Stranded in Blizzard
It has been documented that Green Bay, WI, is the coldest place on earth. Affectionately known as “The Frozen Tundra”, the desolate land of Lambeau Field is home to polar wildlife and fanatic football fans. This is why Packers fans wear cheeseheads—they are for warmth in addition to team pride.
Much like the walk from the field to the parking lot, a hike or camping trip in a winter wonderland can quickly become a life-or-death situation if you get caught in a blizzard. Blizzards, and winter storms in general, typically include strong winds, freezing temperatures, and falling or blowing snow that can reduce visibility to zero. With sub-freezing temperatures, hypothermia can occur within 15 minutes, and frostbite can permanently damage your skin. In extreme cases, death can occur within hours.
What should I do if I find myself lost or stranded as a blizzard picks up?
If you find yourself lost or stranded as a blizzard picks up, the following guidance could save your life.
- Find some shelter. The ideal situation is to locate a building, tent, cave, or even a vehicle, to protect yourself from the brutality of freezing wind and snow. If you cannot find something ready-made, then consider making a lean-to or digging out a hole. This is a temporary measure while you await more favorable conditions to make your way to safety, or await rescue.
- Stay dry. Avoid sweating, and brush snow off your clothing before it melts.
- Keep your heat to yourself. Keep your clothing dry, and avoid prolonged contact with the snow. Create a barrier between you and the ground, such as leaves or grass. Minimize the wind blowing directly on you.
- Stay hydrated. Don’t directly eat snow, as this saps your body heat. Melt and drink it if at all possible.
- Build a fire. Your outdoor kit should include waterproof matches or lighters and fire starters—just add dry wood and a wind blocker.
- Be visible. Bright colors, bright lights, loud whistles, and smoke make you more visible to rescuers. If it’s safe to do so, consider making your way closer to roads or open areas to increase your chances of being spotted.
If you are fortunate enough to make it to a vehicle or building with a heat source, don’t expend all the fuel keeping yourself warm! Use the heat to get yourself dry, and then ration the energy—you might need it to last for a while. Consider running the car engine for only a few minutes every hour, and keep fires at a low level unless you have a large stockpile of wood.
Before venturing outdoors in arctic conditions, be sure to prepare yourself. Never venture into nature alone, dress for success, and pack a survival kit. Proper clothing for the freezing outdoors should have a water- and wind-resistant outer layer, one or more insulating middle layers, and a perspiration-wicking inner layer. You should be able to cover all skin, if needed. Boots and gloves should be waterproof, and you should have multiple head coverings (hats, scarves, and hoods). Next, ensure your kit contains some fire-starting materials, a knife or multi-tool, flashlight, and a whistle. Larger backpack-sized kits should also contain water, food, medical supplies, hand sanitizer, rope, and a blanket or sleeping bag. And as usual, ensure your phone has a full charge, and preserve the batter by keeping it off or in airplane mode.
What if you get stranded in your home or vehicle?
Since it is also possible to get stranded in your home or vehicle, you should have a similarly-stocked emergency kit in each as well. With the additional space, load up on food, water, batteries, and warming materials. Your home should have at least one source of heat that does not depend on electricity, even if it is an outdoor fire. Wherever this heat source is, plan on that being the family bedroom at night—move bedding here, and seal off the unused rooms in the house to reduce heat wastage.
With these tips, you should be able to prepare your home, your vehicle, and yourself for the deep snows of winter. Preparation is half the battle, and following simple steps is the other half. Like those faithful Packers fans during playoff season, you’ll be ready to face the elements head-on and live to see another day.