How to Survive in a Snowstorm

By Karen

1322954 snowy road 1 How to Survive in a Snowstorm

Image courtesy stock.xchng user ColinBroug

Anyone who has ever witnessed a snowstorm knows they can be some of the most brutal storms mother nature has to offer. With that said, becoming stranded outdoors or in your vehicle during a snowstorm can be an incredibly scary and dangerous experience. You must take the proper steps if you want to make it out alive. If you ever happen to be caught in a snowstorm, the following tips will help you survive.

1. Try to Be Prepared At All Times

Whether you are planning a winter hiking excursion or are simply driving to work in the winter, you should always be prepared in case a snowstorm hits. If you are outdoors and away from your car, it is very important to take some things with you. Pack a blanket, water, a charged cell phone, flashlights, first aid supplies, matches, and some snacks. You should also make sure you are dressed appropriately. If you are traveling in your car, make sure you also have a fully-stocked emergency kit in your trunk. Warm blankets, a shovel, snow boots, tire chains, a first aid kit, matches, and flashlights are items that should have a permanent home in your vehicle’s trunk during the winter months.

2. Watch the Weather Report

Before you set off to go anywhere in the winter, you should watch the weather report. Although meteorologists are not always right and snowstorms can pop up out of nowhere, it is still a good idea to watch the upcoming forecast so you have an idea of what is in store.

3. If You Are Outdoors, Try to Find Shelter Immediately

Because snowstorms can happen quickly, it is easy to see how people get caught outdoors in them. If this happens to you, you need to locate some type of shelter as soon as possible. Get out of the wind and try to find an area surrounded by brush or trees. Since thick tree coverage can often block snow from accumulating, you may want to locate a spot underneath some substantial trees. Be prepared to build yourself a snow fort if there is no other shelter nearby. As long as you are out of the direct wind, deep snow can act as an insulator and actually save your life.

4. If You Are in Your Vehicle, Stay There

If you become stranded in your vehicle during a snowstorm, it is extremely important to stay there. Do not attempt to walk away from your vehicle, as you may get lost and end up in much more trouble. Also, do not leave your car running at all times. This will consume all of your gas and can also cause dangerous carbon monoxide fumes to enter your vehicle, especially if the exhaust pipe is covered by snow. It is a better idea to start your vehicle at intervals to save gas and reduce fumes. It is also recommended that you hang a brightly colored object or piece of material from the exterior of your car. This will make it more visible to others and can aid in a rescue.

5. Stay Hydrated

Regardless of where you are stranded, it is very important to stay hydrated. If you do not have access to any water, you may use snow as a last resort. Because the cold temperature of snow can facilitate dehydration and lower your body temperature, make sure you suck on it for a few seconds before swallowing it. This will raise the temperature and make it less of a danger.

6. Build a Fire

If you are stranded without a vehicle, chances are you are wet. This is extremely dangerous and will increase the likelihood of hypothermia and frostbite. If there is any way you can build a small fire, do it as soon as you can. A fire will create warmth and help to dry out your wet clothing. A fire will also allow you to heat snow if need be.

7. Stay Positive

Although being stranded in a snowstorm can be very scary, try to remain calm and stay positive. Stress will only make a situation like this worse. By keeping a level head, you should be able to make it out alive.

Now that you know some tips for surviving in a snowstorm, you should be prepared should you ever encounter one of these powerful storms. If possible, keep a fully charged cell phone with you at all times so you can call for help at the first sign of trouble.

Guest post from Payton Price. Payton writes for TermLifeInsurance.org.

Comments

  1. SageBrush Queen says:

    Good basic tips! Especially that important one to stay in your car if stranded and not wander away from that protection, although there are exceptions probably.

    I wanted to mention one critical piece of information about being stuck in your car:
    If you’re stuck in your car and are able to start it periodically, you must leave it running for at least a half hour at a time* – if you run it for only a few minutes at a time it will drain the battery after a day or so, as it doesn’t run long enough for the alternator to recharge what the ignition used to crank it. (Learned this in a non-fiction book about 2 young gals who took a wrong turn and were stranded for almost a week in winter – they drained the battery after a couple days. One had both feet amputated and the other lost several toes!! They might have done better trying to walk out after their battery died… ??)

    *Anyone have info on a minimum amount of time an engine should be run to avoid discharging the battery in a situation like this?

  2. This is the most probable “natural disaster” that we will face up here. Winter is different here than in other places I’ve lived due to the cold and the distance between people. Most of us that live here have bags in our cars. But there are those “It won’t happen to me” people here too.

  3. In GA, it’s ice storms that are the problem. I would have been stuck at my high school for several days (years ago) if my mom had not paid attention and come to get me at the first sign of white stuff coming from the sky (a strange occurrence here). Anyway, it took 6 hours of her driving and me pushing to get 14 miles home. I’m thankful she had experienced driving on icy patches prior to that experience – there were hundreds of people who didn’t make it home for days. We and the car made it home without a scratch.

  4. Thanks for the great article. Its a good reminder that emergencies occur when you least expect it – so be prepared. This way you can help others who aren’t.

    I learned the hard way about being properly prepared for blizzard conditions. Back in 1992, my best friend and I shared a house in Evergreen, Colorado. We went to Glenwood Springs just 3 hours away. We had a wonderful time! There was only a mild chance of snow the following day so we decided to leave in the morning – we should have left that night.

