You’re driving home from work during a blizzard and that semi-plowed road you were on suddenly disappears in a spray of snow. Whiteout! By the time it clears enough for you to see again you’re in the ditch – a small ravine really – stuck and wondering how you’re going to get out. The wind outside is blowing at a sustained 35 miles per hour and the snow is falling at three inches an hour. You hear a plow truck go by above you and when it doesn’t stop you know that any sign of your going off the road has just been covered. Your cell phone isn’t getting reception down in the small ravine you’re in, so you decide to step outside and see if you can climb high enough to get a signal.
The cold wind takes your breath away when you open the door, but you clutch your cell phone tightly and and struggle out into the thigh deep snow. You’ve been at the office and your thin dress pants are soon wet, cold and clinging tightly to your legs. Your sporty jacket is decent, but the thin driving gloves you’re wearing are useless against mother nature’s brutal onslaught. You pull up the hood on your jacket and start up the hill, but soon realize there’s no way you can climb it in this weather. You decide to skirt along the base until you find a spot you can climb. Fifteen minutes later you realize you’ve made a horrible mistake and turn back towards the car, but then you realize you’re not sure what direction you came from. You’ve walked through thick brush and the snow is rapidly erasing all traces of your passage.
If you live in a snowy environment this could happen to you someday – unless you take precautions.
Blizzard of 2017
I was thinking about this yesterday as I was out in the “Blizzard of 2017” here in Maine plowing some friends out. I didn’t have to go far, maybe six miles one way, but I live in a rural area and if I’d gone off the road, it could have meant big trouble for me. I pulled my plow truck out onto the road and saw that it had been at least an hour or two since it had been plowed and there was at least four inches of snow with higher drifts in places. This might not sound like much if you’ve never driven in snow, but I assure you it’s a great recipe for disaster. Just because you have four wheel drive and a plow doesn’t mean you should go out into a blizzard if you don’t have to.
At one point, my truck started drifting off the road on a long stretch of nothing and I’ve got to admit my heart was in my throat for a few seconds until I wrestled it back onto the straightaway. I cursed myself for being stupid, but stubbornly drove on until I got to my friends house. You’re supposed to “plow with the storm” which means about every four to six inches you get out and plow if possible because when you have to push two feet of snow around it’s super hard on your truck. But then again, getting stuck in a ditch and dying is hard on the driver, so I said screw it and after I plowed him out I went home and stayed there until the storm was over.
After a few hours of being home, I got restless, so I gathered up my son and we went into the woods to check on my tipi. The wind was blowing pretty good and probably sixteen inches or more of snow had fallen by that point. (I think we would up with around 30 inches of snow for that storm.) We didn’t have too far to go and I know those woods like the back of my hand, so I didn’t feel like there was any real danger. I put on my pack and snowshoes and we walked out there with minimal difficulty, but in my head I put the scenario above together using the current conditions. It wasn’t that much of a stretch, believe me!
I’ve read stories of people who got stuck and decided to walk for help and didn’t make it. In order to solve this problem let’s go back to our Survival Rule of Three’s.
Yes, you’ve probably seen these before, but these are the basics and I think everybody should know them. (My seven year old can recite them by heart now.)
- You can survive three hours without shelter (in bad weather)
- You can survive three days without water
- You can survive three weeks without food
As you can see from the order above the first thing you should do is seek shelter, so if you’re in a frigging blizzard does it make sense to walk away from the one source of shelter that you arrived there in? No! Stay with your vehicle, at least until the storm has passed. This is the biggest mistake people make and I’ve always wondered why they do it. The only things I can come up with are panic and/or desperation. Trust me, if the snow is still falling stay with your vehicle.
I thought about my situation and about what I did wrong and what I did right. What I did wrong was to leave my driveway in a blizzard in the first place. I didn’t really have to go out, but I did. That was pretty stupid, but at least I learned from it. I also didn’t have my survival gear with me. Big red X on that one, folks. I have a big silver toolbox on the back of my truck that holds tools, various junk, and my survival kit. I took it out a few weeks ago so I could carry my snowmobile to Greenville for a riding trip with the boys, but I haven’t put it back on yet. Oops. What I did right: I was extremely well dressed for the situation and I had a wool blanket in the back of the truck. I also made sure I had a full tank of gas and my cell phone. Unlike the scenario above it worked, but they actually pulled the snowplows off the road for awhile, so I’d have been stuck good if I’d gone off the road. I could have survived the storm, but it was not a good idea to venture out when I did.
From my experience as a winter camper, mountaineer, ice climber, snowmobiler, and snowshoer, here’s a list of things that will keep you alive:
- Don’t go out if you don’t have to. Seriously folks, if you underestimate Mother Nature, she will kill you.
- Carry a sleeping bag rated for cold weather in your vehicle.
- If you’re not wearing winter clothes have some in your car or truck. These consist of:
- Winter boots
- Snow pants
- Good gloves
- Warm coat
- Snow goggles or glacier glasses
- Thick wool socks
- Water or a way to melt water. If you’re in a blizzard there’s plenty of snow to melt. Trust me.
- Alcohol or other small stove
- Small pot
- Weather radio – it’s good to know what to expect
- Only run your vehicle in short bursts to stay warm. Also – make sure that the area around your exhaust pipe is clear of snow. Getting a car full of carbon monoxide will kill you faster than the blizzard.
- Energy bars or some kind of food that doesn’t require cooking or heating. GORP would work well here.
- Cell phone and charger. If you’re stuck in a blizzard you can at least make people aware that you’re in trouble.
- Something to do. A book, game, or something to keep yourself occupied. Sitting in a car for hours and hours is boring.
So there’s a few ideas to keep you alive if you get stuck in a blizzard.
Again, the best advice I can give you is that if you know there’s a big storm coming stay home. It’s better to miss a day’s pay or that meeting than to die in a blizzard! How about it? What do you keep in your vehicle for emergencies? Questions? Comments? Sound off below!