HOPF: We're not prepared for roadside winter emergencies

Posted: Jan. 3, 2013 5:01 pm Updated: Feb. 14, 2013 5:15 pm


Winters in the Quincy area don't normally compare with those in the Rocky Mountains, but every now and then Mother Nature reminds us who is in charge.

The snowstorm the week before Christmas apparently caught many off guard. Hundreds of motorists were reported stranded for hours on roads in McDonough County, and dozens of vehicles slid off roadways throughout West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri.

Most people usually try to avoid driving in heavy snow, but with only a few inches of accumulation predicted, the problems that ultimately led to motorists being stranded or taking six hours for a normal 40-minute drive home from work were not anticipated. No one knew prolonged whiteout conditions, fueled by 50 mph wind, were going to play havoc.

And in too many cases, it turns out, people were not as prepared as they should have been.

This comes from a guy who once had to dig his car out of the snow with a dustpan while in college.

John Simon, director of the Adams County Emergency Agency, offered a few tips on items should keep in their cars in case of emergencies.

"If you are traveling -- particularly in rural areas -- you want to make sure you have a nice big, heavy blanket," he said, noting that adding extra clothes can also be helpful.

Some water and snacks also are important. Simon said people who get stranded on the road should avoid using snow to stay hydrated.

"The problem is that actually starts to lower your body temperature, because your body has to melt it and turn it into water," he said.

A shovel is more important than simply freeing a car.

"Even if you can't get yourself dug out, make sure you keep that exhaust line clear, so you don't get a backup of fumes that could be harmful in your vehicle," Simon said.

By keeping the exhaust system clear, drivers occasionally can turn the car on to generate some heat.

"Run your vehicle in short increments if you were to get stranded," Simon said. "Fifteen minutes on, run the heater, warm things up and shut it off. Conserve the fuel."

Drivers also should make sure to fill their gas tanks often, keeping them more than half full at all times.

The most obvious tool that could help a stranded motorist is a cellphone to contact authorities.

"Make sure the battery on your cellphone is charged before you travel," Simon said. "Make sure you have a 12-volt car adapter."

Neither my wife nor I encountered any difficulties, but she was more prepared if we had. Her car had an emergency roadside kit and blanket, a first-aid kit and a flashlight. One thing missing -- a shovel -- was under the tree on Christmas morning.

Sometimes it takes one disaster for us to be prepared for the next one.




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