Stranded in Winter

Stranded in Your Vehicle

If a blizzard, snow storm or winter freeze traps you in the car:

  • Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.

  • Remain 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.

  • Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.

  • Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.

  • Eat regularly and drink ample fluids to avoid dehydration, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.

  • Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat, and radio – with supply.

  • Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.

  • If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.

  • Leave the car and proceed on foot – if necessary – once the blizzard passes.

Winter Stranded in Car

Stay or Go –


  • If stuck on the road to avoid exposure and/or rescue is likely

  • If a safe location is neither nearby or visible

  • If you do not have appropriate clothing to go outside

  • If you do not have the ability to call for help


  • If the distance to call for help is accessible.

  • If you have visibility and outside conditions are safe.

  • If you have appropriate clothing.

  • Once the storm has passed, if you are not already home, follow instructions from your local transportation department and emergency management agency to determine which route will be safest for you to get home. Drive with extra caution.