Traveling in Extreme Cold

How to Get Home Without Freezing to Death

jeep in deep snow
If you have to travel when it's crazy cold, make sure you're prepared. Photo by jespahjoy

Traveling in extreme cold can be dangerous. You should avoid travel during extreme cold weather if at all possible. If travel is absolutely necessary, be prepared.

Be Cautious About Travel

  • Listen for radio or television reports of travel advisories issued by the National Weather Service.
  • Do not travel in low visibility conditions.
  • Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges if at all possible.
  • If you must travel by car, use tire chains and take a mobile phone with you. (See Equipment List below)
  • If you must travel, let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive. Ask them to notify authorities if you are late.
  • Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car before you leave. (See Equipment List below)
  • Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or snow; shattering may occur.
  • Don’t rely on a car to provide sufficient heat; the car may break down.
  • Always carry additional warm clothing appropriate for the winter conditions.

During winter, always keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and in the fuel lines.

Winter Survival Kit for Your Car

You never know when the car is going to go kaput and leave you out in the cold--literally. To be prepared, equip your car with these items:

  • blankets
  • first aid kit
  • a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for water)
  • windshield scraper
  • booster cables
  • road maps
  • mobile phone
  • compass
  • tool kit
  • paper towels
  • bag of sand or cat litter (to pour on ice or snow for added traction)
  • tow rope
  • tire chains (in areas with heavy snow)
  • collapsible shovel
  • container of water and high-calorie canned or dried foods and a can opener
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • canned compressed air with sealant (for emergency tire repair)
  • brightly colored cloth

What to Do if You Get Stranded

Staying in your vehicle when stranded is often the safest choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered. These steps will increase your safety when stranded:

  • Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers and raise the hood of the car if it is not snowing. If it's snowing, leave the hood closed.
  • Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area before you get too cold.
  • Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers to avoid hypothermia.
  • Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
  • Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe. This will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and avoid frostbite.
  • Do not eat snow because it will lower your body temperature. Instead, melt it and drink the water.
  • Get stranded with a friend: huddle with other people for warmth.

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