When the weather outside is frightful…

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

When it gets so cold all you want to do is stay under the blankets and not go outside till spring, but for good reason — work, school, the sick cat — you have to go out anyway, some of the rules have changed.

Don’t warm up your car. It used to be that we had to dash out and try to start the car, then let it idle for 10 minutes while we finished breakfast. Or if we were lucky, we could heat it up from inside. This is now very bad for your vehicle unless it was made in 1990 or before. Because of fuel injection systems instead of carburetors, it is actually bad for a car to idle. And of course an idling car pollutes and wastes gas.

However, do warm up your laptop or tablet — let it idle! If either of them have been outside, warm up their sensitive innards before you begin your daily routine at work; and charge your iPhone before taking the tender thing out of the house. Computer screens can shatter if they’re outside too long. And smart phones are hot-house flowers, so don’t use them outdoors in the cold at all and if you have to take them outside, keep them close to your body for warmth, like a baby.

And as for yourself, wear mittens, not those tight-fitting pretty purple leather gloves you bought to go with your new winter coat. Assemble your many layers of clothing loosely on your soon to be shivering body. After 30 minutes in subzero temps, even dressed correctly, you begin the process of hypothermia — your body loses more heat than it produces.

If you have to travel a long distance, after you’ve told at least one person your planned route and your estimated time of arrival, gather all the essentials in your vehicle. Consider it your covered wagon of emergency supplies for your trek across the prairie: GPS, so you know where you are should you get stopped and have to call a savior; water, candy bars or health bars or dried fruits; blankets and extra clothing in case you need to change out of wet things; a candle in a tin can that, with a window cracked just a tad, will heat your car nicely without having to keep the engine on for the heater; a red handkerchief or rag to tie somewhere on your vehicle if you’re stopped — it indicates that you’re in trouble; that charged cell phone nestled next to your warm body; and of course a book. Although if you’re a reader, you always have a book in the car anyway, and if you’re not a reader, even if you had one, trying to read in an emergency situation would probably be the last inclination you’d have.

We have all heard stories of folks being stranded in a blizzard. Some of them leave their cars to search for the farmhouse or something other than their aloneness. But this is the worst decision, for most of those die before they find what they’re looking for. It’s possible to die in a stuck car, of course, but your chances of staying warm and being rescued are much higher. For one thing, your car is bigger than you are, so it’s more likely to be spotted.

Because we are so accustomed to being cosseted — safe, warm, fed and watered at will, not to mention entertained at all times, the threat of being in danger from weather is alien; the thought of hunkering down in a stranded vehicle without even turning on the tunes is farfetched. But, Mother Nature, however subdued and under control we think she might be, or how superior our preparations to thwart her, is neither trainable or controllable. She does what she wants, and she’ll turn on us in a heartbeat. We need to respect her wayward ways, and even then, we may not win.

When the weather out there is frightful . . . plan ahead.

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