Winter weather has hit western Nebraska. Most of Nebraska is going to get hit by a major snow storm, but Beatrice and southeast Nebraska may dodge this bullet with far less snow to contend with.
Ever though Beatrice didn’t get dumped on, it might be a good time to talk again about traveling during the holidays and having a basic survival kit for your vehicle. While I was writing this, forecasters are saying this could be a killer storm, so it pays to be prepared. All it takes is sliding off the road in blizzard conditions to make a nice trip to Granma’s house turn into a potential survival scenario.
Do you recall the story of James Kim, of Oregon? He took a wrong turn and found himself and his family stuck on a remote Oregon Highway. Kim's family was eventually rescued, but he froze to death while trying to hike out and find help.
Kim missed a turnoff on the way to a resort for the holidays. Rather than turn around and find the turnoff he missed, Kim took what he thought was an alternate route. It was a tragic mistake. He ended up stuck in a remote area on a road that is marked on Oregon Department of Transportation maps with a red legend, "This route closed in winter."
Getting caught in a snow storm and stranded can happen in Nebraska, too. A winter storm front, like the one we are dealing with now, can sweep across the state and create very dangerous situations with ice or snow in a matter of hours. If you were caught out on the road and slid off into a ditch, would you have what it takes to bivouac for a day or two in your vehicle?
One of the most important things to remember if you get lost or stuck while traveling is to stay with your vehicle. Your vehicle is a much bigger object for rescuers to see than a single person moving across the landscape. Your vehicle is also shelter and shelter is probably the most important asset you need in a winter survival situation.
Read any book on survival and it will tell you that you need four basic things: shelter, water, fire and perhaps food. It is winter, so shelter is your biggest concern. Simply wearing adequate clothing goes a long way to help you survive. Don’t wear just the minimum you need to get from the house to the car, wear what you would need to stand out in the environment for several hours!
Your vehicle, regardless of what you drive, is shelter from wind, snow, rain. Staying with your vehicle provides you two advantages; it is shelter and it is much easier to see a vehicle on the landscape than a single person. You are far more likely to be rescued faster if you stay with your vehicle. As seen with the tragic story above, the wife and daughters who stayed in the car survived.
Here are a few simple items that I recommend you carry with you during the winter.
• You need water. You can survive without food for several days, but you need some water everyday. For most survival situations, food is actually the last thing you need to think about. Most survival situations last only a couple days, so food is not the most critical element. I carry water in plastic bottles. Even if they freeze, the plastic will expand rather than break like glass and you'll still have water. You can buy bottled water or sport drinks that work perfect for this.
• Always have something with you to start a fire. A disposable cigarette lighter is easy to carry and very dependable, even in wet conditions.
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• Carry several small votive candles. These can generate a lot more heat inside a vehicle than you might think. A can of Sterno is a good thing to have, too.
• Carry a one-pound metal coffee can or small bucket. You can put a candle inside the can and make a heater with it or use the can to melt water. Roll down a window, about an inch, when using any kind of heater inside a vehicle. This will allow some fresh air in and an avenue for carbon monoxide to escape.
• Carry a cell phone charger that plugs into your car.
• Carry an emergency blanket. I like the metal foil type space blankets. They are small, strong and take up very little space. They reflect back lots of body heat.
• Have extra warm clothes and footwear with you in the vehicle. This could be a lifesaver!
• Carry something that is Hunter Orange. You can use this as a signaling device or marker for your vehicle.
• Carry a poly-tarp in your vehicle. One that is 10x12-foot is adequate. This can help with shelter and you would be surprised how warm you can stay by wrapping up in a tarp like this. Get a brightly colored poly-tarp to drape over your vehicle so it can be seen even easier.
• Add something like an emergency whistle to you survival kit. A whistle can be heard further away than human voices.
• And just for a little extra, have an assortment of candy or trail bars with you. One bar a day will give you enough energy to easily survive.
I hope you never need to depend on any of these items, but if you have them with you, you will be ready to handle the situation.