Staying Safe While Traveling During Winter
Whether traveling in the summer, autumn, or winter; staying safe is an integral part of our everyday life and cannot be overemphasized. Safety is a must and should not be handled with a slack hand, especially when multi-ton vehicles are involved.
This piece will touch on the basic and most effective ways for you to stay safe while traveling during the winter season. The information here will be helpful to both those who live in snowy regions and those who go on vacation with their friends or family.
A Real Life Scenario
Let's look at a real-life scenario that happened in Virginia on Interstate 95 (I-95) in January 2022, where a winter storm had over a hundred vehicles stuck on the highway, many being stuck in their vehicles over night. Reports from the victims state that the storm brought in almost a foot of snow and thus, hindered the mobility of the interstate.
This storm covered several eastern states in the mid-Atlantic and south, resulting in schools closing, car accidents and power outages. This winter storm led to a power outage that left over 300,000 people without power in Virginia and Maryland. Unfortunately, 3 different states also reported deaths as a result of the storm.
The cause of the traffic that lasted several hours on I-95 was traced to a truck that jackknifed across the lanes. This cause of the incident can be tied to the sudden winter storm that dropped a ton of snow on I-95, making the road unsafe, especially to larger vehicles. The domino effect of the truck jackknifing on I-95 caused additional accidents as other vehicles lost control and compounded the situation and further blocked I-95.
More than a 50-mile stretch on I-95, close to Fredericksburg, had several motorists stuck with no passageway whatsoever. With all the vehicles on a standstill for over 24 hours, their cars and the freeway got covered with snow and ice. The situation on the ground was obvious; people had to pass the night in their cars with little or no help from anyone. A motorist on-site complained that the police did not take their situation seriously, and for the first 16 hours, no police officers were even on the scene.
The motorists had to initiate survival mode. With limited supplies available, people began to think outside the box, being sure to stay warm and most importantly, alive, until the stormy situation passed. The sad part about this event was that the cars began to run out of basic supplies like food, water, and fuel. No one expected to be stuck on this path overnight. Most of the motorists only had what was regarded as enough for their daily commute, or short outing they were taking.
As the cold increased, and people had to turn off their engines to conserve fuel, some came out of their cars to seek warmth with others. One motorist was seen walking his dog to keep warm and had to wait for snow andn ice to melt so his dog could have drinkable water.
The winter storm responsible for this event on I-95 spread beyond Virginia and affected Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The schools in these regions were also affected by this storm, and many were shut down for the storm's duration. Almost 240,000 people in Virginia were out of power, alongside 22,000 people in Maryland who suffered the same fate.
In the Washington area, reports had it that the snowfall totals were approximately a foot according to the National weather service. Huntingtown, Maryland recorded more than 15inches of snowfall approximately 40 miles southeast of Washington. The Weather Service reported that areas like Glendie, Virginia, which lies north of Fredericksburg, experienced over 14 inches of snow, which was the highest total recorded in Virginia.
Tragically, five deaths were recorded. Notable of the lot was the tree that fell on a home due to the overburdened load placed by the heavy snow. A seven-year-old girl died as a result, which happened in Townsend, Tennessee, 30 miles southeast of Knoxville. A five-year-old boy in Georgia met a similar fate. The boy died due to the heavy rain and fierce wind that caused a tree to collapse into his home. Additionally, three more deaths were reported from Montgomery, Maryland; where a SUV and a snowplow collided.
The question remains, could these tragic events have been avoided? What wasn't done properly? How could people be more prepared? Although the cause was natural, better efforts could have been initiated to help minimize the toll on the affected areas residents.
The #1 Rule: Stay Up-To-Date with the Local Weather Reports
Many people underestimate the dangers of traveling during winter. The harsh conditions from sudden snow storms or whiteouts, cold, rain and wind can negatively affect your journey if you do not pay close attention. Like a tornado, snow storms can come quick and be highly unpredictable.
For starters, before you embark on a journey, you have to look at the weather reports of your destination and route. Even if you bought your ticket ahead of time, please do well to check the weather reports on your travel dates, and if it does not look favorable, you may want to consider moving the date or taking a different route.
