they’ll have an emergency along the road. The best we can do is to be prepared at all times.
Having a minor emergency, such as a flat tire in the middle of the day when you have a cell phone handy and a friendly neighborhood mechanic on the way, is one thing. Having a major emergency, such as the same flat tire in the middle of the night in a blizzard with no cell phone service, well, that’s the sort of winter road emergency you want to be prepared for.
Here is what you do before the winter storms visit your area. Remember, that if you live in or traveling to an area that has snow, sleet, or freezing rain, be prepared to be safe.
Make Sure Your Car is Ready for Winter Road Emergencies
If you don’t know how to make sure your car is winterized, take your car to a mechanic check the following:
- Ensure that the antifreeze level is sufficient to avoid freezing.
- The battery and ignition system should be in top condition.
- Make sure the battery terminals are clean.
- Have the brakes checked for wear and proper fluid level.
- Be sure your exhaust system has no leaks or crimps. If you end up sheltering in your car, you don’t want to die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Never let your gas gauge fall below half full, and use a fuel additive to your tank to keep out water. A full tank of gas will keep the fuel line from freezing.
- Replace your air filter.
- Make sure your heater and defroster are working properly.
- Exterior lights and hazard lights should all be functional.
- Check the oil level and consider using a lighter motor oil during the weather, as it doesn’t congeal so easily at low temperatures.
- Your thermostat should be working.
- Replace windshield wipers, if necessary, and top off your windshield washer level.
- All-weather radial tires are sufficient for most winter weather, but be sure they have adequate treat. If you live or travel in areas with lots of snow, you may need snow tires or studded snow tires, and chains maybe required.
Let People Know When and Where You Are Going
I’m pretty sure that no one knew that I was headed to Grand Junction that night – not my parents or friends. If I had gone down the side of a mountain, it probably have been a day or two before emergency crews could even get me out, assuming anyone saw me disappear. If I’d lived through the crash, I didn’t have any supplies to sustain me until help arrived.
If you are traveling out of your home area, be sure to let someone know of your destination and itinerary. Report in when you reach milestones in your journey, call in to report. That way, if you don’t call in your friend and family member will know that something may be wrong and can contact authorities.
Get Two Emergency Kits Ready
Another way to prepare for winter road emergencies is to prepare a couple of kits for your car. One should have items the are permanently in your car for road emergencies, such as a spare tire, jack, etc. The other should be personal items that you grab before leaving home.
When preparing your kits, try to imagine if you were stranded and couldn’t get home for hours. Remember, you will be without heat, electricity, or other comforts of home. What would you want in your car if that were the case? Even a minor roadside emergency can be difficult. And, even a short trip across town could leave you stranded if something happens to your car. Prepare the best you can for these situations so you can return home safe and sound.
What to Do If You’re Trapped in Your Car
If you find yourself trapped in your car due to a blizzard or car trouble, here is what you need to do:
- Pull off the highway and turn on your hazard lights.
- Set out reflective triangles and hang your reflective distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
- Stay in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
- Distances can be distorted by blowing snow so take care. Even though a building appears to be close, it may be too far to reach when you are walking in deep snow.
- Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
- Check your exhaust pipe to make sure it is clear of snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Move around some while sitting in your car to maintain body heat. March your feet, do bicep curls, etc., but don’t work so hard that you start to sweat.
- You can use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation if it is extremely cold.
- Cuddle up with the people in your car and use your coat for a blanket.
- Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
- Eat and drink small amounts regularly. Stay hydrated.
- Don’t run down your battery. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat, and radio – with battery supply.
- Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.
- If you are stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS. If you can find them, line the letters with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane. Check occasionally to see if they can still be seen or have been covered with snow.
- If you can’t get your car going by yourself, leave the car on foot only when the blizzard has passed.
In order to help you to be safe on the road this winter, I have prepared a package of three handy PDF documents that will help you: Preparing Your Car for Winter, Preparing Your Car for Winter Checklist, and What to Do in a Winter Weather Road Emergency. These can be downloaded and used to get your car winterized, get your kits ready, and to have in your glove box in case the worst happens – all for a mere 99 cents! Get them HERE.
Do you have a winter weather story where you were unprepared and scared or where preparation saved your life? Please let us know about it by leaving a comment below and please share this with your friends.
Don’t be scared … be prepared,