Surviving a Night in a Snowdrift: Keeping Warm and Safe in the Car

Living in a snow-prone state means expecting the unexpected when it comes to winter weather woes. Nobody sets out on a journey fully expecting to encounter conditions so treacherous that they end up stranded in their car for the night, but it happens. That’s why preparing ahead of time can be lifesaving in the face of a scary incident that pits you against the elements for a sustained period.

Just ask highway drivers in Colorado who were stranded due to hail, snow, and tornadoes outside of Denver in early 2016. Many motorists had to abandon their vehicles on the shoulder of the highway when it became impassable. According to NBC, around 200 people were stuck on I-70, with some people having to spend over eight hours inside their vehicles.

There are a few measures that everyone can take to handle the risks associated with winter driving in a state that’s known for unpredictability. In a situation like this, having the right car insurance for Colorado would be an important long-term protective measure, while recalling crucial protocol during a disaster would be important for short-term survival.

Prepare an Emergency Kit

Wearing a coat and hoping for the best isn’t enough. You’ll want to prepare an emergency kit well in advance, which also gives you plenty of time to shop around and familiarize yourself with your equipment. Make sure the kit is somewhere in the cabin of your vehicle in case you can’t open your trunk. Ready Wisconsin recommends the following items to start your stash:

  • Blankets or sleeping bags

  • Extra warm clothes for everyone

  • Flashlight and batteries

  • Basic first aid kit

  • Jumper cables

  • Battery jump starter pack

  • Windshield scraper

  • Small shovel

  • Non-perishable snacks

  • Plenty of water

  • Sand or kitty litter (for traction)

  • Cell phone adaptor

Do periodic research and compile all the items that you can imagine utilizing if you found yourself staying the night in your vehicle. Candles, matches, a handheld radio, reflective tape, roadside flares, and more can come in handy.

Stay Where You Are

If you go off the road or simply can’t battle the conditions anymore, you may feel nervous and unsure of what to do. Staying in your vehicle probably doesn’t sound all that tempting, but unless you can physically see a specific destination within 100 yards, sticking it out is the safer choice. As the Farmers’ Almanac points out, leaving your vehicle greatly increases your chances of facing frostbite and hypothermia. Call 911 and give them as many details as you possibly can rather than venturing out into the unknown.

Check the Exhaust Often    

Right off the bat, you’ll want to make sure that the exhaust pipe is clear to avoid the buildup of carbon monoxide inside the cabin. Turn the car on for about 10 minutes per hour to warm up, and make sure you check the tailpipe each time to ensure that it’s clear of snow. In addition to paying close attention to the exhaust system, suggests keeping your hazards on to attract attention and to prevent other vehicles from hitting yours.

Avoid These Behaviors

While it can be useful to attempt to free your vehicle by creating traction and digging out your tires, undertake these activities in moderation. Working up a sweat can feel good in the moment, but makes you colder down the line and renders the insulation of your clothes less useful. The Survival Doctor lists some key behaviors to avoid, like allowing yourself to get hungry, dehydrated, or wet. This source also cautions against pulling blood away from your core by rubbing your skin to warm it up. Sticking it out in your car is possible, but only if you stay alert, vigilant, and alive, and that involves prioritizing.

We hope you never find yourself in such an uncomfortable and dangerous situation, but knowing your plan of action and having the necessary supplies ahead of time makes all the difference. Surviving an extended period in your car in winter weather is a marathon, not a sprint, so hunker down and stay calm as you undertake necessary safety measures.