Every time I hear about yet another tragic, extreme weather-related disaster . . . tornadoes ripping through Tennessee, heat-domes in the Pacific Northwest, heavy snow on the Eastern Seaboard, wildfires whooshing through the very Colorado town my son used to live in, the power grid completely failing in Texas, I'm sure you get my drift . . . I ask myself the same question: What would I do in those situations? How prepared am I to . . . grab-and-go in an evacuation, for example? Or to hunker down without power for a long haul?
I started looking for and saving emergency preparedness tips and checklists for personal reference, and this year, my aim is to put myself in a position to answer my what-would-I-do question with solid plans. I thought some of you might be interested, too, so every now and then I'll share what I've learned. Extreme weather events can happen any time and anywhere. The best any of us can do is to . . .
I decided to start with a topic that is relevant for many of us living in cold, Northern, snowy climates every year -- but it seems to be ever more necessary for even my Southern friends these days: Winter Driving. (I dedicate this post to all those folks stuck for nearly 24 hours on that Virginia highway earlier this winter.)
(Brian sent me this photo he took on his way to work last week. Lovely, isn't it? Until you have to drive in it. . . )
Living in Michigan, where we get a lot of snow and crappy winter driving conditions on the regular, I'm fairly well-versed in emergency preparedness while driving during the winter months. Here, we're used to seeing cars slide off the highway ("ditchers" as we call them in our family) and plan for travel delays when a big snow is coming. We know when we can dig ourselves out, and when we need to call for a tow. We have developed driving-in-snow muscle memory. And we "have the technology" (ie: fleets of snowplows, snow removal plans, etc.) to deal with this crap. Allow me to pass on some winter driving preparedness trips (which, admittedly, many of us still don't follow and still end up stranded after a "ditcher").
First, some things to do before heading out to drive in the snow:
- Pay attention to the weather forecast if you've got some driving to do. Sure. I know. The forecasts are often wrong. But you don't want to take that chance if the weather folk are predicting a big storm . . . and you're heading off on a car adventure. Pay attention. Plan accordingly. (Of course, it's best if you can change your plans in the face of a coming winter storm and stay put, but we can't always do that. Sometimes . . . you've got to go, y'know?)
- Fill your car with gas before you head out, and monitor your tank as you drive. If there is any kind of stoppage on the highway, you want to make sure you have plenty of gas.
- Check that you have an adequate amount of windshield washer fluid. If there's a lot of salt on the road, you'll need plenty of that fluid to help you see clearly. (Someday, remind me to tell you the story about Erin and windshield washer fluid. It's priceless.)
- Let other people know your travel plans. Make sure your family and friends know you're out there on the road - especially if the weather is looking dicey, and especially-especially if you're traveling on more remote routes.
- Charge your phone before you leave home. (And take your charger.)
Next, make sure you have these things in your car (all the time, actually, but especially in the winter):
- Your ice scraper. (Nope. Your sleeve or a credit card will not cut it.)
- A set of jumper cables. Even if you don't need them yourself, you'll be prepared to help your fellow travelers. (I always feel so prepared - and generous - when someone in need says, "Do you have jumper cables?" And I can say, "Yes. Yes I do!")
- A working flashlight (check the batteries). Keep this in your glove box, center console, or door compartment because you want to be able to reach it easily when you need it (it'll do you no good if you need to dig for it in your trunk) -- AND you want it to work when you turn it on.
- A first-aid kit. It doesn't need to be fancy (mine is basically a zip-lock bag with a few bandaids, etc. thrown in), and hopefully you'll never need it, but it's a good idea to have some basic first aid supplies at the ready.
If it's winter, and there is big snow/deep chill/threatening winter weather in the forecast, throw these things in your car, too:
- Extra clothes: snow boots, hats-mittens-scarves, maybe a sweater, and even an extra jacket. (Even if I'm just driving a short distance on the highway in the winter, I usually throw a pair of snow boots and a hat in my car to be ready if my car slides off the road. "Ditcher" prep is always a good idea.)
- A blanket or two (or a sleeping bag). (Trust me, those folks stuck on that Virginia highway? They would have loved having a sleeping bag. . .)
- Any essential medications you might need, should you experience a delay.
- Snacks and water.
And if you want to be extra-prepared, consider adding these items to you trunk (not essential, but would be great to have if you need them):
- A backup, portable phone charger.
- A set of flares and a reflective triangle.
- A bag of kitty litter or a container of road sand. (You can use it to spread under your wheels for traction if you get stuck on an icy or snowy road.)
- A small shovel. (In case you need to dig yourself out of the ditch or snowbank.)
There you go! Now you're ready to head out into the snow!
How about you? Any items you'd add to my list? And do you have any harrowing highway driving stories to share? (I have a few - mostly from when I was young and too-stupid-to-prepare, but this post is long enough already.)