Lessons Learned: Traveling In Severe Winter Weather

February 23, 2014 — Leave a comment

Yesterday I wrote a light-hearted rant about Snowpocalypse 2014 and I thought I’d follow it with some observations I’ve made and practical applications I believe would benefit everyone.  I’m optimistic that many Atlantans have already arrived to the same conclusions and done the same.  Cautiously optimistic.

The first rule of fight club severe winter weather travel is: Don’t.  Not if you don’t have to, anyway.  If Americans stink at anything, it’s distinguishing between a “need” and a “want.”  I’d suggest that “have to” and “don’t have to” are a close second.  You probably know someone personally, or at least heard a ridiculous news story of someone that didn’t have to be out on the roads but chose to anyway and suffered for it.

Luckily, I was neither trapped nor had to travel anywhere until after the weather cleared — so I was spared from all of the drama others had to deal with.  While I was at home listening to the carnage on the radio, I took a mental inventory of all the items I usually have rolling around on the floorboard of my vehicle AND what I should be adding to the list.

Here are a few new seasonal items I’ll be adding to my vehicle in preparation for next time:

  1. A heat source — Pocket hand warmers are reasonably priced (for what they are) and come in different types.  I prefer the reusable ones over the single-use variety.  If you left them in your vehicle year round, they might come in handy when your wife complains that you’ve set the air conditioning too cold. 🙂
    Space (or emergency mylar) blankets are also a great, cheap investment.  Space blankets have saved my bacon in the past when backpacking in inclement weather — but they aren’t anything I’ve considered keeping in the vehicle, until now.
  2. Power — Most modern smart phones can’t stand up to an entire day of usage, nevermind if you rely on it for both emergency communications and entertainment while stuck in your vehicle.  I’m not sure how widespread car phone chargers are but what if you’re not in your vehicle?  I’ve been familiar with the MintyBoost product for some time.  I plan on purchasing a couple kits and keeping one in each vehicle with batteries and a spare USB charging cable.  This is actually a kit but there are dozens of different mobile device chargers that operate in the same way.  Pick one that works for you.
  3. Toilet Paper — This is something I’ve never considered carrying in my vehicle, nor something I consider having to use when stranded on the road any time soon — but better safe than sorry, right?

You’re probably thinking that’s a pretty short list.  But I already keep a dozen other handy items in my vehicle for a handful of different situations.  Some of these are:

  1. Water — I don’t plan on being stranded but I also don’t plan on dying of dehydration, either.
  2. Food — I usually have something to snack on within reach in case I need to eat on the run, but I also have a handful of high-calorie emergency food bars as well.  I don’t snack on these, they’re only if I truly need them.  The Datrex brand is highly reviewed/rated.
  3. Hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes — I keep both and they’re used frequently.  Especially if diaper changes are a possibility.
  4. Flashlight — I always keep a flashlight in all vehicles.  Flashlights are invaluable when you need one the most.  However, they’re rarely used so I never keep the batteries in them.  (So the batteries won’t leak and ruin the electronics.)
  5. First Aid Kit — I keep a simple one full of basic supplies such as band-aids, gauze, medical tape and anti-biotic cremes.  Again, these are rarely used but especially handy when you need one most.
  6. Fire starter — Usually matches and sometimes a lighter.  I’ve never needed to reach into my truck to produce something that would start a fire, but it’s kinda hard to produce fire on demand without the right tools.
  7. Duct tape — Great for just about any application!
  8. Zip ties — Useful for when you need a more stylish approach to securing items than using duct tape.
  9. Cordage — A random piece of rope, usually reserved for when I purchase more from the home-improvement store than will actually fit inside my vehicle.
  10. Season-specific clothing — If it’s really cold outside but I’m traveling somewhere I’ll be inside, I always bring along enough clothing that would keep me warm should I have to spend an unexpected amount of time outdoors.  Usually it’s just a heavier coat or different footwear.  If I’m going to a ritzy event and I’m wearing dress shoes, I bring along a pair of more rugged shoes and a change of socks.  After hundreds of Atlantans walked from work home in the snow, I’m feeling justified having exercised this habit for so many years.

I also thought of this while reviewing my list: While not necessarily something you can pack — know where you’re going!  Know alternative routes between you and your destination.  This should be second-nature to Atlantans who continually have to navigate gridlocked Interstates and surface streets.  If you have to leave your vehicle, know the best way to travel on foot to your destination.

Thousands of Atlantans experienced the pain of not being prepared to travel in severe winter weather.  Honestly, I can’t blame most of them since we don’t experience these events often enough to have  warnings resonate in our thinking this time of year.  Some folks probably won’t change a thing about their daily commutes but I’m determined to learn from their mistakes.

Have something you’d do differently or know of an item I’m overlooking?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Aaron Melton

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