Be Prepared When Driving in Winter Weather Conditions

Virginia has already been hit with the first big snow storm of the season and, as I write this, another storm is pending. Winter weather brings with it opportunities for outdoor fun but also the potential for great danger. Whether you clap your hands with glee at the first falling snowflake or are huddled before the fire dreaming of Virginia Beach in July, a little preparation will help make the winter safer.

Start by familiarizing yourself with the meanings of the various weather warnings you might hear. A “winter storm watch” means a winter storm is possible. A “winter storm warning” means a winter storm is coming your way. A “blizzard warning” means it’s time to get inside immediately. According to www.weather.com, a blizzard is a weather event lasting at least three hours which includes low temperatures (usually below 20 degrees Fahrenheit), winds of at least 35 mph, and snow falling or blowing at a rate which will generally reduce visibility to less than a quarter of a mile.

To help protect yourself and your family at home, make sure you have extra blankets available and that each member of your household has a warm coat, gloves or mittens, a hat, and water-resistant boots. The Red Cross recommends you prepare an emergency supplies kit, including the following items:

  •  First aid kit and any necessary prescription medications
  • Battery operated NOAA weather radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
  • At least three days’ worth of foods which require little or no water and no refrigeration or preparation. Think about items such as dry cereal, ready to eat soup, granola or energy bars, peanut butter and canned tuna. Check these food items periodically to make sure they have not expired.
  • At least three gallons of bottled water per person (enough to last three days).

There are Family Preparedness Plan 1 forms available on-line that will help you be prepared. If you like, you can save the Plan you choose on-line and easily make later changes, or you can simply complete and print it and distribute a copy to your family members. The example noted in the footnote includes several comprehensive lists of items to keep in the event of an emergency.

Once the storm hits, do not go outside unless it’s absolutely necessary. Dress in light layers – several light layers will keep you warmer than one heavy layer. If you must shovel snow, be extremely careful and take frequent breaks to rest from the exertion. Watch for any signs of hypothermia or frostbite as both conditions can cause permanent damage. Signs of frostbite include burning, numbness, tingling or itching. The affected areas may appear white or frozen. Symptoms of hypothermia may include extreme shivering, numbness, stiffness, stumbling, drowsiness, slow speech and exhaustion. If you see these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Don’t drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary. Fill your gas tank prior to any storm, which will help keep the fuel line from freezing. Advise other people of the route you plan to take; should you become lost or stuck, this will aid searchers. Tie a brightly colored ribbon to your antenna which will help rescuers spot your vehicle in the snow. Stay with your vehicle and run the engine’s heater for about ten minutes every hour, otherwise leaving the engine off to conserve gas. Make sure the exhaust pipe is cleared of snow before starting the vehicle. Never leave on a road trip without making sure you have extra blankets, water and food with you.

Of course, snow isn’t required for winter weather to be hazardous; extreme cold alone can be very dangerous. The wind chill temperature refers to how cold it actually feels to people outside and can be considerably lower than the temperature reading on the thermometer. For example, the National Weather Service indicates that a wind of 20 miles per hour will drop a temperature of 30 degrees to a wind chill temperature of 17 degrees, and a temperature of 15 degrees to a wind chill temperature of minus 2 degrees! 2 Be sure you bundle up warmly before going out when the wind chill temperature is low, regardless of what the thermometer says.

Whether you revel in the winter, or are anxiously looking for the first signs of spring, a little preparation and a little extra caution will go a long way towards making the winter weather safer and more enjoyable.

About the Author: Tammy Ruble is an attorney with the personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen.


1 – For example, see https://registration.weather.com/ursa/ready/form. 2 –The National Weather Service has created a chart which shows the dramatic effect of adding wind to low temperatures; see http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill/.