Winter Weather: How To Survive In Hazardous Conditions

Photo Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Photo Courtesy of Simon & Schuster


Clinton Emerson, retired Navy SEAL, spent 20 years conducting special ops all over the world while attached to SEAL Teams (including the elite SEAL Team SIX) and the National Security Agency (NSA). His security company, Escape The Wolf, works with international organizations, such as the Wall Street Journal, to decrease exposure to crisis and increase survivability.

Emerson’s book 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition, is on sale now from our sister company, Simon & Schuster.

As winter approaches, it is important to be prepared for all of the hazardous conditions created by snow and ice. Retired Navy SEAL Clint Emerson shares his tips for surviving blizzard conditions while on the road and surviving an avalanche while participating in winter sports.

Related: The Two-Day Hike: What To Bring And Why To Bring It

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Surviving A Blizzard While Driving

Winterize Your Vehicle

In regions where extreme winter weather conditions are common, be prepared. Stash emergency blankets, a wool hat and pocket heaters in the trunk of your car.

Have your car winterized, making sure your mechanic checks your exhaust system for leaks and crimped pipes. Your mechanic should also replace air filters; check brakes for wear and fluid levels; install good winter tires with adequate tread; check oil; ensure the heater, defroster, and thermostat are working properly; check antifreeze; clean and check the battery and ignition system; replace worn-out windshield wipers; and assess all lights.

Know When To Go

To avoid getting stranded on the road, err on the side of caution when making the decision to drive in a blizzard. Avoid driving on unplowed roads. If conditions look questionable, they probably are. A vehicular death caused by driving in low-visibility conditions is most often a death that would have been preventable through the use of one simple tool: human judgment.

If conditions rapidly worsen while you’re already on the road, don’t feel the need to soldier through. Though emergency conditions set off a kind of fight-or-flight response that launches drivers into frenzied attempts to drive through or away from storms, sometimes the safest course of action is to do nothing—i.e., pull over and wait out the storm.

Wait Out The Storm

If you do become stranded in a remote area, do not attempt to hike your way to safety unless you know the area well and have on appropriate clothing. Remain in your car. Blizzard conditions will severely reduce visibility and increase the chances of your getting lost while being completely exposed to the elements.

To avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and conserve your battery, only run your engine and heater for ten minutes of every hour. If you aren’t traveling with a trunkful of warm layers and/or blankets, stack seat covers and floor mats on top of you as insulation. At night, leave the dome light on so that your car is visible to other drivers. Hazard lights will burn up your battery.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Surviving An Avalanche

Though occasional incidents involve mass casualties, avalanches claim only some 150 lives per year. But many more non-fatal incidents go unreported. To avoid landing in either category, abstain from skiing, rock climbing, or snowmobile riding on heavily powdered, backcountry slopes that haven’t been groomed or detonated in order to purposely precipitate avalanches in advance of human activity. Talk to locals in order to identify known avalanche zones and the general probability of avalanches in the area. Pay attention to the weather—a foot or more of fresh snow can pose a risk factor, as can rain.

If you are caught in the midst of an avalanche while on a steep, barren slope, quickly move to its flanks while you still can. Snow will be funneled down the center of the slope, potentially carrying less momentum and mass on its sidelines. If an avalanche starts below your feet, jump upslope of any crack you might be able to see in the top layer of snow.

If you cannot avoid the oncoming rush, grab onto any solid fixture you can reach (tree, rock formation, telephone pole), or lie down and try to “swim” with the moving snow so that you don’t receive the impact at a perpendicular angle.

Being buried in snow isn’t dissimilar to being buried in sand. You may not be able to move or breathe once the precipitation comes to a halt, so if you can, create an air pocket by placing your hands in front of your face as you’re still moving. Determine which way is up by sensing the direction of the blood flow to your head or lighting a lighter, if movement is available. Punching an air channel from your face up toward the surface of the snow will put you closer to a full breath when a rescue team starts digging.

Related: How To Turn Strangers Into Friends

Clinton Emerson, retired Navy SEAL, spent 20 years conducting special ops all over the world while attached to SEAL Teams (including the elite SEAL Team SIX) and the National Security Agency (NSA). His security company Escape the Wolf works with international organizations, such as the Wall Street Journal, to decrease exposure to crisis, and increase survivability.

Emerson’s book 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition, is on sale now from our sister company, Simon & Schuster.

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