Most places are at risk of a blizzard during the winter and it can be dangerous when traveling. A blizzard isn’t necessarily a lot of snow but rather a severe snowstorm with high winds and low visibility, which definitely affects people’s ability to drive safely. Often, this also comes with ice, sleet, and freezing rain.
Understand a Blizzard Warning vs. Watch
The first step in being prepared for a blizzard is to keep an eye or ear out for blizzard warnings and watches. A blizzard watch is usually a notification 1-4 days before it will happen whereas a blizzard warning means it is going to happen soon that day or imminent. A warning also means that there is a threat to life or property and can reduce visibility to less than ¼ mile for three or more hours. A winter weather advisory would be more imminent than a warning.
Preparing Your Car for a Blizzard
Supply-wise, having your car stocked for an emergency will help you survive bad weather and keep you more comfortable. As far as basic supplies go, keep these tools in your car:
- Ice Breaker
- Windshield Ice Scraper
- Tow Rope
- Sand or Kitty Litter
- Gas Container
- Charged Cell Phone
Depending on your location, you could be stranded for days. For personal emergency supplies, keep these in your car:
- Food (crackers, granola bars, canned foods, apple sauce, fruit cups, hot cocoa, coffee, juice box, cereal, etc.)
- First Aid
- Flashlights & Batteries
- Pet Supplies (Food, Water, Blanket)
- Extra Clothes
- Cellphone Charger
- Important Medication
If you need to charge your cell phone, only do it when your car is running, otherwise it drains the battery.
Winter Car Maintenance
Just as important as having the right supplies in your car, make sure your car is up-to-date on car maintenance like oil changes. Get a winter tune-up and inspection so that you are less likely to break down. Your local auto repair shop should be able to check your tires and brakes, battery, and heater and advise of any recommended fixes. It is worth taking your car in for a checkup rather than the amount of heartache spent on the side of the road for something that was preventable.
Driving Safely in a Blizzard
First rule of a blizzard is only travel when necessary or in an emergency. If you do, keep your gas full and at minimum, at half a tank as much as possible. Carry extra gas in your car just in case.
Let a friend or relative know where you are going and your estimated time of arrival or return. When you are driving around, extend the 3-second rule of staying 3 seconds behind the car in front of you to 6 seconds so you have enough spaces and time to slow down or stop in slippery conditions. Avoid overpasses as they are more susceptible to ice and take turns slowly so you don’t flip your car or spin out.
If You Are Stranded
If you happen to get stuck and can easily dig snow away from your car to get out, then do so. However, if it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to get your car out, don’t spin your tires trying to get out as that wears down your transmission and gas. Instead, stay in the vehicle and contact your local emergency line or 911 if you don’t know what it is for help. They will advise you what to do or if they are able to get to you.
Then do the following:
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to your antennae or door to notify emergency vehicles
- Raise the hood when it stops snowing so people can see you need help
- Run the engine for 10 minutes each hour
- Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked
- Crack the windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
- Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite, especially if you are feeling disoriented
- Drink some water every half hour and have a snack every hour for energy and heat
- Exercise to keep warm and keep your blood flowing
Try not to panic and stay warm as you wait for help. They will get to you eventually and it’s not worth risking your life walking somewhere unless you know there is a dry shelter very close by.