[NOTE: This article is adapted from When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival]
What should you do if you are stuck in your car during a killer snowstorm?
In mid-December of 1992, unusually dry conditions had people cancelling their reservations for Christmas in Tahoe, but then the weather changed. A couple days before Christmas, it started snowing, and for the next three months it seemed to barely ever stop! The week between Christmas and New Year's, we averaged two feet of snow each day at our home in Truckee, and at nearby Donner Summit they averaged around four feet a day! The storms were so bad that at one point Highway 80 over Donner Summit was continuously closed for three days.
As the storm increased in intensity, the stream of bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic heading toward Reno moved slower and slower, eventually slowing to a complete stop. The snow kept falling at a rate of more than two inches an hour, burying thousands of stranded vehicles. Highway 80 over Donner Summit had turned into a 75-mile-long parking lot! Emergency vehicles could not get through. Snow plows could not get through. Cars ran out of gas from people idling their engines in attempts to stay warm. It was a three-day process to painstakingly remove each snow-bound car, one by one, along 75 miles of freeway. The restaurants and stores in Truckee ran out of food, and there were no available beds at any of the inns and hotels. Hundreds of stranded travelers slept on their jackets on the local high school's gymnasium floor – and they were the lucky ones compared to those who had been stranded in their cars, out of gas and freezing cold!
Every winter, thousands of people are stranded while driving in the snow. On more than one occasion, I have been overly confident in my abilities to drive in hazardous icy and snow covered roads, forgetting that while I may know how to drive in the snow, that does not mean the other guy does. When driving in winter weather, it is best to heed the old Yankee saying: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst!
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