In the middle of winter, whether you live in the Rocky Mountains or even more so in northern Canada, you may be confronted with this white, cold, slippery or sometimes sticky powder… That would be snow 🙂
And it is also possible that at the height of a snowstorm, you find yourself stranded in your car.
Let’s say it’s not your day/week/month (cross out the irrelevant mentions) and that you are stuck on a lost road, in your car, for more time than expected…
What to do and especially what not to do?
In such a situation, your two main enemies are cold and thirst.
If you have thought of following our advice, you will have enough to cope with for a few hours, but as we always say, the gear is not everything, you still need to have the right reflexes.
Let’s start with the main subject: The car.
It must be well maintained and above all have fuel.
It may sound silly when you say it like that, but a car without fuel is nothing more than a badly insulated piece of junk.
The ideal, and not just in cold weather, is to always have at least half a tank in your car. I made it a principle. So, ok, we go to the pump more often… but believe me, it saved me several times and yet I don’t live in Alaska.
In general, if you are leaving for a long journey or for a destination where the weather forecast has announced a significant risk of heavy precipitation: Refuel before leaving and top up before arriving in the area.
A car with 55 litres of fuel will give you about 36-48 hours of continuous heating without driving (depending on the engine and the heating setting).
And when you know that in the worst conditions you can find yourself stuck until 72:00 a.m., that gives the body a little leeway to adapt and delay the management of hypothermia, which is our main adversary.
At first, turn on the engine every hour for 10 minutes, then if you feel that the battery is starting to show signs of weakness, leave the engine on, it would be stupid to freeze them when the tank is full but the battery is dead.
If it is still snowing, clear your exhaust pipe regularly to avoid suffocating the engine but also to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning which will not fail to return to the passenger compartment without your knowledge.
If you have little fuel left, run 2/3 times every 24 hours to prevent the fuel lines from freezing (and thus allow you to start again after the crisis has passed).
Avoid immediately clearing your windows and windshield of snow. It would potentially save the rescue time when they go around the cars… but it would be at the expense of insulation. And yes, snow is a much better insulator than glass (hence the igloos made of snow and not bay windows).
On the other hand, especially if your engine is off, if you have a coloured cloth (why not a red bandana) fix it in evidence (antenna) to signal your presence (especially if you are stuck off the highway, on a small mountain road for example).
Indeed, the emergency services favour people who have remained in the vehicles before expanding the search.
In case you are isolated in the mountains, in theory, you have wood nearby to make a fire (thanks to the snow kit and the EDC you naturally always have with you!) and to write a gigantic SOS in the snow for a helicopter rescue.
If you see help in the distance, but they don’t think you’re recognised, honk your horn (basic but worth remembering).
But let’s not go too fast: the men in red (or blue) are not there yet and your first fight is to keep the heat.
If you have survival blankets, so much the better, otherwise use what you have on hand: If you have newspapers, magazines in your car, maps in the glove box (small precision, it does not work with the GPS ….), crumple them and stuff them in your clothes. It is a very good insulator widely used by the homeless.
Protect your shoulder – neck – head triangle as a priority: it alone represents more than 35% of the total loss of heat from the human body.
If your seats are covered with a removable cover, remove them: it will make an extra layer and a very effective cape.
If one of the passengers is soaked, remove their damp clothing immediately. If he shows signs of hypothermia, use your body heat to warm his trunk first. Never warm up your arms or legs first, as this can cause heart failure. Then put the person in dry clothes or a blanket if you have one.
Use human warmth: whether you are alone or in pairs, switch to the back seat. Indeed, in addition to the fact that it is in one piece and avoids cold rises, it allows you to squeeze against each other. The ideal is to share the same blanket to unify the heat.
If you have tape or duct tape, caulk around doors and windows to limit losses. Leave only one usable to go out.
Once the heat management has been “managed”, you need to organize yourself for the water.
You need to drink about 10 cl of water per hour to avoid dehydration.
Either you have our famous car kit (yes, I repeat myself, but it proves to you how vital it can be) and you can manage part of it… or you have nothing.
You still have to drink snow but melt it before, because “eating” it will cool you down (yes snow is cold).
Ideally, put it in a container inside the passenger compartment; its impact on the ambient temperature will be negligible.
Small precision all the same: snow water has no taste and can be dangerous in the long term (the absence of minerals unbalances the body and ends up damaging vital organs). Over 48 hours, no major risk: this will avoid dehydration, but it will not quench your thirst (this is precisely due to the absence of minerals).
Banish alcohol and coffee, as the former dilates blood vessels which results in faster cooling and both disrupt kidney function with the key to accelerating dehydration.
If you choose to light a fire both to warm yourself and to melt the snow if you don’t have matches or a lighter, you can use the cigar lighter and as a last resort (really as a last resort) the cell phone battery; but I can’t advise you enough to keep it warm to alert the emergency services, warn your loved ones and follow the weather.
Moreover, cut it between each use to save battery. Agree on a fixed time with your loved ones to reach them if necessary.
Food is not really a problem, because the body can last almost three weeks without eating (but it will be hard, especially the first two days).
If you have little food, do not eat it all at once: distribute and eat in small quantities (this is better for morale and helps the body to better manage cravings).
“Chief, chief, I have to have a bowel movement! – There it is total improvisation: find a place that will ensure your dignity (it is not that it is more important than your survival, but this psychological aspect is sometimes stronger than logic) and do your best to not contaminate the snow that you would be able to drink.
That said, with dehydration, there is little risk that your terminal needs will be noticed too often.
A tip if it’s just urinary: relieve yourself in a bottle and use it as a hot water bottle.
The storm is calming… To leave or to stay?
The car radio should be tuned to the news channels, if possible local, to be able to assess your situation, its foreseeable duration and therefore the options available to you.
Theoretically and historically in our latitudes, no one has been stuck for more than 72 hours before help arrived.
And even if 24 hours stuck in a car, can be very long, it is better to stay in the shelter and wait for reinforcements.
Only consider leaving the car if the storm is over, the situation means that help may take a long time to come, and only if homes are within reasonable reach.
Do not plan to walk 10 km in the snow without adequate clothing.
If you have to walk in the snow, protect your feet, because once soaked, frostbite is guaranteed with loss of motor skills, sensitivity and fairly quickly loss of toes or even of the foot.
But before that, you will probably have found yourself dressed as a snowman in the middle of the Pampas.
If necessary, strip the covers of your seats and tape them, tighten them with electrical cables to make boots.
And so that the emergency services can spot you quickly, don’t forget to put on your yellow safety vests.
This article is not exhaustive of situations and cases, but is intended as a simple awakening to the main issues.
For the rest, as always, you will have to adapt, as the military says: “the terrain commands”…
Hoping that this kind of situation will be foreign to you until then be careful, plan ahead!