The beach beckoned Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne on the summer’s day when they wrote and composed Let It Snow. Yet they stayed inside and created a song that made it seem romantic to be trapped in a blizzard—the worst sort of winter storm. The key, of course, was to stay home with a loved one.
It’s now so much easier to avoid travelling when the weather outside is frightful. We can study continental weather forecasts, radar images, travel alerts, and flight cancellation notices—24/7. Even so, it’s tempting once plans are set and hotels are booked to hit the road in spite of bad weather. The enticement of blue skies or pleasant company can be too alluring. But, before you go, take your safety seriously. Consider advice selected from various sources. Then time your departure carefully.
Prepare the getaway car for hardship
Be sure your vehicle’s engine is tuned; your exhaust system is free of leaks; your ignition system has no worn parts; and that your coolant and windshield washer fluids are topped up and ready for the cold. Also be sure your tires are fully inflated, with plenty of tread. Have the following checked to be sure they can cope with severe weather: your brake pads, wiper blades, lights, warning signals, engine battery, heater, and defroster. In case you do get stuck in the snow, bring a shovel, sand, and strips of carpet to act as traction mats; and in the event you need help from others, a tow chain would be handy too. Bring battery jumper cables. Refuel more often than usual. Clear snow or ice from your vehicle before leaving, then regularly during your trip.
Prepare mentally for winter driving
Review instructions for driving on ice: avoiding and recovering from a skid, shifting to a lower gear when braking on ice, and other important tips. Make sure you are well rested, sober, and firmly belted into your seat before you go. Leave extra time for lane changes, turns, and braking. Allot extra space between you and the vehicles ahead, and reduce speed if driving conditions deteriorate. Be alert to passing vehicles that could splash slush onto your windshield. If you are planning to purchase a new car, or if you are using a rental vehicle, ask for electronic stability control.
Prepare to be stranded in the cold
Stay in your car if you become stranded in a winter storm. Bundle up in layers of clothing. Run the vehicle engine for short periods. Keep a downwind window open a crack for ventilation, and make sure the motor exhaust pipe does not become covered by snow. Turn on the dome light and hang out a brightly coloured cloth to alert rescuers. Exercise limbs, fingers, and toes to keep blood circulating. But limit exertion to reduce risk of a heart attack. Never rub skin if you notice danger signs of frostbite: numb and flushed skin, or worse, skin that has turned greyish-yellow or white. Get to a doctor or hospital as soon as possible.
Assemble an emergency kit for home, car, or motel
Whether you’re stranded on the road or trapped at home during a power outage, having an emergency kit on hand can be a lifesaver during a crisis. Include the following items:
- Battery-operated radio
- Extra batteries
- Charged cell phone
- Compass and maps
- Ice scraper
- Reflective vest
- Cloth or paper towels
- Extra windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze
- Canned or dried foods (no freezing or cooking required)
- Can opener (non-electric)
- Bottled water
- A supply of essential medicines
- Extra blankets or sleeping bags, hats, and layers of clothing
- Fire extinguisher
- First aid kit, plus manual
- Fabric for a distress flag (maybe flares)
Ice storm safety tips
While parts of the United States enjoyed record high temperatures before Christmas 2013, a lengthy ice storm left hundreds of thousands of homes in Central and Atlantic Canada without electricity just before the holidays. Trees and power lines fell under the weight of the ice. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) posted safety tips for those staying close to home. But they could be equally helpful if you are caught in an ice storm while travelling.
- Pay attention to branches or wires that could break or fall under the weight of the ice.
- If you come upon fallen power lines, stay back at least ten metres.
- Stay off the roads; they can be extremely slippery for hours after such a storm. Road maintenance crews need time to address the problem.
- Ice storms carry a high risk of hypothermia due to their strong winds and rain. Choose outerwear that is water resistant, and boots or shoes with rubber soles.
- Look to local TV or radio stations for weather advisories and check for storm alerts from the national weather service of the nation you will be visiting.
Non-vented kerosene heater: Yes or no?
It may be tempting to buy a non-vented kerosene heater for use in your home, motel room, or vehicle when other heat sources are cut off during the winter. One model is only about 60 cm tall and 50 cm in diameter. The manufacturers and retailers insist they can be used safely indoors, as is common in Japan. And the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has rejected petitions to ban them. Yet Consumer Reports magazine has done tests that raise some concerns. Some US states have banned their use indoors, even if residents take the recommended precautions.
Manufacturers recommend that users refill the heaters outdoors, open a window a crack to provide fresh air when using them, and keep the heater away from flammable materials. For a balanced presentation of the arguments for and against, see a point-form discussion updated in 2008 by an employee of the University of Michigan.
A candle-powered room warmer
Writer and sailor Dylan Winter, who has documented his sail around Britain, has also posted a video on how to use cheap IKEA candles to heat a room. He places three tea candles, available in packs of 100, in a metal loaf pan. He shields the wooden surface below the pan with a thick magazine before lighting the candles. He then covers the pan and candles with a clay flower pot, which he turns upside down to adsorb the heat. To shield the heated pot and channel air into his room, he covers the first flower pot with a second, larger pot. He says he sometimes uses the same sort of mini heater in his sailboat, presumably in calm waters. The idea might not work in a stranded car because of the sloped seats and dashboard. But the portable heater could take some of the chill out of a motel room if you were to be stranded there during a power outage.