It finally happened. Our first snowfall in Illinois.
Although the often-despised four-letter word had been thrown around all week, I was still shocked when I approached the front doors at work yesterday and found myself the spellbound character in the middle of a snow globe. Like every year before this, I was stunned to see the harsh weather already upon us, but equally mesmerized at the big flakes blanketing the sky.
As a retail manager I am always aware of safety precautions, so my first thought was to secure the store floors and entryways to keep my employees and customers from falling. But then I had to chastise myself because I haven't done anything to prepare my car or person for the often very dangerous commute I make through rural roads that don't get much plowing action.
My parents instilled this practice in me, growing up in Indiana. I must admit that I only did it out of a healthy respect for them, but boy was I thankful that after 20 years of driving through winter weather, I still followed their guidelines when I wrecked my car a few years ago. I was coming home from work through a nightmare of wind, ice and snow, when I did several violent fishtails across the highway and wound up driving down a ravine and into a small creek. I missed a big tree by a hair's width; the car was so close, it was almost wedged against it sideways, and I had to literally crawl up the tree in my work skirt and flats to get out of the car.
My first rational thought, after panic over the damage to my car, was the worry that I was miles from civilization, in a very low-trafficked area on a normal day, at night, in conditions where no one would be able to see me.
But I was prepared.
In my trunk I kept a small survival pack. Extra winter garb (which was a blessing, since I hadn't expected snow and wasn't even wearing a coat), boots, sweat pants. My parents always preached about keeping old comforters for emergencies, and I had two in my car. A roadside kit contained flares, a reflective triangle — even if they were almost impossible to see. Somehow, when I made it to the top of the embankment, my cellphone had just enough coverage that I was able to give my husband landmarks so he could send a deputy out to retrieve me. I was even luckier when a woman drove past and stopped to give me a ride to the nearest small town, where I got shelter at a gas station and waited for the overworked deputy to take note of my accident.
But if I hadn't had my emergency items in the car, the wreck would have been incredibly disastrous. Even in this modern age, those segments of my drive that are devoid of civilization can be deadly. Here are some tips to making your own winter weather survival kit
in your car:
Keep some quick repair items on hand in case your car breaks down. Tow ropes, jumper cables, a portable battery booster, fuses and tire repair items (lug nut wrench, jack, tire gauge, foam sealant, a portable air compressor) are basics that can be a real life saver if you're stuck on the road. Don't forget a toolkit, flashlight and extra batteries. Having a tarp will help keep you drier if you have the misfortune of changing a tire in nasty weather, and a jug of litter or sand are handy when you need a bit more traction.
You'll need proper attire. I despise wearing a winter coat, and can be satisfied running from car to building in an old sweatshirt. But it's a whole different story when you're stranded in extremely cold and wet conditions. Keep a change of clothes on hand, something warm and practical for hoofing it several miles in a blizzard if needed. A supply of heavy socks and accessories (gloves, hats, scarves) will be extremely useful when a storm catches you off-guard. Old boots or tennis shoes, that coat you keep for sledding with the kids — as long as they still fit, pack them with your other stuff. If you don't wind up needing them, you might have a passenger or other motorist who does.
Plan to be stranded for a while. I can't tell you the enormous sense of security I felt after my wreck when I opened the trunk and found the comforters I'd had in there for years. Keep old blankets or sleeping bags on hand. If you are stuck and can't run the motor, you'll need the added warmth. Non-perishable snack foods, water and any medications you must have will prove invaluable in an emergency. Some suggest keeping matches and an old container if you end up having to melt snow while waiting for help.
Don't forget the first aid kit. One for yourself, with plenty of bandages and even some burn cream, and one for your car, with flares and a reflective triangle.
Even with basic survival gear in tow, your car will not perform as well as necessary if you don't have it maintenanced for winter driving
. Good luck this year, and as always, drive safely!