Snow Survival Tips & Tricks
By Diane Tait
I know what you’re thinking. Since I live in Florida where it pretty much never snows, why am I dedicating this week’s blog to snow survival? If you’ve seen the news today, the Northeast just got hit by one of the worst snowstorms in the past decade. We’re talking up to five feet of snow in some places. Since I have friends and family in the northeast and have driven from JAX to Jersey on many occasions, I thought to myself, “What would I have done if I got caught in a snowstorm during the Christmas break when I last made the trip?” I hate to tell you, but you don’t have to go that far north of the Florida/Georgia line to hit snow. Even Atlanta gets snow from time to time. Considering that we Floridians haven’t got snow tires or chains, let alone an ice scraper or a snow shovel in our trunks, I thought it best if I gave all of you a tip or two to help you get out of trouble should you ever find yourself in a snowstorm.
There’s no business like snow business. – If you’ve ever driven in a snowstorm, then you know that not only is control an issue but so is visibility. A blizzard can quickly turn the world into a snow globe as the scene around you narrows down to a hazy white tunnel. The harder the snow blows, the slower the traffic becomes, which in itself can pose a hazard since it’s damnably tough to slow or stop once the white stuff starts to lay on the roadway. If you haven’t got any snow tires on your car, your best bet is to either turn around or get off the nearest exit to wait out the storm. Keep pressing on and you could be in for a world or hurt in any number of ways.
Engage Traction Control – If your vehicle comes equipped with traction control, this is the time to use it. Some models even flash a light on the dashboard whenever traction control is engaged. If yours does this, take it as an indication that you need to take your foot off the gas and slow down.
Skids and Slides – Even a quarter-inch of snow is enough to cause tires to lose traction, regardless of whether you’re going uphill, downhill or are on level ground. Should you try to take a curve or change lanes on snow you could find yourself on an unintended sleigh ride as the tires lose traction and Newton’s Third Law of Motion goes into effect. Instead of turning, you may find your vehicle stubbornly persisting to continue in go straight, which can mean colliding with the vehicle next to you or careening off the road. What will make the matter worse is hitting the brakes. Do this and you’ll likely wind up spinning out of control. Turning the wheel harder in the intended direction of travel will either prove useless or should the tires suddenly regain purchase, you’ll wind up over correcting which will again put you in harm’s way. If you ever find yourself in a skid on snow, first take your foot off the gas. Then make small corrections with the wheel to give the tires a chance to regain traction
Spinouts – Wheelspin can occur when you come to a stop and then apply too much power on snow or ice. Do this and one of two things will happen: Either the vehicle will stay where it is while the tires spin or the backend will try to pass the front end as the vehicle produces uneven traction. Either way, the only solution is to accelerate slowly from a standing stop and take your foot off the gas if the car starts to spinout. If your car has front-wheel drive, goosing the gas a bit can actually pull your vehicle out of a skid. Just don’t overaccelerate or you could wind up spinning out in the opposite direction.
Black Ice – The only thing worse than snow is black ice, which is like trying to drive your car on wet banana peels. I have personally seen cars slide slowly down a hill covered with black ice to pile up at the bottom of the rise. Since there’s little you can do to steer or stop, the only thing you can do on ice is to brace for impact and wait for the wheels to regain traction the car to stop with a thud. The most important thing to consider if your car winds up on black ice is to make sure you take extreme precautions before exiting the vehicle. That’s because you can wind up falling flat on your face if you try to walk across the ice or you could be struck by the next vehicle that comes along.
What should you do if you wind up stuck in a snowbank? – If you wind up running off the road into a snowbank, first and foremost you should make sure that it’s safe to exit the vehicle before stepping from it. That’s because if you ran off the road, it’s all too easy for another vehicle to do the same only to strike you or your vehicle. Depending on how deeply entrenched your car is in the snowbank you may find it impossible to see through the windows. In that case, climb out the window and look back toward the road. If the airbags didn’t deploy and your vehicle is still in drivable condition, the trick is to back out slowly while keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic. If the car was damaged or it’s buried to the point where you can’t back it out, you should call 911and then roadside assistance in that order.
Do you know how to make an emergency ice scraper? – If you don’t own an ice scraper and find your windshield and windows covered in ice, you should start the car and engage front and rear defrosters for a few minutes. Then use a credit card to scrape the ice off the windshield and rear window. As for the side windows, if the credit card doesn’t do the trick, you can use any of the following to help deice windows: antifreeze, vinegar, or eye drops which are composed of saline solution.
What should you bring with you if you venture into snow country? – The trick to avoiding being in a real pickle when you venture into snow country is to be prepared. While nobody expects to get stranded overnight in their vehicle, that’s exactly what can happen if you inadvertently drive into a blizzard. Roads can get closed and cellphone coverage can get cut off. Anytime I venture north in the winter, I always make sure I put extra food, water, clothes, rain gear, a sleeping bag, a jug of antifreeze, and a shovel in my trunk. If you have a camping stove it wouldn’t hurt to pack that too. The Boy Scouts aren’t the only ones who need to be prepared. Preparing for the worst can make all the difference in the world when the world turns frosty white.