If you experienced challenges due to the recently Wind and Snow storms please share your story. The best way to learn is by hearing the experiences of those who have survive a disaster. Please email me at: [email protected] and I will share what you have learned with other Meridian readers.

This is a La Niña year and weather conditions have already proven to be very harsh. Taking time to prepare for your holiday trip may not only save you time, protect your safety and sanity but may also save your life.

For the past few years we have heard about hikers dying as they hiked Mount Hood. We have heard of fathers and husbands who leave cars that have been stuck in the snow or in the mud and they have lost their lives looking and waiting for rescue.

Most of us cannot identify with climbing Mt. Hood in December, but many of us have taken the road less-traveled in winter, and counted ourselves lucky to reach our destination when road conditions became dangerous. Most of us have also experienced winter flight delays due to weather, or wondered whether airline connections would leave us stranded. We have spent the night in an airport waiting for the weather to clear and even one time in the luxury of a hotel. But what if we were stranded for days?

A few years ago the Denver airport was closed for four days due to an overwhelming blizzard. With a La Niña year upon us, hare you prepared when traveling?

The experience of a friend who was in Denver airport during that December blizzard will make you change your mind about traveling bare-bones light. 

Down in Denver

It was Wednesday afternoon, December 20th. I had just picked up my son at the airport and we were driving home when he got a frantic text message from his friend who left BYU-Idaho two days before, telling him she was stranded at the Denver airport and didn’t know if she could get home to St. Louis before Friday. Thus began a harrowing week for his friend, Cait, and her family and friends.

Let me see if I can help you understand the chaos that ensued: Cait was talking to her dad trying to get some help and comfort when her cell phone went dead. There she was, along with nearly 5000 other passengers all trying to contact family through overloaded cellular systems, and very long lines for very few working pay phones. Passengers have just been told they will be at the airport for at least two more days.

Everyone makes a mad dash to buy some food and drink, but no one is accepting debit or credit cards because the computers are down. Go to an ATM for cash? Right. After a very short time there is no longer cash in the ATM machines or they are not working at all. By the time the ATMs are working again, all of the restaurants and food venders are out of food and the Red Cross is still not able to get in with supplies. Everyone is stuck. It has only been one day and already there is no food, no bottled drinks, and no way to get any because the roads are closed.

At this point it is time to think about just getting some rest and hoping tomorrow will be better. The airport staff has been out to the planes, and opened those where doors were not frozen shut, and gathered all the blankets. Another line in the terminal forms to get one blanket per person, if you are lucky. Cait waits for two hours to get a blanket.

There are a few cots, but they are reserved for those 75 years old or older. Families have their children sleeping on luggage they have stacked together to keep them from having to sleep on the floor. And then there are those stuck in airplanes on the tarmac, where snow is too deep to taxi the planes to the gate where passengers can disembark.

Finally, the airlines unload airplanes with passengers still on board. Inside the terminal, some passengers are invited to go to baggage claim to pick up their luggage. Hundreds are now trying to find luggage that hopefully will contain a few things to make this “adventure” more bearable. But no… now that they have their luggage they are not allowed to return to the comfort and warmth of the terminal boarding areas. This is because they are only allowing those with a boarding pass through — the departure areas of the terminal are “secure” areas.

Naturally those who are stranded do not have boarding passes. This leaves those who went to fetch their luggage now stranded in the baggage claim and passenger check-in areas — sleeping on luggage conveyer belts or on concrete floors where, in addition to the colder temperatures, they are now joined by bugs and mice (who are also cold and looking for a warm place to snuggle). Of course, no one is really sleeping anyway, for fear someone will steal his or her luggage.

To further sour the situation, passengers are now told they probably can’t get out on a flight until Christmas Eve, three days away.

Carry-On Essentials

To learn from Cait’s experience, next time you or a family member is traveling, especially during the winter months and especially this La Nina year, there are a few things you should be sure to include in your carry-on baggage.

  1. Carry your cell phone charger: There are not many, but there are wall plugs throughout the airport. Being stuck in an airport overnight is bad enough, but when you cannot communicate with loved ones, mere trials become ordeals.
  2. Carry a phone card:  You don’t need to put much money on the card, just a few dollars. This will enable you to call a loved one and then have them call you back on a landline. Cell phones do not always work during an emergency. And you may not have the needed change to use a pay phone.
  3. Emergency ID Card: Always carry an emergency card with your name, home address, allergies, and medical conditions, in your carry-on bag. Also, carry phone numbers for family and friends. When stressed, we can forget these numbers.
  4. Carry cash: Small bills are best. Retailers may not accept large bills in an emergency, so be prepared with ones, fives, and tens. Consider what it might cost to eat, buy supplies, or even a magazine, and multiply by two or three days. Don’t be caught short.
  5. Carry some food for backup: Cait was stranded for four days and only had two candy bars and a cookie. Carry a few high-calorie bars like those in a 72-hour kit. Some of these bars taste terrible, but others are really good and taste like shortbread cookies. Buy some and have your family test them first. For your travel day, pack a lunch with a sandwich, a few carrot sticks, and an apple… if you don’t need them, well you were prepared, but if you do need them they will be priceless. Avoid salty foods that will make you thirsty, like chips and jerky.
  6. Drinks: With the new flight regulations it is difficult to carry drinks, but as soon as you get through security, if you think there may be any chance your flight will be delayed or canceled, purchase a bottle of water.