Irrespective of whether you are traveling by air or by road, search for a time and route that has the least possibility of experiencing storms, snowfall, and any other winter-related deluges.
Tips for each Method of Travel
Here are some essential tips to help you as you travel during winter. We will take a closer look at popular modes of transportation. Adhering to these safety procedures will help keep you and your traveling companions safe as you travel during winter. No-one wants to ruin the holidays or a vacation before they even make it to the destination.
Cars, Vans, and RVs
Firstly, winterize and inspect your vehicle before traveling in the winter climate. You must ensure that your vehicle is ready to travel under cold, icy, snowy, and slippery conditions. This may require you to take your car for full servicing. Whether it is a personal vehicle or rented, a properly serviced car affords you a higher chance of safety.
You should also take it for a test drive and ensure everything is working fine. Check for wear and tear on your vehicle and make an adequate replacement before hitting the road. Keep extra oil and gas in your trunk should you get held up on your way and need extra gas to keep moving. Having extra clothes and body warming supplies may also come in handy on your trip if you get trapped for an extended amount of time like those on I-95.
Automotive winter supplies such as snow socks, wheel chains, scrapers, etc., should be in your trunk as they may become necessary to continue your travels. It would be best to prepare for all kinds of uncertainties; therefore, having some extra basic supplies such as food, water, hygiene products, flashlights, etc., could go a long way.
Use the main roads and highways only. Avoid hills and sloping surfaces as much as you can during your trip. Focus on the flattest roads on your path and drive carefully till you arrive at your destination. If you plan to go up mountains it is suggested to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
If you get stranded in your car as you travel in the winter climate, run your engine for at least 10 minutes every hour to stay warm. Open your window slightly for proper ventilation preventing carbon monoxide buildup as your engine runs. Also, look out for snow that may build around your car's exhaust pipe and remove it before continuing to run your vehicle.
We advise that you avoid connecting flights during the winter season, using direct flights as much as possible. Choose the right flight timing, preferably morning flights, and the airports with the least amount of traffic. Lesser traffic assures you of minimal chances of flight cancellation. If your flight is cancelled, catching a morning flight provides you enough time to find an alternative if needed.
Also, take good advantage of travel insurance during the winter season, and having them will lessen your woes if you face flight cancellations or miss connecting flights. Cancellation charges are always waved for travelers with insurance, and you will get proper rescheduling of your flight.
Personal Snow Crafts
Primarily for a way for locals to get around or visiting recreational use, a personal snow craft like skiers, snowmobilers, etc., can come in handy, but some safety measures should be in place while you have fun with your friends and family.
For example, you have to dress appropriately and ensure everyone does the same. Well-layered clothing is the most appropriate for this recreational activity. Secondly, come out with enough water and food. Lastly, a GPS or GPS alternatives can never be too much load as it will serve as a good guide just in case you get lost.
Other Things to Consider
Firstly, we advise you to tell others of your plan before embarking on your trip. It helps them know your destination and when you are expected to return.
If you get stuck on your trip, please be conscious of carbon monoxide buildup as your car runs. Do not forget to stay warm by traveling with extra blankets and clothing layers. You may need to understand "the layering principle" to do this well. If you have to spend the night in your car, you should leave your interior overhead light on so that rescuers or work crews can find you.
Lastly, you must know the signs of Hypothermia such as shivering, exhaustion or feeling very tired, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, overheating, and drowsiness. Once these signs are detected, please warm up the person or yourself immediately.
Supplies To Keep with You
Here is a list of the most crucial supplies to have with you when you travel during winter. Having a couple of these will increase your chances of outlasting any storm, but having them all puts you in control of the situation by buying you a few days, at least.
- Food & Water
- Hygiene Products
- Map & Compass
- Warming Supplies
- Extra Clothing
Traveling during winter needs an unusual safety approach to ensure your journey is smooth and seamless. However, if circumstances beyond your control spring up, there are ways to handle them to make sure you come out safe and sound. Having the right supplies, knowing the weather patterns, and making sure someone knows where you are, are all beneficial when traveling during winter.
Don’t forget that preventive measures are always the best. If you can avoid the troubles often associated with traveling during winter, please do your best to avoid them and stay safe.