How To Not Die in Your Car on Christmas In A Blizzard

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Sat, December 21st, 2019

In a 2011 blizzard in Chicago, dozens of drivers became stranded in their vehicles on Lakeshore Drive.

Here is an important holiday story.

A young couple and their baby are traveling across the Sierra Nevada mountains in the middle of the winter when they take a wrong turn and end up on a snow-buried road. When they run out of food and water they are faced with a harrowing decision: Do we stay in the car and wait for help, or venture out into the frigid snow-filled world and seek help?

If you live in a cold climate, at some point you are invariably given the wintertime advice that shall you get stuck in your car in a snowstorm, stay in the car! “It’s easy to not realize how quickly snow is piling up outside,” states a Popular Science article, pointing out the perils of the situation pretty well. “Those enormous snow plows go by, they’re sweeping even more of it towards you. Pretty soon you can’t leave, and then you run out of gas, and before you know it you don’t have heat anymore. There’s no one going by on the road and thus no one to find you. You’re getting colder and sleepier and oops…now you’re dead.”

This may seem dramatic, but there are indeed a number of tragic snowstorm stories involving people who ventured out of their vehicles to find help yet only found death.

There is, for example, the case that occurred earlier this year in Kelo, South Dakota, where a man perished after walking away from his stuck vehicle in a blizzard. According to a local TV station, “The outside temperature was -9 with wind chill temperatures as low as -40 at the time with blowing snow and limited to no visibility.” A deputy, who had to walk a half-mile through deep snow, found the man was having difficulty breathing and extremely cold. A fire department had to plow a path through the snow so an ambulance could reach him. The man was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Then there is the story from last year in Kansas. A 37-year-old woman attempting to drive through a blizzard called her boss to stay she would be late for work. But she never showed up at all. The following day authorities found her car in a snowy ditch. The vehicle was surrounded by drifting snow and there were no footprints, read a local news story. “The sheriff’s department said she is believed to have left her vehicle after it got stuck and walked off in an unknown direction,” the article reports. Eventually, her body was found in a field, three miles from her car.

But the golden advice of “Stay with your vehicle” can be dangerous too. One issue is that when your car is stuck on the side of the road in a snowstorm, whether you are on an urban street or major highway, there is the distinct possibility that a plow may pass and bury your car in snow. This also buries the tailpipe, which means the deadly carbon monoxide typically emitted out the rear of your car and into the atmosphere will back up into your vehicle. With no windows open, this seemingly innocuous gas can flood your car to lethal levels. A simulation by New York City area firefighters showed that within a minute carbon monoxide levels can soar to 127 parts per million, well past the 9 parts per million which is considered unhealthy. And within seven minutes carbon monoxide levels can reach a whopping 1,200 parts per million. Apparently, a version of this horrible scenario is exactly what happened during a blizzard in New York City in January 2016.

A Brooklyn man had gone out to shovel snow and at some point gone inside his car. When the snowplow came by it buried his car in snow and trapped the man inside. His son went looking for him and saw his lifeless form in the vehicle and frantically tried to dig out the car. According to a local news article, the son explained that, “When I opened the door, he was cold and stiff, and his hand was curled up on the door handle like he was trying to get out.”

There is some good advice out there on how to avoid wintertime car catastrophes. One way is by stocking your vehicle with appropriate provisions. A CBS article recommends, “Water, a battery-powered crank radio, blankets, pillows, extra warm clothing, non-perishable food and snacks, water, flashlight with spare batteries, a few doses of any essential prescription medications, a first aid kit, hand-warmers, whistle, snow shovel, ice scraper and jumper cables.”

The article made another good suggestion this blogger was not aware of, “Be visible. If you’re stuck in the snow, tie something brightly colored onto your antenna. This is a common way to signal that you need help. You can also blow that whistle from your emergency kit.” And of course, check your tailpipe to ensure it is free from obstruction to avoid the potential for lethal carbon monoxide buildup in your vehicle. “Share body heat,” the article also advises. “If you’re in the car with other passengers, huddle together to keep warm.”

A site called TheSurvivalMom.com has a lengthy blog post on “How To Survive a Blizzard in Your Vehicle” that offers a few other important points. “If you have glow sticks, put one on both your front and back windows,” the article states. “A mylar blanket stretched over the roof of your car and secured on by sides by the car doors will make a giant reflector for anyone flying overhead.” Another essential item, the post states: “Heat warmers.”

SurvivalMoms also notes the importance of positive thinking in any disaster situation. “The longer you are stuck in your vehicle, the easier it becomes to get demotivated, thinking help will never come,” the post reads. “It is vital that you keep a positive mental attitude. This one thing will strengthen your will to live. Stay focused on the positive things you need to do to promote your rescue and your survival. Attitude is everything in survival.”

Even Toyota has a page on winter car survival. “Imagine you get stuck in a whiteout snowstorm and can’t drive any further,” the page reads. The site suggests a few new items for the survival kit: “Sand or cat litter for emergency traction. Wool blanket in case of getting stuck, this helps with freezing temperatures. Extra boots if you are wearing inappropriate footgear, your feet could freeze. Extra gloves, hat, scarf in case of being stuck in freezing weather.” At which point I think it might be safe to say that you may be prepared for anything Old Man or Old Woman Winter can chuck at you, but there may well be no room left for anything else in your car, including your passengers.

Which brings us back to the young couple and their baby traveling across the Sierra Nevada mountains. Stuck in the car with no food or power they do the dangerous thing and venture out. The father heads off in search of help and the mother and the baby huddle together in an icy cave for a period of days. It is an astonishing story, with a happy ending. Miraculously, everyone survives, and there is now a TV show that traces the details of the incident.

Have a wonderful Holiday and a Happy New Year everyone! And please travel safely~~*

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