Riding the storm out

Experts give tips, advice on how to stay safe during winter driving

Being ready to weather snow while driving may help save lives.
Being ready to weather snow while driving may help save lives.

With winter driving just around the corner, Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Marissa Reisen advises people to pack their car with the supplies that could save their life and the lives of their loved ones if they should find themselves in a bad winter situation.

Before going out in bad weather, especially if her children are with her, Reisen always makes sure her cellphone has a full charge if she needs to call for help. She also acknowledges the wisdom of not driving in bad weather if you don’t have to. In the spirit of things not working when you need them the most, she is sure to bring items for all her family members in case they find themselves stranded during a winter storm.

“Always have a first-aid kit just in case,” she said, as a general rule for the contents of a car. “The contents depend on your skill level and what you are comfortable using.”

With every situation being different, Reisen said each individual needs to decide for themselves how to handle the situation. People close enough to a home that appears occupied may wish to try to reach the house. In that case, Reisen said extra layers of clothing to protect from the elements are needed. She carries extra socks, a pair of Gore-Tex boots, an additional sweatshirt, a scarf, hat and mittens. She says a hood on the coat is nice. A large snowsuit would be great for the situation, she said, but they take up a lot of space.

Reisen also stresses if there is a blizzard going on, don’t walk in it. She said the snow can impede a person’s vision and they may end up lost.

“It is very easy to get disoriented in a snowstorm,” she said.

If the option to walk somewhere does not exist, Reisen keeps emergency blankets in her car. She explained emergency blankets are an inexpensive, low-bulk blanket made of heat-reflecting material.

In cases where she slid off the roadway, she also keeps Kitty Litter or sand to give tire traction, and a shovel. She said the important part is knowing how to get yourself out of the situation.

As part of her emergency kit, Reisen includes bottled water, snacks, wet wipes, and possibly candles. She warns if people are going to use candles for warmth, they should use them outside the vehicle and warm a stone for heat due to the fire hazard. Another possibility includes carrying hand warmers as a heat source.

In a scenario when people are stranded outside in bad weather, she said the most common cause of death is hypothermia, when the body’s core temperature drops to the point it can’t function anymore. To keep your core body temperature up, she advises people keep moving and keep their blood flowing. In the case of severe cold, she warns not to move too much, as this would cause a person to sweat which would further lower their temperature. She said liquid regulates cold about 10 times that of normal air. She also warned against getting wet while in a cold environment.

Reisen also warns against dehydration in a cold situation. She says people need to ensure they are getting plenty of liquids, but not to eat snow as a source of moisture. She also said people should not drink alcohol, as this can lower the body’s temperature while giving the opposite feeling.

She also said that people getting a flu shot should be sure to do so early to make sure it is effective.

“The important thing is knowing your body and knowing what health issues you might already have and don’t exacerbate them,” she said. “If you have a heart problem, don’t shovel the whole driveway at once.”