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KA.

Cold Weather Survival - Vehicle

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There was a huge snowstorm predicted for my area last night. As usual it turned out to be nothing, but it brought to mind a discussion my wife and I have had on several occasions.

 

Here is the situation:

You are driving in a snowstorm, and you are off the beaten path, not on a major highway with constant traffic. (Perhaps you were heading over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house and you got lost.)

We are assuming that you do not have a cell phone, or that it has no signal where you are, so you cannot simply call for help and give out your GPS coordinates.

 

In any case the road becomes inpassible and you are stuck where you are, at least until the storm is over.

Assuming that you have wisely packed your vehicle with food and water (stored in coolers without ice to prevent freezing), and you have warm clothes, blankets, perhaps even sleeping bags to keep you warm, what is the best course of action?

 

A. Everyone stay in the car. You are at least out of the wind and if you have proper clothing and blankets you should be able to stay alive until someone finds you, even if it takes a day or so.

 

B. Someone should "Go for help", leaving the other people in the car. That way no one will be stuck in the car until they freeze to death.

 

Having done quite a bit of reading on wilderness survival, I am a firm believer in staying with the car. If you were just dropped out of an airplane into a snowstorm, the first thing you would do is seek shelter. Since  you are already in shelter, why wouldn't you stay there? Obviously if you passed a gas station or a house five minutes ago, you would walk back there for help, but I am talking about the middle of nowhere.

I have read several tragic reports of people who "went for help" got lost in the snow, or injured themselves trying to hike through the snowstorm, and died. Usually the people they went hiking off to save are found safe and sound in the vehicle, while their frozen corpse turns up at the start of the spring thaw.

 

My wife is a firm believer that a car in a snowstorm is a deathtrap, and that you will freeze solid within hours no matter what kind of clothing, blankets, or sleeping bags you have have. She is convinced that hypothermia will begin to set in the moment you turn the car off. Therefore she believes you should always "go for help" even if you are hiking into a blizzard with no idea of your destination.

 

Obviously, I have exaggerated just a bit, but what I am actually looking for is some real information on surviving a storm in a car vs. taking your chances outside looking for help.

How long could a person last at say 20 degrees F in a car with warm clothes and a sleeping bag vs. how long you would last in the same conditions outdoors, assuming a fairly heavy snow and a brisk wind, say 10-15 mph?

In my opinion if you are in a sleeping bag rated for 0 degrees, and you are out of the wind, say in a car, you should be fine for quite some time assuming adequate food and water.

 

But, I have been wrong before, does anyone, especially someone who has done some cold weather camping and/or survival training have a strong opinion?

 

After all, I would hate to have the last words spoken by my wife's frostbitten lips be "I told you so . . ."

 

Just kidding, I actually love my wife too much to take her out in those conditions in the first place, but I do wonder which one of us is closer to being correct.

 

KA.

 

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The only case to go for help, would be if help was definitely near, I would say.  

 

If you are far out in nowhere, you'll eventually have to go get help more than likely though.  (though only when conditions improve, hopefully) because sticking it out till spring wouldn't an option in January.

 

 

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Of course, another factor, unless you are on a road trip or just got groceries the chances you have adequate supplies is very low.

 

Edit: Still say 24 hours wouldn't be a problem. if you have something to cover/warm one with

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Presuming there is an ample depth of snow about, and you are able to brave it, build a reasonably thick berm of snow under the vehicle to prevent wind blowing under it. If possible, bank snow up next to the car and even on top of it.  Snow has some insulation value.  Not much, but much better than thin sheet metal.  Further, wind passing along that thin sheet metal makes a super-effective heat sink.  Again, presuming you have the material to do, use an attention-getting device like a red flag or something else while you prepare to wait out the night.

 

Never go for help in the dark, even on a beach in the summer.  Even when the daylight returns, unless your condition is grim, don't go for help unless you _know_ it's damned close, and in which direction.

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Off the beaten path, so no clear lights from farms etc? (Either because there aren't any, or because the storm is that bad.) Then stay in the car.

 

It could be miles until you reach help. In bad conditions, that is a long time to be out. No matter what you are wearing, you will be warmer wearing it in the car. This is actually why I always keep some extra blankets in the trunk in winter, and a few of those instant heat packs in the glove compartment.

 

Yes the car will get very cold, but it is a flawless windbreak. It will always be warmer than out of the car.

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Thanks for the replies.

The one time I had to travel in an actual snowstorm we were overprepared. Tire Chains, hand warmers, full ski-type mittens to go over our gloves, a few days worth of food (beef jerky, dried fruit, nuts, candy, lots of water packed in an insulated cooler so it wouldn't freeze), ski masks, snow boots, extra heavy socks, flares, a fully charged jump box for the car battery, you name it.)

