You should stay off the roads during a blizzard or snowstorm if at all possible. But if you absolutely can’t avoid it, here’s what you should know.
First, stock your car with as many of these essentials as you possibly can:
1. Your fully charged cell phone, with a portable charger if you have one
If you get stranded on the side of the road during a snowstorm and can’t get yourself un-stuck, you should call for help immediately, Bill Van Tassel, Ph.D., an expert in safety education and manager of driver training programs at AAA, tells BuzzFeed Life. Call 911, and stay on the line with the dispatcher for as long as you need to.
You should also get in touch with loved ones to let them know where you are and what happened.
The portable charger pictured above gets good reviews on Amazon and is only $24.99. Get it here.
2. Flares or reflective triangles to increase your visibility
“It’s so people can see you and avoid hitting you with their own cars,” Van Tassel says. It’ll also help any rescue workers spot you in blizzard white-out conditions, day or night.
The reflective triangle pictured above is heavy-duty, and meant to withstand strong winds. It’s also visible during the day and the night. Get it here.
3. Blankets and/or sleeping bags
To keep you warm in case you have to spend a few hours — or a full night — in your car. This one from AAA is easy to store and has a fleece interior with a water-resistant exterior, and it’s only $19.99. Get it here.
4. An extra set of warm clothes, AND an extra set of regular clothes
If you’re stranded on the side of the road during a snowstorm, you’ll likely have to get out of the car a few times to take some safety precautions, Van Tassel says. That means you could get wet. “Fresh dry clothes can go a long way to help preventing hypothermia,” he says. So pack extra clothes if you can.
You’ll also want to layer up with extra winter gear (like a hat, a scarf, gloves, boots, etc.), so you don’t have to rely so much on your car’s heat. (Running the car for heat can waste gas, and also might expose you to deadly carbon monoxide gas).
5. Bottled water and non-perishable snacks
Keep a bottle of water in your glove box and a few in your trunk in case of emergency. And snack bars can be filling and tide you over in a pinch.
Nature Valley Crunch Oats ‘n Dark Chocolate granola bars — get them here.
6. A flashlight with an extra set of batteries
Keep it in your glove box. Helps you see what you’re doing when it’s dark out, and also helps increase your visibility in case someone is out there looking for you.
The flashlight pictured above is waterproof and shock-resistant, and it uses LED lights. Get it here for $23.77.
7. Sand or kitty litter
If your wheels are spinning and you just need a bit more traction to get your car unstuck, you can try putting down sand or kitty litter under the wheels to see if that helps, Van Tassel says. Another cool suggestion: “Pull out your floor mat, stick it under your tires,” he says. You can always get another one.
8. Standard car emergency tools: A jack, a shovel, a spare tire, jumper cables, tow rope, and some basic tools
A flat board for soft surfaces is also helpful, Van Tassel says, in case you get a flat tire and need to jack up your car to replace it.
The jumper cables pictured above are just $6.34. Get them here.
9. An ice and snow scraper and brush
If you’re stuck in your car on the side of the road, you’ll want good visibility from inside the car — that way you’ll know when someone is nearby and maybe can help, Van Tassel says. That means that you’ll need to keep your windshield clear and clean, which could mean scraping off snow and ice a few times over the course of several hours.
The scraper and brush combo above is only $10.37. Get it here.
10. First aid kit
For treating your small cuts and injuries until the emergency services arrive. This one gets 4 and a half stars on Amazon. Get it here for just $15.62.
And here’s what you should do if you get stuck in your car during a blizzard:
11. Do whatever you can to move your car out of harm’s way
“To whatever degree possible, you want to protect yourself from being hit by any other approaching motorists,” Van Tassel says. He suggests pulling off the road and stopping it along the back side of a guard rail or on a protected side of another vehicle. Moving it to the shoulder if you can will also help.
Pictured above is a video a bystander took of a recent tragic 193-vehicle crash in Michigan, where one person died.
12. Call 911 and let them know where you are
“We recommend calling for help as soon as you can,” Van Tassel says.
13. Set up flares or reflective triangles to alert people that you’re there
Turn your hazard flashers on, too. “You want to be as visible as you can to other motorists and rescue crews,” Van Tassel says.
14. Get out of the car and make sure your tailpipe is clear of snow. Do this repeatedly.
This will help keep you safe from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning when you run your engine, Van Tassel says.
15. Only run the car for a few minutes every hour to help warm yourself up
It sounds counterproductive, but you should keep a window cracked a little bit every time you run your engine, to reduce your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, Van Tassel says.
16. Stay in your car for as long as possible
“If you’re safe in the car [meaning, if you’re not in danger of being slammed by oncoming traffic], it’s better to stay with the car,” Van Tassel says. “You’ve got a nice structure around you, all your gear is there, it’s going to be a warmer place, you’ve got some shelter — that’s what you want.” Only get out to clear out the tailpipe and and clean off the windshield for visibility.