What To Do If You Are Stranded This Winter

Wisconsin winters can be extreme, with an average of 3-5 winter storms per season in northeast and north-central Wisconsin. It’s important to be aware of winter storm warnings when planning road trips and daily activities. After all, getting stranded in cold weather or a snowstorm can happen to anyone. If a storm is coming, the best thing to do is to stay home.

Here are a few tips if you find yourself stranded this winter, whether from a car breakdown or hike gone wrong.

What to do if caught outside in a storm

If you plan to hike this winter, it’s important to dress in multiple warm layers and bring along gloves and a hat. Always let people know your route and estimated time of arrival. If you get caught in a storm, here’s what you should do.

Cover up and call for help

Covering up any exposed skin to avoid frostbite should be an immediate first step. Then, call 911 for help and give them your location for rescue.

Find or build a shelter

If there is a shelter nearby, do your best to get there and wait out the storm until you are rescued. If you cannot find a shelter, the National Weather Service recommends building a lean-to or snow cave for protection from the wind. Build a fire to stay warm and to attract the attention of potential passersby who may be able to rescue you.


Don’t eat snow, rather melt snow for water. Eating snow for hydration can lower your body temperature, thus increasing the risk of hypothermia. Melting snow is a safer alternative.

Stay moving

It is important to continue moving to keep blood circulating and to stay warm. Avoid overexertion which, when compounded with the cold, could cause a heart attack.

What to do if stranded while traveling in winter

It is important to be prepared in winter when driving in case you are stranded while traveling during a storm. Peter Bilgo, owner of Riverside Automotive, recommends these tips:

  • Carry an emergency car kit
  • Replace your car battery if it’s older than five years as low temperatures have an impact on your battery
  • Every time you turn on your car, let it run until hot air comes out of the vents. Repeatedly starting your car can lead to flooding the engine, which could mean that you will be stuck waiting for a tow.

Stay put and call for help

Staying in your vehicle is safer than being outside of it. If the visibility is low, another car may not see you and hit you. If you leave your car and look for help you may get disoriented or lost in the snow. Call 911 and give them your location and landmarks to aid in your rescue.

Protect yourself

The National Weather Service recommends running your car engine 10 minutes per hour to maintain some warmth in your vehicle. Additionally, it’s important to leave the car window open when running the engine to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Pack an emergency car kit

Always keep a small bag in your trunk with extra winter clothes, blankets, and non-perishable snacks to stay warm and well-fueled. You will be thankful that you have an emergency kit if the unexpected happens during your trip. (If you’re still assembling yours, here’s what you should include.)

Call for attention

Use a colored piece of fabric or an extra t-shirt if you have one to tie to your antenna to make your car more visible. If you have flares, place them around your car. If the snow has stopped falling, open the hood of your car to indicate that you need help. If it’s nighttime, turn on your dome light when you turn on your engine to help remain visible to passersby and potential rescuers.

What to do if snowed in at home

Being in your home doesn’t exempt you from an emergency. Michael Poser, owner of MJP Handyman Services, recommends getting a tune-up of your furnace in the fall so you’re not surprised with issues come winter. He also recommends stocking up on furnace filters and making sure they are changed routinely. The standard recommendation is to change filters once every 90 days. If a furnace does go out or there is an unexpected power outage, here’s what to do.

Preserve warmth

Stay warm by adding extra clothing layers; use blankets and towels to seal window and door leaks. Congregate near South-facing windows to soak up any sunlight.

Protect against frozen pipes
If your furnace goes out, a main concern is pipes freezing. To prevent against frozen pipes, Poser says to shut off the valve that allows water into your house. After shutting off the valve, open the drain valves and faucets to run out any water left in the pipes. It’s helpful to know where this valve is before the heat goes out. Learn more about what to do if a pipe bursts .

Being prepared for winter weather is the best thing you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. For more information on finding the right policy to prepare your loved ones and home for Wisconsin winters, contact your local Rural Mutual insurance agent.