Could your family survive 72 hours stuck in a car… during a blizzard?

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K. Praslowicz / Foter / CC BY-NC

In today’s post we’re going to discuss how to survive if your family becomes stranded in a vehicle during a blizzard. I thought it would be good to put this out now so that readers have plenty of time to prepare for this year’s winter storms.

There’s a lot of content out there about surviving a blizzard in a vehicle, however when researching this article, I found that most of it only focus on 1 person being stranded. I know for myself, and probably for a large chunk of readers out there, it’s very likely that if you were in this situation, that you would have a significant other and possibly small children to care for as well, which throws a whole new dynamic into this survival scenario.

First we are going to lay out this hypothetical scenario, how it happens, the mistakes that lead up to it, and then outline the steps and preparations you need to take in order to survive 72 hours in a full-on blizzard, with (in this scenario) only a mid-sized family sedan separating you from the elements.


So you’re at a relative’s house that lives out on a rural country road. Although the news had reported a severe snowstorm headed your way, you’ve decided to take the chance and head home since it’s only about a 30-40 mile drive. No biggie… should be home in less than an hour. Your relatives advise staying there for the night as they know how treacherous the country roads can be in a snowstorm. However, you really don’t want to stay there all night, deal with calling in to work in the morning…heck you didn’t even want to come here in the first place! So, at about 7pm, you, your spouse and your 4yr old pack up in the family car and head out. The snow is falling but it’s really not that bad… should be a relatively easy ride home.

 It’s dark outside, and within 10 minutes the snow has gotten so bad that your visibility is significantly impaired. You’re straining to see the road through all the snow coming down. You keep thinking “Its only 20 more miles, just 20 more miles” Suddenly; a large deer runs out into the road. You swerve, narrowly missing the large animal. Your tires slip on the icy road and before you know it, the car has driven off the road and into a shallow ditch.

 Everyone is ok, but the car is good and stuck. At this point the snow is blowing very hard and when you open to the door to check out the situation, you can barely see a foot in front of you. You quickly get back in the car, and realize that you’re not going anywhere at least not for a while.

 You get out your cell phone, (your spouse’s is dead) which only has 1 signal bar and you are down to less than 10% of your battery. You dial 911, it rings once and then a message pops up saying “Call Failed” this happens again and again over the next 10 minutes, and at this point you are down to less than a 5% battery. You now realize in horror that you’ve left your charger back at your relatives by mistake.


You’re stranded at night, in the middle of a blizzard, with no way to get out.
What do you do?


This situation is actually much more common than people realize. When researching this article, I found a dozen real life survival stories just like this. Many of them were able to stick it out for about a day and were eventually found and rescued or were able to get back on the road after the storm let up.

However, in one story, the family of 4 was stuck in their car on the side of a country road for 5 days until the record setting blizzard had finally subsided and they were eventually found. They were dangerously dehydrated, frostbitten and starving.

There are also several stories out there where the victims of disasters just like this did not survive.

In order to survive a blizzard in your car we need to go back to the basics for any survival situation. Shelter, Food and Water.



Initially it may seem like your shelter needs are covered in this type of situation since we are talking about being stranded in a vehicle. Obviously the vehicle will be your shelter in most cases. However, shelter doesn’t just mean you have some walls around you and a roof over your head. It also means that it provides adequate heat or cooling. In this scenario, simply being inside the car isn’t enough. During a blizzard, temperatures are well below freezing and you will need some sort of supplemental heating in order to survive.

Here are some tips about keeping warm in your car:

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  • Wool blankets are your best bet for keeping warm outside of fire or other heating elements. Be sure to keep 1 wool blanket in your vehicle kit at all times per person.
  • Any fire, even small candles, can produce poisonous carbon monoxide. In order to have ANY sort of open flame inside the vehicle, you MUST have a window cracked to ventilate carbon monoxide.
  • Hand warmers are an excellent alternative to open flames. Simply put a couple hand warmers inside your jacket and they should keep you quite toasty for several hours. For a 72 hour period, plan on stocking at least 15 hand warmers per person.
  • It may seem like keeping the cars heater on would be a no-brainer to keep you warm. However, be VERY careful to ensure that the cars exhaust does not become clogged with snow. If it does, the car will fill up with carbon monoxide. Additionally, you do not want to use all the gas in the car for the heater, as you may need it to try and excavate the car after the weather clears up.



Storing food inside your car can get tricky. You are going to have to store food that can deal with the differences in temperatures in your area. If you experience blistering hot summers and freezing winters, you’re going to have to get creative when storing food in your car.

Here are some tips about storing food in your vehicle:

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  • Your best bet for keeping food from freezing or spoiling from heat is to keep it inside a hard wall cooler. The cooler will help insulate the food and keep it from getting too hot or too cold.
  • Ready to eat foods are your friend in this scenario. Beef jerky, trail mix, Clif bars, chocolate and nuts are all great options to keep in your car kit.
  •  Although in some areas, canned foods could be fine, you’re going to need fairly moderate temperatures year-round to make sure the cans don’t become damaged by excessive heat or cold and in turn, spoil the food.
  • Keep a minimum of 6000 calories worth of food for every family member in your vehicle. This will get all of you through 72 hours easily and could last much longer with rationing.



Storing water in your car is extremely important. Even outside of this particular scenario, having water stored in your car can help you out of many jams. If your vehicle begins to overheat, having water on hand to cool off the engine can help you at least get to a mechanic or back home safely. A few years ago the A/C on one of my vehicles went out (of course on the hottest day of the year) and the water I had stored in the trunk was extremely important as I had small children in the car and needed to cool them off quickly to prevent them from getting heat exhaustion.

Here are some great tips about storing water in your vehicle.

  • DO NOT throw one of those plastic jugs of water in your trunk and call it a day. That plastic will warp and become damaged in high or low temperatures. It will get a leak in it and before you know it, you’ll have a couple gallons of water absorbed into your trunk’s carpet and will have mildew issues.
  • Along with your emergency food supplies, keep your water in small bottles inside of a hard-walled cooler. This will ensure that the temperature stays regulated, the water won’t freeze…and even if somehow the bottles are damaged, they will not leak out of the cooler.
  • It’s recommended to drink at least a gallon of water a day. When prepping for multiple family members, this isn’t very feasible. For a family of four, storing 3 days of water in your vehicle comes out to 12 gallons of water. That’s a LOT of space and it’s not going to fit in a cooler, let along most trunks. It is a good idea to prepare for this and keep some sort of water purification methods on hand in order to use snow or other water sources to supplement your emergency water supplies.


These are just some of the basic supplies that you’ll want to have on hand in case you are ever in a survival situation such as this. Obviously having food, water and a way to heat or cool your vehicle manually is a very smart idea, even outside of this specific disaster scenario. These supplies are an important part of any “Get Home Bag” and can even be used to supplement a bug out bag for other serious disaster scenarios.

Being stranded in a blizzard can be a terrifying experience, and will test the nerve of any prepper, especially when significant others or children are involved.  It is extremely important to remain calm, which is easier said than done. However, as preppers, the reason we prepare for anything is so when disaster strikes, we are prepared to deal with it without fear and with a clear head because we’ve planned ahead and he we have the tools and supplies on hand to mitigate these situations.

If you are in any location that has significant snowfall during the winter, start putting your vehicle kit together now. One day, it could very well save your life and the lives of your loved ones.

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