It’s December and inevitably the tabloids have started trying to predict our chances of a white Christmas. We are being told that the chances of a cold winter in the UK are much higher this year than the previous seven, due to the La Nina effect. La Nina is the opposite of the El Nino effect; the La Nina effect occurs when the sea surface temperature in the Central Pacific ocean cools to lower than average, creating certain cycles of weather.
Anyway, it looks likely that we will have some snow, somewhere in the UK, at some point this winter. For many of us, the snow that we see fall around our houses is hardly extreme compared to other parts of the country and certainly the world. Usually it just means some travel disruption for a day because no-one is used to driving in such conditions, then it melts and we go back to normal business while moaning about how cold it is.
This means that many people would be totally unprepared to deal with any kind of unforeseen incident that combined with the cold weather, could become dangerous. Imagine if you broke down in your car in a remote area in minus temperatures? Or got stuck in standstill tailbacks on a motorway for hours in the snow? What if you then had to walk several miles in the snow and ice?
You might think that being in a car you will be fine, but don’t forget a car is essentially a metal box which loses heat very fast. It might be nice and warm when the engine’s running but we’ve all jumped into our car on a frosty morning and driven to work shivering because the heaters won’t warm up quick enough. So if you have to drive regularly or longer distances in very cold winter weather, how should you prepare yourself?
Preparing Your Car
- Make sure the car is serviced, the windscreen wipers are working correctly, it has the recommended amounts of antifreeze, screen wash and decent tyres (consider winter tyres as they are not only for icy conditions but better in the wet as well). Keep external lights clean of dirt and grease so you can see and be seen, keep spare bulbs in the car.
- Carry de-icer and a windscreen scraper.
- Spare charger for your mobile phone.
- First aid kit.
- Hi-vis vest or coat and a hazard warning triangle.
- Torch and working batteries.
- Ideally a shovel and tow-rope.
- Extra/spare warm clothing.
- Wellington boots and extra socks because while waterproof, wellies do not keep your feet warm very well.
- Food – ideally high energy and stores well. Keep some chocolate or nut bars in your dashboard.
- Drink – at least a bottle of water, but try and make up a hot flask for the journey.
- Lots of lighter layers is the best way to maintain body heat compared to one or two chunky jumpers.
- Take a warm hat, gloves and extra socks to keep you warm. You can quickly lose a lot of body heat through your head and extremities.
- Wear comfortable and practical shoes.
- Take any medication you might need for the whole day with you just in case.
- If you are not experienced at driving in snow and ice, then you need to be aware of how to adapt your driving appropriately for these conditions. Organisations such as the RAC have information about this on: https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/winter-driving/driving-in-snow/
Don’t forget to be particularly aware of any vulnerable passengers you are carrying. Babies and small children can get hypothermic much quicker than adults because of a larger surface area to body weight ratio. Older people can also be vulnerable due to reduced mobility, illness and poor eating. Make sure you have plenty of extra warm clothes, including waterproofs for them and additional extra blankets, food and drink plus any necessary medication.
Above all, plan your journeys properly, including your routes, traffic incidents and the weather forecasts for the areas you intend on travelling. Be prepared for the unexpected, as well as the expected – you will probably see one or two snowflakes and then it will rain. Again.