Traveling in Winter Weather Extremes

If you decide a trip cannot be delayed, consider using public transportation. If you decide to drive your vehicle:

Preparing to travel

  1. Plan your travel and check the latest weather conditions along your travel route. Listen to weather forecasts on TV, local radio stations or NOAA Weather Radio. Call 1-800-452-IDOT to get current road conditions for Illinois’ interstate and freeway systems. Information is updated every two hours during a storm. Winter driving is often the most difficult due to rain, fog, snow or sleet.
  2. Check your wipers, tires, lights and fluid levels (radiator, windshield washer, power steering, oil and brakes). Lubricate door and trunk locks with lock lubricant to prevent them from freezing.
  3. Travel during daylight hours on main roads (avoid back-road shortcuts) and don’t travel alone.
  4. Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit in your vehicle.
    The Illinois Emergency Management Agency website has a good Winter Storm Preparedness Guide, including a list of items for a travel kit.
  5. Provide your itinerary to a friend, relative or co-workers. Include information on where you are going, the routes you will travel and when you expect to arrive. When you reach your destination, make a call to report that you have arrived.
  6. Start your trip with a full tank of gas.

On the road

  1. Buckle your seat belts!
  2. Be prepared to turn back and seek shelter if conditions become threatening.
  3. Keep your windows clear of snow and ice. Do not start until your windshield is defrosted.
  4. Drive slower and increase your following distance. Your speed should be adjusted for the conditions and match the flow of traffic.
  5. Roadway conditions may vary depending on the sun, shade, or roadway surface. Watch for slick spots especially under bridges, on overpasses and in shaded spots. Be prepared to react to deteriorating conditions.
  6. If the pavement is snow or ice covered, start slowly and brake gently. Begin braking early when you come to an intersection. If you start to slide, ease off the gas pedal or brakes. Steer into the direction of the skid until you feel you have regained traction then straighten your vehicle.
  7. When a snowplow is coming toward you, allow plenty of room for the truck to pass. When the center line is being cleared and salted, the plow tip may be on or over the line.
  8. When you approach a snowplow from behind, pass with care and only when you can see the road ahead of the truck. You should not try to pass in blowing snow; there may be a vehicle in that cloud of snow. Allow more distance between you and the plow which may be spreading salt.
  9. While traveling, refuel often — keeping your gas tank near full to prevent ice in the tank and fuel lines which could leave you stranded. These frequent stops should relieve tense muscles.

If you become stranded

  1. Pull as far off the road as possible, set your hazard lights to “flashing,” and hang or tie a colored cloth (preferably red) to your antenna, window or door. After snow stops falling, raise the hood to indicate trouble.
  2. If you have a cellular phone, call for help.
  3. Stay in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful. Distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close but be too far to walk to in deep snow. Visibility can diminish quickly in wind-driven snow. This, added to the cold, can leave you disoriented .
  4. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, then run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm. Turn on the dome light at night when running the engine. When the engine is running, open a window slightly for ventilation. The fresh air will protect you from carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.
  5. Use items in your Winter Storm Survival Kit.
  6. Exercise to keep blood circulating and to maintain body heat by vigorously moving arms, legs, fingers, and toes. In extreme cold or if you don’t have a Winter Storm Survival Kit, use road maps, seat covers and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coats as blankets.
  7. Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look out for rescue crews.
  8. Be careful not to use up battery power. Balance electrical energy needs — the use of lights, heat and radio — with supply.
  9. If stranded in a remote rural area or wilderness area, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane. Once the blizzard passes, you may need to leave the vehicle and proceed on foot.