We’ve all seen the scenario: a lone car spins off a remote mountain road and lands in a ravine; the passengers must fight to stay alive.
Car emergency kits are a good idea. Jumper cables, flares, a distress flag, Fix-a-Flat, etc. are the car kit standards. These are all good things to have if you land in a ravine off a snowy mountain road.
Thankfully that scenario is pretty rare. Unfortunately, people who are prepared for the worst like that are often not prepared for the most common crisis: traffic gridlock. There are hardly any ravines in the suburbs and cell phone service is pretty reliable, even during storms. But suburbanites can still end up in some surprise snowy highway snafus. Having a few key items for this common crisis can help you pass the time with little worry.
Traffic Gridlock Survival Kit
One of the least anticipated but the most likely emergency situation in snowy conditions is a traffic gridlock due to a highway accident. This is often overlooked as a situation to prepare for in emergency preparedness information. Even the FEMA PDF doesn’t address being stuck in your car for several hours, sometimes with kids! (see below for FEMA’s blizzard stranding advice).
This is the most common bad luck scenario for motorists in winter weather, but few people prepare their vehicles for it. Prepare for a gridlock by stocking a box with a few of the oft-forgotten items, and refreshing it regularly.
First Aid Kit (add a few over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol, Aleve, and Children’s Tylenol).
Coloring/activity books and crayons or colored pencils
Pillar candles (one of these can heat the inside of a car. Be sure to crack a window when using)
Matches or a lighter
Portable potty, toilet paper and disposable bags (plus drop cloths for privacy)
Feminine hygiene products
Diapers (restock the right size frequently over the winter)
Small pillows for resting your head
Walking boots – you may have to abandon the car in extreme situations
Cash. ($20-$40 in small bills)
A paper map/road atlas of the area in case GPS goes down. (paper also makes good insulation under jackets)
Consider your family members’ individual needs, like prescription medications and special lovey stuffed animals. Get duplicates for the car kit when possible.
Don’t overlook the most common problems in preparing for the big ones. Keep a ravine-worthy kit in your trunk, but have the gridlock kit on top of it.
FEMA suggestions for getting stranded in a blizzard:
If a blizzard traps you in the car, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
- Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close, but be too far to walk to in deep snow.
- Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open an upwind window slightly for ventilation. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe.
- Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
- Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
- Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs—the use of lights, heat, and radio—with supply.
- Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.
- If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.
Leave the car and proceed on foot—if necessary—once the blizzard passes.