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3 Reasons Not to live in Michigan

Winter Driving Emergency Survival Tips

Always Be Prepared

by: Annette M. Hall

Growing up in small town, USA gave me many advantages. Though you wouldn't have convinced me of that at the time. I remember cross-country skiing in Grayling, MI with our Girl Scout troup. Being the adventurous person that I am, I quickly ran off with a friend, lost one of my "cross-country" ski's, while skiing "downhill." Fortunately for us, the weather was kind.

Scouting played an important role in my life back then. Camping, selling cookies, earning merit badges and learning self-reliance was all part of the package. One lesson that has never left me, was to "always be prepared." Something I try to do to this very day.

Life has taught me to expect the unexpected. While we don't always have control over the events in our lives, with preparation, we can have a hand in the outcome.

Living in areas prone to bad weather and winter storms has also taught me a tremendous respect for the elements. Snow can be enormous fun to play in but can create special hazards when we must drive in it. With a little forethought and preparation, we can brave the winter snow with confidence.

Consider This...

On your way home, your car slides on an icy patch of road and you find yourself in a ditch, unable to maneuver out. You are stuck in the snow and find yourself stranded waiting for help to arrive. The wind is blowing at 25 mph and the temperature is 10 degrees. The wind chill is -24 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite and hypothermia can begin to occur in a very short time. Are you prepared?

If you live in an area which is prone to snow, you probably winterize your vehicle. You change the oil, check the anti-freeze level and check your tire pressure. Those of us living in the high country, even dig out our chains.

With just a little time and effort on your part, you can tip the odds of survival significantly in your favor, should the elements turn on you and threaten the lives of you and your family members.

At the beginning of each winter, I like to prepare an emergency road kit, which always travels with me. It takes up a little room but finding a container that will properly fit your vehicle's available space can make carrying around the added cargo as painless as possible.

Your Winter Emergency Survival Kit

Winter Weather Info

Note: You may find you have special needs requiring additional items. This list is to be considered an aid in preparing for winter travel. Those with medical conditions will want to be sure to include any necessary medication or other health aid devices.

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If you have small children remember to add extra high carb snacks in your road kit, include some books or comics and possibly some small travel games to entertain them. I always keep several blankets in the trunk "just in case." They come in handy whenever a short trip turns into an unexpectedly long one.

If you are a family who spends more time in the car than you do gathered around the kitchen table, consider getting a copy of Diane Flynn Keith's Carschooling book. It's jam packed with neat ideas for you and the kids. The book is not only educational, it's entertaining.

Road Smart

The highway has great advantages and provides us with the means to travel at great speeds, but can be fraught with danger, especially during winter storms. Being alert to the many road hazards can help keep you from making a fatal error while traveling this winter.

Most highways today have a posted minimum speed of 45 mph, which is a safe traveling speed unless you are driving during a blinding blizzard. The minimum speed posted applies during normal road conditions. You will not be ticketed for driving slower during a winter storm. However, in slowing down, the life you save may be your own.

If you begin to see cars in the ditches around you, consider getting off the highway at the nearest exit and traveling an alternate route, whenever possible, to avoid be stranded in the snow on a busy highway.

If you do attempt an alternate route, be aware that getting off the highway during a winter storm can be a delicate maneuver, as entrance and exit ramps become snow filled and not as well travelled as the expressway and can present a challenge to the casual motorist.

To exit the highway safely, give the cars behind you plenty of warning, turn your signal on far ahead of your intended exit. Begin to slow gradually, keeping in mind that any sudden turns can put your car into a skid.

Applying the brakes gently, pumping them slightly, (unless you have anti-lock brakes or drive an AWD vehicle, in that case be sure to be familiar with the manufacturers recommendations) instead of spiking them, will allow you to maintain control of your vehicle.

Once you've managed to get off the highway, it's a good time to stop and consult your map for the best alternate route to your destination. If conditions are severe consider stopping at your nearest hotel or motel. Often just taking a short break at a nearby restaurant will give you time to calm your frazzled nerves and give road crews a chance to clear snow covered roads.

The surface streets will, in all likelihood, have considerable snow coverage, because the highways are generally cleared first. However, the slower driving speeds will more than compensate for the road conditions.

What makes the difference between an ordinary driver and a good one?

Winter Camping

It pays to stay alert and aware of other drivers on the road. Allow extra braking room between you and the car ahead, to allow for sliding. Check your rearview mirror often for cars following too closely, who could "accidentally" hit you from behind. It is often possible to avoid being rear-ended if you stay alert and are aware of the possible danger.

If you must call for directions or assistance, remember to pull off the road first. Don't allow yourself to become distracted when driving in hazardous road conditions. The break will help you maintain your focus and composure.

It is always best to allow yourself extra driving time during the winter months to avoid being rushed to the point that you are tempted to drive faster than road conditions permit. If you have young drivers in your home, make certain they know how to handle their vehicle in a skid and that they are properly prepared for a road emergency.

Prepare your car for an emergency

Make sure your car is winterized and running properly so you will not be stranded in bad weather. Keep your gas tank near full to avoid fuel line freeze-up. A full tank also provides added weight and will allow you to keep warm longer, should you become a stranded motorist.

If you are stranded in your car:

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If you are stranded outside during a storm:

If there is no shelter available:

Understanding Weather Conditions

Keep posted on local weather conditions. Your local radio, television stations, internet and weather service radio will keep you informed on the forecasts. A clear understanding of terms used by the National Weather Service will enable you to enjoy the winter weather safely.

Weather Definitions

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Describes winds over 35 mph with blowing snow and reduced visibility to near zero.

Blowing snow

Is wind-driven snow that significantly reduces visibility and causes drifting. Blowing snow may be a combination of snow that is falling and loose snow on the ground picked up by wind.

Snow advisory

Is issued when three to six inches are expected in any 12 hour period.

Snow flurries

Describes lightly falling snow over a short duration. Little or no accumulation is expected.

Snow showers

Indicates snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.

Building an Igloo!

Snow squalls

Brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant. Snow squalls are best known around the Great Lakes region.


Describes rain drops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause hazardous conditions for motorists.

Freezing rain

Rain that falls onto a surface with a temperature below freezing. This causes it to freeze to surfaces, such as trees, cars and roads, forming a sheet or glaze of ice. Even a small accumulation of ice can cause a significant driving hazard.

Wind chill advisory

May be issued when strong winds increase the danger of exposure to cold air.

Winter storm watch

Indicates that severe winter weather conditions may affect your area.

Winter storm warning

Indicates that severe winter conditions are imminent and you should take immediate precautions.

Winter weather advisory

Means that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If caution is exercised, these situations should not become life threatening. The greatest hazard is often to motorists.

With a little preparation and some clear thinking you can enjoy the winter wonderland and avoid tragedy this winter. Don't leave safety to chance... Always Be Prepared!

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Updated December 16, 2013

Carschooling by Diane Flynn Keith

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