    The next morning, there were snow flurries in Glenwood Springs but by the time we crested the Rockies, we were in one of those freak Colorado spring blizzards. It was a whiteout and went from relaxing trip into a survival scenario. We tried to turn around but it was impossible.

    Luckily, I had deep cleats on my offroad tires on my 74 CJ7 Jeep. It took us almost 8 hours to go 140 miles to Evergreen. Denver is 157 miles. We didn’t dare stop and though we had some supplies, we learned quickly we did NOT have the right gear in the vehicle. Neither of us lost fingers or toes, and the old Jeep pulled us through.

    Now, I never go anywhere without survival gear in my vehicle. I have prepared back pack with food, fire, flares, tent, sleeping bag. My duffle bag is waterproof and carries my winter boots, bright colored down jacket, head and glove gear, mask, walking stick, and goggles.

    We were very lucky – and I hope others everywhere will consider carry geographic survival gear. My best friend now lives in Florida and most of her gear is waterproof and hurricane-oriented.

  5. Great post, good basic tips for surviving out in a snow storm. I think the most important lesson here is avoidance, or watching the weather and not going out in it unless absolutely necessary. That or having too much faith in your 4WD and thinking because you grew up in the north than no amount of snow can stop you from getting to where you need to go (mistake #1).

    Anyone ever watch the Survivorman episode where Les was stranded in a car for a week? Claustrophobia set in pretty quick, that and boredom.

    Anyways great post. I concur with point #1 in that one should always have some survival supplies in each vehicle, this can greatly reduce the amount of pain and suffering if stuck out in the cold for any period of time.

    PJ

  6. Alittle2late says:

    Just want to expand on point #3 a little. If its snowing hard enough for you to be stranded in it without a vehicle, going under the trees is not the best place to be. The snow that’s not on the ground is suspended above your head in the branches. Wet heavy snow breaks trees/ limbs rather quickly. Especially evergreens or any other tree with leaves on them. The branches from said trees make a great roof for your shelter though. The back side of a hill or in a ditch/ ravine is much safer and some of the walls are already there.
    Great post and good timing.

  7. Warmongerel says:

    SageBrush Queen,

    I’ve always heard that it takes 20 minutes of running the engine to recharge the battery.

    About 20 years ago a guy froze to death because his car ran off the road during a snowstorm in an inner-ring suburb (my hometown) of Minneapolis, MN. He had been missing for 3 months when they finally found his car in the spring.

    This was on a very busy road within a mile or so of the city limits of Minneapolis! In those three months hundreds of thousands of people (including myself) drove past and had no idea that there was a car there.

    So one mistake not to make is that, even if you live in a populated area, don’t think that you don’t need survival gear in your vehicle. It may or may not have helped that guy, but who knows?

  8. We go camping year round, including winter in the Rockies to test our gear and winter survival skills, and sometimes a surprise storm does happen. At least we are in a group of four or more and at least two well-equipt vehicles, with our plans and routes left behind with others at home.

    When it is below freezing or ‘zero’ outside, plus a wind chill, a snow cave can be a welcome warmth in comparison… inside it is slightly above freezing with combined body heat and a candle (make sure there is an air vent. Also digging at the base of an evergreen tree can provide some space for shelter.

    You should not ‘eat snow’ for hydration because it lowers your body temperature, but you can place some into your water bottle to help replace what little you do drink; also make sure it is a wide mouth bottle and keep the opening on the bottom so if ice does start to form it will form at the bottom (now on top where the ice forms) of the bottle leaving the opening still available to drink from. Keep the water bottle next to your body, inside your coat to help prevent the water from freezing.

    Clothing is also important, synthetics and wool are better than cotton, and layers work best so you can better regulate your body temperature during activities like digging, walking, making shelter, gathering wood…

    During the winter I always have gear in my truck, chains, extra water, blankets, tarp, rope, shovel, candles, alcohol stove with alcohol, a 1.5 liter pot all in addition to my EDC bag.

  9. Tactical G-Ma says:

    I lived a few years in the northern tier. People born and raised there are frequently in denial. Extreme cold and snow are maiming, even deadly if one doesn’t learn survival techniques and PRACTICE them.

  10. One thing to have in your car kit is a candle heater, which can often be used to store most of the kit. Take a #10 can or a large coffee can with a plastic snap on lid. In the can place several (I generally have 6 or more) votive style candles, and some matches in a water proof container or perhaps a butane lighter. Punch or drill a series of holes around the base of the can. You can also store other supplies in the can when not in use. When needed, dump out the contents, find a stable place to set the can, place 2 or more candles in the bottom of the can and light them. The can will keep the candles from setting the car on fire, and with the holes around the base, provide air flow to keep the candles burning. The heat from even a few candles cam significantly warm the vehicle. Make sure however to keep a lee side window cracked to provide enough oxygen.

  11. michael c says:

    I just replaced the battery in my car since the mechanic (that changed out my old tires for new) said the battery tested weak. I would say have the battery tested now before the “Michigan snow” hits.
    The other item I would have in my pack is a phone charger that plugs into the car lighter socket. My phone does not last long in the cold. Also; even if the battery won’t turn over the car – the phone charger will still work.

  12. We had a “snow storm” a couple of years back. There was over an inch on the ground and it stuck. You could tell the true Texans, they were crawling down the highway at 20mph with their flashers on singing White Christmas.

  13. Encourager says:

    Good, timely article. Thanks!