The first blizzard of 2015 affecting the Northeastern United States, is just the start for more winter storms and extremely cold weather. This is not a good time to travel in this region, but there are times when it can’t be avoided. If and when you decide to travel, it is important to anticipate the worst scenario, that of getting stranded in a hostile environment.
One of the dreaded situations is the storm’s ability to knock out power cutting heat and communications services sometimes for days immobilizing entire regions. This is why it is important to prepare for this eventuality. The National Weather Service calls blizzards as “deceptive killers” because the deaths are mostly indirectly related to it. Victims die because of road accidents due to slippery roads and hypothermia or exposure to freezing temperature.
If you are traveling by road, make sure you are prepared to deal with reduced visibility, slippery roads and the nipping cold temperature. These can make driving extremely hard and dangerous. Find out more from this tips: “Preparing an Emergency Kit for Your Car” posted in the website Get Prepared by the Government of Canada (Public Safety Canada in cooperation with Transport Canada).
The guideline makes a distinction between blizzards and heavy snowfall, and the other commonly used terms to describe a winter storm such as:
- Blizzards: These are the most dangerous of winter storms. The heavy snow (drifting, blowing and falling) is combined with strong winds of up to 40km/hr. The heavy snow reduces visibility and lowers the temperature lower than -10°C, which can last from a few hours to days.
- Heavy snowfall: The term applies to snowfalls less than 10cm in 12 hours, at least 15 cm in 24 hours, or even lesser in temperate climates.
- Freezing rain or drizzle: This is lighter but it can still lead to ice storms with snow covering roads and knocking power lines.
- Cold snap: This denotes to rapidly falling temperatures over a very short span of time, causing the weather to turn very cold.
- Winds: This is generally present in winter storms or blizzards making the falling snow to drift and causing reduced visibility.
- Black ice: These are the thin layers of ice that form on the road surfaces. These slippery icy formations are not very visible to the drivers on the road causing them to skid and slip resulting to road accidents. Black ice forms fast in shaded areas of the roads such as under the bridge or overpasses.
- Slush: Wet or melting snow cause the roads to become slushy. This can build up in the wheel wells of your car affecting its ability to be steered. Overtaking large vehicles can drive snow and slush onto your windshield marring visibility.
The guideline offers these safety tips if you find your car are stuck in the snowy road:
- Try to stay calm and don’t go out in the cold. Stay in your car: you will avoid getting lost and your car is a safe shelter.
- Don’t tire yourself out. Shovelling in the intense cold can be deadly.
- Let in fresh air by opening a window on the side sheltered from the wind.
- Keep the engine off as much as possible. Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning and make sure the exhaust pipe is not obstructed by snow.
- If possible, use a candle placed inside a deep can instead of the car heater to warm up.
- Turn on warning lights or set up road flares to make your car visible.
- Turn on the ceiling light; leaving your headlights or hazard lights on for too long will drain the battery.
- Move your hands, feet and arms to maintain circulation. Stay awake.
- Keep an eye out for other cars and emergency responders. Try to keep clothing dry since wet clothing can lead to a dangerous loss of body heat.
- Prepare an emergency car kit
- Always have winter safety and emergency equipment in your car. A basic car kit should contain the following: food, water, blankets, extra clothing and footwear, first aid kit, seat belt cutter, small shovel, scraper and snowbrush, candle and match, flashlight, whistle, and roadmaps. Other things to keep in your trunk are: sand, salt or non-clumping cat litter, antifreeze and windshield washer fluid, tow rope, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, road flares or warning light.