    You can refill these as often as you need at a water fountain. Hard candy and lifesavers help to keep your mouth moist, too.
  7. Vitamins: One of the first things the Red Cross brought in after three days was a baggie with vitamins for each passenger.
  8. Medications: Always carry your prescriptions in your carry-on bag. Add pain relievers, stomach medication, cold relievers — you know the drill. All of these come in various forms so you don’t have to worry about liquids at security.
  9. Change of clothing: Include a change of underwear and a clean shirt in your carry-on. It is amazing how much better a change of clothes makes you feel.
  10. Personal hygiene items: Folks in Denver were longing for their toothbrushes. You can get toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, etc. in travel sizes now. All of these will be some of the first things to sell out at the shops, not to mention feminine supplies. Anything you couldn’t live without goes in the carry-on. While you are at it, include a washcloth.
  11. Mark your luggage in a unique way: If you are competing with hundreds or thousands of others with look-alike bags, attach a crazy luggage tag, colored duct tape, or a wild sticker to your bag to distinguish it from all the rest.
  12. Insect repellent: Sounds crazy, I know, but I would really rather not be bug bait.
  13. Pack a diversion: If you are traveling with young children, pack books, crayons, paper, or a favorite stuffed animal. In our 72-hour kits we include a small inflatable beach ball and Styrofoam airplanes. These are cheap, practically weightless, and could be fun for a long time. If they happen to hit someone nearby they will not injure or make tempers flare. For adults, include a book, magazines, crossword, Sudoku, or a travel game. If you are depending on the games on your laptop you may want to think again; you will need to recharge the battery and everyone with a charger will be looking for a place to plug in.
  14. Mylar survival blanket: If you are lucky enough to get a blanket you will want to use it as a covering and that leaves you sleeping on a filthy floor. Place your Mylar blanket on the floor and even though insects may still visit you, the surface under you is clean, and the foil side of your blanket will reflect and retain your body heat.
  15. Travel soft: If you are traveling with two carry-on pieces, put your soft items in one bag, like your backpack, and keep bulky shoes, camera, etc. in the other bag. Now your backpack is ready to be used as a pillow if the need arises. There were no pillows provided to passengers during the Denver airport shutdown.
  16. Moist towelettes and tissues: If you are stranded like passengers in Denver, help and supplies can’t get in. Restrooms run out of supplies, food courts run out of napkins, and Kleenex — forget it.

 

These tips also apply to traveling by car; however, you may also want to add the following to your trunk for a road trip:

  1. Totally Ready For The Road. A good book with tips for many road emergencies is a huge help for remembering what to do when you are stressed.
  2. Glow sticks for light during the nighttime hours for you and to make you more visible to rescuers. I love the 10-inch glow sticks that are sold with a bipod. These are great to use in place of flares, to mark a path, to direct traffic after an accident or during an emergency or to signal rescuers at night. They can be seen for a mile.
  3. Work gloves to change a tire or put on chains.
  4. Snow chains.
  5. Sand or kitty litter to help with traction if your car spins out in the snow.
  6. A small shovel to build a snow cave or dig out a car.
  7. Waterproof matches or lighter.
  8. A metal container to melt snow.
  9. A mirror or extra Mylar blanket to signal rescuers.
  10. An umbrella is such a useful tool. It allows you to protection when unfavorable weather. Attaching a space blanket to the edge of an umbrella allows you to protect the entire body from snow and wind. Consider the possibilities for an umbrella and Mylar blankets in summer!
  11. Safety vests to be worn so you can be more easily seen by rescuers or while near the roadway (bright orange vests, cheap ones). You will all be safer if you need to leave the car, and each passenger wears one. These can also be attached to your car as a distress signal.
  12. Cell phone charger for the car.
  13. Small candle. If placed on the dash this will help keep the air in the car above freezing. Don’t go to sleep and leave it lit. You can also run your car engine for 10 minutes every hour to warm the car and charge the phone. Make sure before running the engine that the tail pipe is not blocked. Also, leave a window, which faces away from the wind, open very slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  14. Wool blanket.
  15. Knit cap and mittens. Most of your body heat is lost through your head, so the cap is important. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Remember wool or man-made fibers are better in cold/wet weather than cotton as they will still keep you warm even if wet.
  16. Body warmers, the instant heat type. Make sure when purchasing these that you buy the ones rated for 20 hours, not 20 minutes. These are small and easy to stash in your auto emergency kit.
  17. A whistle can be heard much further away than the human voice. I would have at least two in the car. If one member of your party needs to leave to look for help or for a potty break, you can signal each other every few minutes and help guide them back to the car. It is not wise for anyone to leave alone, and go further away than “whistle distance.” It is just too easy to become disoriented and lost.
  18. Flashlight with extra batteries and an extra bulb.
  19. A portable radio is great to hear news and weather reports without draining your car battery. Make sure you have both AM and FM bands. Look for the ones that are also a flashlight and siren. Hand cranked power is also good.
  20. Tool kit. How sad to be stranded for lack of a screwdriver or wrench.
  21. Tow rope. Some people who could help pull you out of the ditch are not equipped with a rope. Think of how smart you will look, when you say, “I’ve got one!”
  22. Maps. Do you pay attention to where you are when traveling? If you don’t know where you are, how will you find where you want to go?  Never rely on a GPS.
  23. Compass. A Scout would know what to do with it.
  24. Roll of toilet paper. Essential.
  25. Fire extinguisher. What good is your emergency gear if it’s burning up with the car? More than once, we’ve seen cars fully ablaze at the side of the highway, and not from a traffic accident.

    Gasoline + heat + leaking fuel line = fire. If you are stranded and lose your car you also lose your shelter.

You may think the above list looks extreme, but what will the headlines say thirty days from now? With a little time gathering the items we already own, and a small investment to buy a few others, we can all be better prepared and survive quite well, any winter challenge that awaits us.

By the way, Cait did make it home for the holidays from the Denver airport, only after being rescued by relatives who drove from Utah to drive her the rest of the way home to Missouri. In our arsenal of preparedness tactics, the most important will always be our family.