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How To Survive A Snow Storm In Your Car


winter driving - by flickr user Hey Paul

winter driving - by flickr user Hey Paul

Enlarge Photo

It’s every driver’s nightmare, and if you’re planning to travel alone or with the family at any time during the winter months, the potential of getting trapped and buried under deep snow should lead you to take precautions.

But there’s more that’s involved in surviving a blizzard when you’re stuck in your car than just planning ahead, as the recent account of survival by the Higgins family of Texas aptly demonstrates.

2011 GMC Yukon

2011 GMC Yukon

Enlarge Photo

The Associated Press story, widely carried in news outlets, including the Huffington Post, tells the remarkable tale of how David and Yvonne Higgins and their five-year old daughter, Hannah, were able to survive two days in their red GMC Yukon SUV buried in a snowdrift in rural New Mexico. Note: No model year for the Yukon was listed, but in news photos of the barely-uncovered vehicle showing mostly the interior,  it appears to be a late model.

The Higgins’s did everything right. They checked the weather forecast. Their large SUV had snow tires. They carried plenty of food, two cases of water, three flashlights, blankets, pillows, their ski equipment, and, of course, their cell phones.

They had just crossed over the state line from Texas into New Mexico en route to a ski trip to Angel Fire in the northern part of the state when they encountered a blizzard. While they were able to follow a snowplow for a while, the snow became too deep even for their SUV, stopping them in their tracks.

David Higgins tried backing up and moving forward to no avail. In short order, the back end of the Yukon slipped and slid down an embankment.

Picture their dilemma. They were in the midst of a blizzard, down below the highway where no one could see them. They tried honking the horn, but that didn’t bring help from the cars they could hear going by on the highway. Running the heater for a couple of hours, David tried to get out to clear away snow from around the exhaust pipe, to guard against carbon monoxide poisoning inside the SUV. But he couldn’t get out. The snow had buried the vehicle.

David finally was able to reach his brother in Texas who summoned help. While they waited anxiously to be rescued, the family passed the time watching movies on their daughter’s portable DVD player.

The National Guard was even called out. Rescuers in four-wheel drive vehicles and snowplows cleared away 10-foot high drifts and had to use poles to probe the snow looking for the buried SUV.

After two days, the Higgins family was rescued on December 21. David and Yvonne had pneumonia, but Hannah was fine.  

While this survival story has a more or less happy ending, the moral is that you not only can’t be too careful when venturing out in winter.

Safety experts, including the AAA, caution that staying with the vehicle is of primary importance, since you’re much more likely to be found than if you wander off in search of help.

If you’ve filed a travel plan with friends or relatives, and you stick to your planned route, if you don’t show up when you’re expected, people will be out looking for you. Remain calm. Maintain a positive attitude. Keep busy by playing games, telling stories, anything to distract young children or other family members who might be getting panicky.

Sometimes, survival in a blizzard depends on determination and perseverance and keeping it all together for you and your family.

For more winter driving safety tips, see this useful guide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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