How to

20 May 2016

What to do if You’re Caught in a Blizzard

While you might have been in a fair few snowstorms, you’d know about it if you were ever in a blizzard. In high winds, heavy snowfall can severely reduce visibility, but in blizzards, which are characterised by wind speeds of at least 56km/h, you cannot say anything, and you can barely stand up. Houses and cars are buried in snow, roads completely vanish and in some cases, people die.

If there’s any sign that a blizzard is on the way, your first directive should be to get the hell indoors as quickly as possible, but that isn’t always an option. Blizzards can sometimes arrive so suddenly that those unfortunate enough to be out of doors at the time have no time to prepare, much less find shelter, so what do you do?

If you’re stuck in your car, you should hopefully have it prepared for winter conditions anyway, which you can follow our guide for here, but beyond that, there are a number of measures you can take to make sure you make it out alright:

  • Stop the car, unless you can see any kind of building nearby, the last thing you want to be doing is trying to drive in such dangerously low visibility.
  • Get out and check that there isn’t snow packed into your exhaust pipe. If there is, clear it out, carbon monoxide poisoning isn’t any fun.
  • Put your hazard lights on, just because you’ve been intelligent enough to pull over doesn’t mean that others have.
  • Keep your engine on long enough to heat up the car, and then switch it off. Repeat this process periodically, but not too often, and check the exhaust again each time before turning the engine back on.
  • Keep yourself hydrated. There should be a water supply in the car with you, but if there isn’t you’ll need to melt some snow to drink, here’s our guide on that.
  • To keep yourself warm between those lovely moments when the heater is on, try doing short sets of vigorous exercise, not enough to wear you into a state of fatigue, or overly dehydrate you, but to keep the blood flowing.

If you’re especially unlucky, you might get caught out there on foot. There’s no way to sugar-coat it, this is seriously bad news. In situations like this, knowing what to do really can mean the difference between life and death. 

  • Once again, staying hydrated is absolutely key, and if you don’t have a water source to hand (which you absolutely should), melting snow is your best bet.
  • Look for anything which could provide a barrier between you and the snow. If you’re being buffeted by it constantly, the risk of being knocked down or catching a chill is substantially higher.
  • Don’t stray too far from where you were when the blizzard struck. If you wander off, you might lose your bearings, and if people are out looking for you they won’t be able to find you!
  • If you’re with other people, hold hands, link arms or maintain physical contact in some other way. You’re going to have real trouble seeing or hearing each other, so touch is the best way of assuring you don’t lose each other.
  • If you can see well enough to, try and build a snow shelter to weather out the storm in, if you can’t find any manmade structures. Check out our shelter building guide for tips on how to do so.
  • A more obvious preparation tip, but dress appropriately! If there’s any chance of snowfall, however light, wear insulated, waterproof clothes.
  • If you can’t reach anyone by phone, switch it off to conserve power until you can.

Of course, the best way to survive a blizzard is to avoid it altogether. Keep a close eye on weather warnings and never go out in a blizzard warning unless it’s absolutely, unavoidably necessary. If you do have to, make sure you tell somebody else exactly where you’re going and try to avoid going alone. Pack and dress appropriately with all the gear you might need, but once again, try to stay indoors at all costs until you know that any danger of a storm, or the storm itself, has passed.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.