I had to travel to Green Bay Wisconsin from Louisville KY in a snowstorm so bad that they closed the airport, and come back in a worse one.

We had no trouble at all.(Snow chains work great, by the way.)

 

One of the first survival books I read was How to Stay Alive in The Woods by Bradford Angier, and one of the topics he brought up was that if you are in a survival situation, Be Careful!

If you sprain your ankle playing touch football, it may mean a trip to the Immediate Care Center. If you sprain your ankle when you are alone in the woods with no way to get help, it could mean that you don't make it out. Hiking in a snowstorm  over unkown terrain just seems like a recipe for disaster unless you have absolutely no alternative. The odds of getting hurt, lost, or actually killed vs the chance of running across Tom Bombadil out it the woods, seem to make it a losing proposition. Unless you are a very experienced orienteer or cross-county skier (and have the all the proper equipment with you), it always seemed to me that your best chance was staying put. Also, if it comes to the point where people are searching for you, it is a lot easier to find a car than a person.

 

Anyway, thanks again, and if anyone thinks hiking for help is the best way to go, please join in.

 

KA. 

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James Kim went for help in this same scenario and died. His family, who stayed with the car, lived. This was a few years ago. The family got onto a BLM logging access road and got stuck in the snow while traveling through Oregon. Story.

 

Here's an analysis of the incident from Doug Ritter of Equipped.org. Here's a forum thread from the same site, with discussion of the incident. (Note: Ritter's focus is on aviation survival. The linked site isn't a doomsday prepper site, and focuses on realistic situations. IOW, it's a good source of info, and the forums are well-policed.)

 

I think the main focus for surviving being stuck in a vehicle in the winter should be on warmth and hydration. With some forethought, the situation may suck but you should be able to stay put and get through it fine. Moving under these conditions, with no land navigation aids (or skill, I suspect in the Kim case) is suicidal and shouldn't be attempted unless there's a medical emergency or other extremely pressing need. (Like your car being broken down right under a potential landslide/avalanche.)

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42 minutes ago, Pattern Ghost said:

James Kim went for help in this same scenario and died. His family, who stayed with the car, lived. This was a few years ago. The family got onto a BLM logging access road and got stuck in the snow while traveling through Oregon. Story.

 

Here's an analysis of the incident from Doug Ritter of Equipped.org. Here's a forum thread from the same site, with discussion of the incident. (Note: Ritter's focus is on aviation survival. The linked site isn't a doomsday prepper site, and focuses on realistic situations. IOW, it's a good source of info, and the forums are well-policed.)

 

I think the main focus for surviving being stuck in a vehicle in the winter should be on warmth and hydration. With some forethought, the situation may suck but you should be able to stay put and get through it fine. Moving under these conditions, with no land navigation aids (or skill, I suspect in the Kim case) is suicidal and shouldn't be attempted unless there's a medical emergency or other extremely pressing need. (Like your car being broken down right under a potential landslide/avalanche.)

Thanks so much for the links, and the reminder. I knew I had seen a news story about a similar occurence, but I could not remember the name or where it happened.

 

KA.

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Here is something else to remember:  during the conditions that are mentioned a person will QUICKLY loose their direction, even if they have abs dir talent.  Under normal conditions it takes a person around fifteen to twenty minutes to walk one mile.  During the afore mentioned conditions, this time can be quadrupled or more, and it only takes seconds to get totally lost.  As a result, one can be convinced they are going north when in reality they are going any other direction, possibly south, north, any where in between.  They might even be going in circles and not getting anywhere.

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On 1/20/2019 at 6:24 PM, Duke Bushido said:

Presuming there is an ample depth of snow about, and you are able to brave it, build a reasonably thick berm of snow under the vehicle to prevent wind blowing under it. If possible, bank snow up next to the car and even on top of it.  Snow has some insulation value.  Not much, but much better than thin sheet metal.  Further, wind passing along that thin sheet metal makes a super-effective heat sink.  Again, presuming you have the material to do, use an attention-getting device like a red flag or something else while you prepare to wait out the night.

 

This is great advice that I hadn't previously heard of thought of!

 

For the record, snow has an insulation value about that of wood . . . not very good insulation, but when you have snow, you often have a lot of it. A foot of snow has about the same insulation value as a typical house wall with fiberglass insulation. It's never going to be much warmer than freezing in your snow cave, but with multiple people inside, it should be easy to keep it there.

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