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Winter Driving

(The photograph is courtesy of the Washington State DOT)

OK – folks, I am making the bold assumption that all of you reading this are comfy, cozy, and indoors. If I am wrong, raise your hands. Mmmhmmm? Oh in the back with the mukluks — how are you running your laptop? Oh, ok…
Back to the business at hand: Being Prepared. We haven’t turned out attention to that for a bit. Today’s news story about the hundreds of cars stranded on a section of the New York State Thruway (conveniently located just to the lee of Lake Erie and Ontario) because of a jack-knifed tractor trailer…in the middle of what is coyly referred to by all and sundry in the weather biz as a ‘lake effect snow event’ reminded me that it might be a good time to flog the idea that having stuff in the car ‘just in case’ might be time well spent.

Let’s imagine for a second the poor people hunkered down in their cars (probably idling until they run out of fuel) starting at about 3 p.m. yesterday. As of 3 p.m. TODAY, about 100 people had been rescued and taken to a community center, leaving hundreds of people still sitting in cars in the middle of snow coming down at the rate of about 1″+ an hour. With wind. I don’t know about you, but if I’d been in one of those cars at 3 p.m. yesterday, at about 4 p.m., I would have been cursing the fact that I was on an interstate and was not within walking distance of a bathroom, much less a coffee shop with something hot to eat and drink.

Having access to a bathroom is a biggie with me. It’s amazing just how painful and humiliating it is NOT to be able to…well, you know, when you need to. It’s not something like hunger that you can just suck up and sing funny songs about. And do not delude yourself that it will never happen to you. Actually it happened to the DH and I coming back from New York City, while we were stuck in the middle of the bridge at the Delaware Water Gap in the middle of a four-hour traffic shutdown. Not only no bathroom but no way to get off the bridge and find one. After about an hour, some of the other drivers, the guys, decided that they would – well, you know. Being in the middle of the bridge, we were not exactly in a position for me to jump out of the car and hightail it up into the pines to do a little garden watering behind the shelter of the evergreens.

This is when I became extremely grateful that for some reason, we had an empty plastic bottle in the back, which I doctored with a pair of nail clippers. Sweet relief, that, but I was lucky.

The DH and I once went up to cow country in Alberta on business and while there, we were introduced to preparedness Alberta-style, which for a vehicle includes a couple of milk jugs of water, several heavy blankets, blinkers, food of various kinds (including chocolate bars, etc.), and a five gallon can of fuel. Now, up in Alberta, the ‘law of the west’ basically requires that if someone shows up at your door in the winter, you take them in, no questions asked. And you get them warm and feed them and house them until daylight, when the RCMP can be called. You do those things because the next time, it might be you — and walking around in the dark when it’s -40 F in the wind is a sure way to end up in a snow drift, looking like cordwood.

So, being prepared is a good idea. One of the things about some of the people who were interviewed for this story on being stranded in the snow south of Buffalo, New York were the number of them who said something on the order of ‘I was just going out to (pick one: do a little grocery or holiday shopping, go bowling, visit my mom, go the post office…).’ Notice, they were not saying, “I was on my way out to Nebraska or Ontario.”

A lot of them thought they were just going on a thirty minute trip. Didn’t think to throw anything in the car. And then they got stuck at 3 p.m. and 24 hours later, they were still stuck out there in the wind and the snow – no food, no water and …no bathroom.

So. Here’s the list for the box that goes into the back of the vehicle in the fall. Leave it there until spring and then take it out. Then freshen it up and put it back into the vehicle in the fall again. Always have the box:

Two heavy wool blankets (three is better but we’ll go with what we got)
Ziplock(tm) bag with energy bars, chocolate, protein bars
Two big flashlights with fresh batteries — check ’em each fall.
Beacons that blink – fresh batteries too.
Roll of paper towels
Power connection for cell phones and/or an extra power supply(search on ‘cell phone USBs”) that is fully charged up. Most of them will carry a charge for several months.
Plastic gallon milk jug, empty, with the top cut out of it so that the hole is 3-4″ across.

Also, whenever you leave the house, make sure you take at least one gallon of water with you and a gas can with 1-2 gallons of fuel. If you end up stuck and put the car into idle to keep warm, you will run out of fuel to run the car. And dress appropriately, which means: warm clothing and socks, boots, sweater, heavy coat, gloves, hat, etc. The number of people who just jump in the car to go down to the store in their indoor clothing is amazing to me. Sitting in a car in 25-30 degree weather with nothing on but jeans and a flannel shirt is going to get cold really fast.

OK? All straight?

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One Comment

  1. Lizzie says:

    I always have an emergency box in my car. My husband worked in emergency management and he is adamant that we keep food and water in the car. And now it’s time to add the blankets. Thanks for the timely reminder!

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