It’s easy to plan for a blizzard when you’re at home, but not so simple when you’re traveling. Weather forecasters are predicting classic nor’easters in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, similar to the winters of 1978, 2009-10 and 2013, and severe cold outbreaks in Northern Europe.
Global Rescue and our partners have provided emergency response services in winter environments from Alaska to Canada to Switzerland to Nepal since 2004.
Here are my Top 5 Blizzard Survival Tips plus bonus tips from other experts.
#1 STAY INSIDE: Yes, the white snow falling from the sky is beautiful. Enjoy it from the safety of your home. The American Red Cross suggests avoiding driving and other travel until conditions have improved. Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio for updated emergency information. Prepare ahead of the storm in case you become snowed in for a few days.
#2 STAY CHARGED: Charge your cellphone, laptop and any back-up power sources. Have extra batteries on hand for radios and flashlights.
#3 DRESS APPROPRIATELY: The right clothing, with multiple layers and proper footwear, will keep you warm and dry. Do your research before purchasing outerwear; garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. If anything gets wet or sweaty, change clothing to prevent loss of body heat.
#4 PACK YOUR CAR: There’s usually enough warning for a blizzard, but if you missed the weather forecast, make sure your car has an emergency kit for snow situations. “A lot of people commute to work and are not dressed for winter,” said Matt Napiltonia, former Navy SEAL and senior manager of operations for a travel risk and crisis response provider. “Keep extra layers in your car. It doesn’t take much to throw those items in the back.” Pack extra clothing and gear to stay warm in a car stuck in a blizzard or if you were to have to get out to shovel. Be certain to include a warm parka, wool hat, warm waterproof mittens, and winter boots, hand and foot warmers are also a good idea as is a sleeping bag. A foam ground pad is also a good idea, to insulate your body from the cold ground if necessary.
#5 KNOW THE SIGNS: Know how your body loses heat and know what to do to stay warm. Also know the early warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia, how to prevent it and how to treat it.
BONUS ADVICE: It’s a different story if you’re traveling abroad and you get caught in a blizzard while hiking, climbing, skiing or snowboarding. There’s no way to limit your time outside, but there are ways to ensure survival. Keep these eight blizzard survival tips in mind if you’re vacationing in snowy destinations:
- Stay calm. Stop, think about what resources you have, observe your surroundings and orient yourself with landmarks, and plan. Field & Stream offers a snow survival quiz.
- Stay hydrated to ensure your extremities are receiving warm, oxygenated blood. Learn more about frostbite and hypothermia — and the warning signs — by clicking here.
- Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from sub-zero air. If you have a pre-existing condition, like asthma or bronchitis, the cold, dry air may irritate your airways. No scarf available? Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Wiggle your fingers and toes, clap your hands, bend and unbend your arms. These small movements and stretches will keep circulation moving. Try not to break a sweat as wet clothes absorb body heat.
- If you can’t hike (or ski) to safety, build a shelter out of snow or make a lean-to out of whatever materials you have. Even huddling under the low-hanging branches of tree will provide some protection from the elements.
- Always pack an insulated ground pad. Sit on your backpack if you don’t have a pad. Sitting or sleeping directly on the snowy ground will also rob you of body heat.
- Melt snow. Eating snow will reduce your core temperature and put you at risk for hypothermia. Always carry a portable stove and small pot for melting snow or boiling water with in the backcountry during winter. You should also have the ability to start a small fire for warming, melting snow and signaling for help.
- If you are venturing into avalanche terrain, get appropriate training on avalanche safety before your trip.
- FEMA offers additional advice on how to plan for a blizzard on their website, including this Winter Storm Info Sheet.
Harding Bush is a former Navy SEAL and associate manager of operations for Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services.
By Harding Bush
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