The North Shore Emergency Management Office of North Vancouver and West Vancouver has provided a list of emergency preparedness supplies and emergency survival actions if you become stranded in your car during a snowstorm. If these Winter Car Survival Kit tips are good for Canada, which is colder often than the US, they should more than work for us too!
Established in 1978, the North Shore Emergency Management Office (NSEMO) serves the Vancouver, Canada metropolitan area. Among its responsibilities are to administer volunteer emergency response teams, provide community education about preparedness for diverse situations that would endanger individuals or the population, and coordinate regional emergency planning.
Winter Car Survival Kit Tips
Two Means of Emergency Survival in Your Car in Winter Snow
The NSEMO website provides information on winter storm preparedness, including your best chance to survive being stranded in the snow in your car. There are two vital elements of survival. The first is preparation – the supplies to carry in your vehicle during a severe winter – and the second is taking the correct actions to survive in your car while waiting for rescue.
Supplies for Emergency Survival in Your Car in a Snowstorm
If you are aware of a coming storm, fill your car with gas. During winter, never let the tank go below half full. Here are the supplies suggested by NESEMO, embellished with some extra ideas to make a complete Winter Car Survival Kit:
- Store extra clothing in your car, such as mittens that fit over your gloves, warm socks, a ski mask or wool hat, extra sweaters. Think of large size items that you can layer over what you are already wearing. Duplicate or even triplicate clothing items are important, such as snow caps and scarves. You can use the extras if the one you are wearing gets wet.
- Wool stocking caps are particularly important, as body heat is quickly lost if the head is not covered. Caps can be layered just as easily as clothing: wear two or three, one over the other.
- Blanket(s) or sleeping bag. Probably the only thing that will fit over your coat is a blanket or sleeping bag. Take a weighty, wool blanket or afghan.
- Emergency “survival” blankets designed by NASA and made of mylar are said to retain 80% of body heat and are found on numerous websites.
- Sturdy walking boots made to stay warm in snow and wet weather, with traction for ice. There are reasonably priced boots available that indicate the temperature they can withstand while still protecting from frostbite.
- Keep a store of high-calorie non-perishable foods that can be consumed or melted in the mouth if frozen, such as raisins, chocolate, and energy bars.
- Standard Emergency Kit including a flashlight, bright flag, or flares.
- Water bottles can be stored in the car and kept from freezing by storing in a small cooler, packed with towels, and covered with the blankets you have on hand. Snow is not a good source of water, because it is 90% air and cools the body temperature as it melts.
- The towels are also handy for wiping snow off the seat or drying parts of your body that get wet.
- It is not a pleasant subject, but it is advisable to have a simple container with a lid for urine, which will add more warmth to the car. For women, a simple kitchen or auto fluid funnel can be helpful.
Correct Actions for Emergency Survival in a Car Stranded in Snow or Ice
It isn’t always about what is in your Winter Car Survival Kit. “Stranded” implies that it is too far to go for help. In sub-zero temperatures, it can be life-threatening to attempt even a small distance on foot, especially if snow is deep and walking is difficult. Here is a condensed version of what NSEMO recommends:
- Stay in your car, except to check periodically to make sure your exhaust pipe is not clogged with ice or snow and to put up a flag on your antenna or another visible place. In modern cars with no visible antenna, be prepared with something to position a flag.
- Turn on your hazard lights. In remote areas, be sure your emergency kit has flares. Light the flares.
- Run the engine and heat every ten minutes each hour. When the engine is on, crack a (downwind) window slightly to maintain oxygen.
- Turn on your dome light (ceiling light) and not your headlights to save the battery. Or use light from your emergency kit.
- Exercise your extremities such as arms, legs, feet, and toes to maintain body heat and circulation.
- If there are two people in the car, never sleep at the same time, or you may miss an opportunity for rescuers to find your vehicle.
Blizzard of 1997 Fatalities Due to Lack of Emergency Preparedness
Statistics from the blizzard of 1997 in Colorado and North Dakota, where one would expect people to be prepared, had the highest incidence of death due to winter storms. It was noted that many people did not take the dangers of snow and blizzard conditions seriously enough and drove on the weekend.
Fatalities from being stranded in vehicles were mainly caused by failed attempts to seek help and carbon monoxide poisoning. Males were more likely to die than females at a rate of over two to one.
A possible explanation given was that men might have been more likely to venture out in the storm and more likely to have left the car to seek help.
Emergency Survival in Your Car in a Snowstorm Preparedness and Caution
Common sense and following the advice provided by NSEMO are your best chance for survival in your car in blizzard conditions. Taking winter storm warnings seriously and, if possible, staying indoors, is the most important advice of all, but make sure your Winter Car Survival Kit is in place.