After our initial stop in Nelson County Virginia, Elaine and I remain undecided about the next step in our extended south bound four-wheel winter walkabout. Will it be east to the Outer Banks or west across the Blue Ridge Mountains?

Regardless, events of January 4th in the Mid-Atlantic States reminded us of a harsh reality. WINTER CAN BE DANGEROUS! This realization came courtesy of a surprise winter storm that had frozen traffic cold, literally, for 50 miles on Route 95 in Virginia. It stranded unprepared drivers in snowbound vehicles for over 24-hours. In subsequent days new ice and snow storms as far south as the Carolinas made it clear that it did not stretch credulity that a February jaunt along the Blue Ridge Parkway or across the Carolina Piedmont could be interrupted by a powerful and unanticipated paralyzing storm. We would take the threat seriously and plan accordingly.

Tips on planning for the unexpected when winter turns ugly.


When blue highways turn white

The New York Times featured interviews with motorists that pretty much reflected the norm for unprepared travelers trapped and immobilized over night in the frigid grip of an unexpectedly severe winter storm. “It’s been so horrible,” said Arlin Tellez, 22 in an interview on Tuesday morning from her car stuck about 80 miles south of Washington, D.C.  Ms. Tellez explained to the New York Times that she had been trapped in her car since 5 p.m. Monday without any food or water, and was layering on clothes she had in the car.

Unlike Ms. Tellez, Elaine and I intend to be prepared. While we envision our trip as a party, we do not have in mind the Donner Party. As such I have assembled the Drivin’ News Winter Wander-land Preparedness Guide.

Some items for a winter survival kit are self evident, others not so much. Special emphasis will be given for considerations that may not be common knowledge. A list of all unmentioned items comprising a winter driving survival kit will be completed at the article’s conclusion.


Non-traditional winter kit items

Coffee can space heater

It is cheap and it works. It basically requires four items, an empty, clean metal (it must be metal) coffee can, candles (metal cup tea light candles are cheap and work well), matches (waterproof or wooden stick matches are easier for cold, stiff fingers to use than a match book) and a heat resistant plate.

Position the can on a flat, stable, level, fire-resistant base. Place three or four tea candles in the bottom of the can. Once lit, the tea candles will burn for up to four hours.

If alone or with one other occupant in an SUV or large sedan consider reducing the space needed to be heated by duct taping a  blanket from the headliner to the back of the front seat.

Non-lumping cat litter (5 lbs.) or carpet strips

Both provide improved traction when placed in the path of the drive wheels.


In a blinding storm a strong whistle (120 dB and up) can alert help to your location.

Whiskey stones (Cubes of solid soapstone that when refrigerated will chill your bourbon without diluting it offer a great advantage for preventing water from freezing.)

Adding un-chilled whiskey stones to your water will help to keep it unfrozen, particularly in sub-zero temperatures. Other options include floating a ping-pong ball, a citrus peel, or another floating object that will keep the surface of your water from freezing completely over.

Bivy (Bivouac sack)

Inexpensive and rugged. Bivies pack very small, can weigh under 6 ounces and can be used as a survival blanket or sleeping bag. On the inside it has a reflective polyester coating, which can efficiently reflect up 90% of your body heat to help keep you warm even in the worst of conditions.

Cell phone walkie talkie app

Cell phone walkie talkie apps can provide the capability to turns your phone into a walkie talkie during any disaster and can help speed up rescue efforts once the storm has passed. Examples of apps: Zello, Two Way: Walkie Talkie


Provides great insulation when placed between skin and clothing

Crank, battery, outlet, solar power radio

Compact sized units provide AM/FM and weather bands. It includes cell phone charging jack. Contains emergency light.

LED headlight

Small high intensity light that straps around the head frees hands while providing powerful illumination.


When stranded snowbound or in blizzard conditions your safety, even your life may hinge not only on what you do but what you choose not to do.

Recommended DON’Ts

Do not panic.

Take a breath. You will think more clearly. Assess your situation. If you are within 75 to 100 yards of an occupied structure consider bundling up and making the trip. If not, set up camp in your vehicle. Hopefully after reading this article you will have some supplies on hand.

Three reasons to not drink alcoholic beverages

Danger #1  -Alcohol is a vasodilator.

Alcohol causes the blood vessels just below the skin’s surface to expand. This creates a false sensation of warmth while actually stealing heat from the vital organs and decreasing overall core temperature. Thus, alcohol overrides the body’s defenses against cold temperatures which is to constrict your blood vessels in order to keep your core body temperature up.

Danger #2 – Alcohol is a diuretic.

Alcohol causes you to urinate more. This speeds up dehydration and removes heat from your body.

Danger #3 – Alcohol impedes decision making abilities

Alcohol reduces the ability to make reasoned decisions. A bad decision in a life threatening situation is just that, life threatening.

Don’t drink coffee, tea or other beverages with caffeine

Coffee with caffeine may be hot but caffeine like alcohol is a diuretic. You will need to urinate more, thus, unnecessarily losing heat from the body.

Don’t go to sleep with the car running

A stranded car should never be left running for more than 10 minutes every hour. If no one is awake in a running car it can easily become a death chamber. Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless, and deadly gas produced by the engine can build up quickly inside a vehicle, poisoning anyone inside.

Recommended DOs

Stay with the vehicle. Yes, I know about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic heroism. Few of us are Ernest Shackleton and in this day and age no reason exists for any of us to aspire through heroic efforts to prove we are.

Unless a home or building stands close and clearly reachable, stay put. The car provides shelter and protection. It is far more visible to searchers and by your having read this article it should contain supplies to help you survive until help arrives.

Clear exhaust pipe of snow

A blocked tail pipe can result in carbon monoxide entering the stranded vehicle.

Move supplies from trunk to car

As soon as you realize your situation, set up camp. Transfer all necessary supplies to where they will be easily accessible and not require going outside.

Colorful cloth on antennae

Tying a brightly colored cloth to an antennae or roof rack enhances the visibility of the vehicle.

Crack window

Leaving the two windows open slightly will assure ventilation and a supply of fresh air

Run engine a maximum of 10-minutes per hour

Run the engine sparingly to preserve fuel while generating and conserving heat.

Keep feet off floor or put paper or cloth down for insulation

Put paper or blankets on the vehicle floor or keep feet off the floor to protect loss of heat through feet.

Put on extra clothing right away

If you see that you are stranded, layer on all the clothes you have right away. Do not wait. Staying warm is much easier than getting warm.

Loosen tight clothing

Once fully dressed, loosen clothing tight to the skin. Loose cloths retain more body heat.

Remove metal jewelry

Metal jewelry can chill quickly and leach heat from your body.

Eat a snack of high calorie food before sleeping

Consuming a snack of high calorie food before sleeping will stimulate your metabolism and increase your heat production.

Tether yourself to car if you must go out

If you must leave the vehicle in a blinding snow storm tie yourself to the car with parachute cord (Paracord) or nylon rope so that you can find your way back to the vehicle.

Drink plenty of fluids

It is just as easy to become dehydrated on a cold day in winter as a warm day in summer. Dehydration makes a person more susceptible to the potential health hazards of cold weather.

Winter emergency kit content list (additional items)


Plug in and solar cell phone charger

Chemical hand and foot warmers


First aid kit

Fresh batteries


High energy food (Long shelf life)

Jumper cables

LED flashlight

Paper maps

Pen & Paper

Reflective triangle

Six-pack 30-minute road flares

Snow brush/ scraper


Toilet paper

Tool kit w/Leatherman

trash bags (Large)

Warm clothes