On January 23rd there was a terrible car pile up on I-94 in Indiana. There were many injuries and 3 killed. To make matters worse, the temperature was right around zero. It is miles to the nearest exit on the highway. There were about 70 vehicles stranded and sat in damaged and blocked cars for about as many as 5 hours before buses can arrived to take them someplace where they can be warm. If you recall there was a similar event on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago during the snowpoclypse a few years ago.
Even if you’re not in the accident, delays like this are a regular occurrence. It might be mudslides in California. It might be a traffic jam from Floridians fleeing an approaching hurricane. Are you ready to spend 24 hours in your car in any weather? I hope you are. Right now we’re thinking polar vortex, but it could just as easily be flooding or evacuation.
First Rule: Unless you are in danger – STAY WITH YOUR CAR! It is insulated and it protects you from the elements. You might think you can make it a few miles to a gas station but generally that’s a bad call. You’re safe with your car. Stay safe.
Car kits are a good idea. The basics are going to be things you already have. However, you have an advantage with your car. It is basically a mobile home and you can treat it that way. A few items you should consider:
Sleeping bag or warm blanket – not an airplane blanket!
Bottled water. Even if it is just 1 or 2.
Car cell phone charger.
Cold weather gear. Gloves, sock hat, etc.
Road flares? If you run out of car battery, a few road flares might make you visible to rescue personnel.
Glow Sticks (They don’t use electricity. It’s amazing!)
Book/Magazine/Cell Phone App
There are outstanding videos on YouTube for this kind of thing. It is a great resource for stuff like this.
Do you carry a firearm in your car? It is something to consider. In a pile up, it might be more of a liability than as asset. If you’re being transported as a virtual refugee from a disaster, it is likely it will be taken from you immediately by authorities. If you keep it a secret, you could find yourself in even more trouble. You’re responsible for that weapon and it might unnecessarily complicate things. If you’re stuck out in the country, a firearm could be the protection that you might need to keep someone from taking advantage of you. Select based on your most likely scenario.
A couple of warnings. Don’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning. (Seems simple enough.) You can run your engine to keep warm, but make sure your exhaust is free from snow or debris. Keep your hazard lights on, but don’t let it run down your battery. That car is your lifeboat, you must protect it.
What about food? That can be a challenge. I keep a couple of not-too-offensive MREs with heaters in my Get Home Bag. The wild swings in temperatures from summer to winter will shorten their lives a little, but it is worth it. You might not be in the car long enough to really need the food, but it will be comforting in an uncomfortable situation. Jerky keeps a long time in the glove box and it is a good comfort food. (I prefer Slim Jims.)
Did you see that last item? Keep in mind that you can be your own worst enemy. The weather might try to kill you, but it is more likely that you will get bored or scared and become the architect of your own demise. Have a book or a magazine or even Angry Birds on your phone. Narrate your own adventure to your friends on facebook. (Be smart about your cell phone battery life)
You have to stay calm. You might feel like you should be doing something, but staying safe and warm is doing something. If you can keep calm, you have already done more than most towards ensuring that you will get home safe and sound. That’s the point after all is said and done.