Surviving When Your Car Gets Stuck in Snow

ByABC News via logo
December 23, 2002, 9:07 PM

Dec. 24, 2002 — -- Snow and ice make winter driving a dangerous game, in which motorists can slip, slide or get stuck in the snow for who knows how long.

The National Weather Service says 70 percent of fatalities related to ice and snow happen in automobiles. Not everyone knows what to do when they get stuck in the snow, though some manage to survive through a combination of wits and good luck.

In January 1997, a deadly South Dakota blizzard left Karen Nelson stranded in her pickup truck. Rescuers, aided by a military fighter aircraft, pinpointed her location by talking to her on a cellular phone, and she was rescued. But help didn't come until 40 hours later.

In December 2000, a car was discovered, buried in snow on a back road in Oregon.

"I knocked on the window, and I saw that much of his hand come up to the window and he knocked back," rescuer Charles Bloom told Good Morning America at the time. Inside the car was a man who had survived 16 days on M&Ms, orange juice and a quart of water.

A little more than two weeks ago, Robert Ward drove straight into another kind of catastrophe, when he crashed into a snowy ravine in West Virginia. Battling frostbite and hypothermia, he kept alive for 6 ½ days drinking melted snow, eating peanut butter and packets of taco sauce.

Ward even ripped out the car interior lining and used it to help him survive until help arrived. "I did that for a couple reasons one was to burn for heat," Ward told GMA.

Outdoor survival expert Brian Brawdy joined Good Morning America at a man-made blizzard at the Shawnee Mountain ski resort in Pennsylvania to explain what to do if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere with your vehicle in freezing cold, snowy weather.

One of the key questions is whether to stay in the car or go get help. Brawdy says it is better to stick with the car, unless it is an easy walk to safety.

"One, it'll help block the wind and keep you warm and dry. And two, if someone does come to look for you it'll be easier for them to find your car than it would be you as an individual stuck in a snow bank," Brawdy said.

But you should also be aware that staying in the car can be deadly, too. Motorists who are stranded in the snow should step out of the car and quickly check to make sure that their car's tailpipe isn't blocked by a chunk of ice, or a mound of snow. If it is, deadly fumes can get into the vehicle.

"Carbon monoxide will kill you in a heartbeat," Brawdy said.

He also suggests wiping off the taillights or the headlights so that searchers will be able to see the vehicle from a distance.

But don't waste time outside the shelter of your car. Stay inside the vehicle, and buckle up, Brawdy said.

"Even though we're parked, we want to apply our seat belt, just in case we get hit from behind," Brawdy said.

You can run the car's heater, but you should do it only about 15 minutes every hour to conserve fuel in the car. When the heater is running, crack the back window whichever one is out of the wind ever so slightly just to make sure that those poisonous gasses aren't lingering on the inside of the car.