Unless you’re a daredevil, getting behind the wheel in a winter storm probably isn’t your idea of fun.
“Road surfaces can change quickly between dry, snow-packed and icy, all of which require a different approach to steering and stopping,” said Leslie Kasperowicz, a Minneapolis driver who edits the site CarInsurance.org.
The trick is to stay ahead of the weather, pack the right gear and understand the fundamentals of bad-weather driving. Downloading the right smartphone apps can help, too.
Offline Survival Manual (Android only), a worst-case-scenario app, includes information on how to make a fire, build a shelter and find food. True to its name, once you download it, you don’t need a cellular connection to access the information.
Waze is a navigation app that provides turn-by-turn directions and user-contributed information on traffic, travel times and route conditions. Joe Gast, CEO at Truck Driver Institute, a driving school, recommends it to his drivers. “Waze allows you to leverage traffic insights from other drivers so you can stay on safe and clear roads,” he said.
Weather Underground offers weather data. It also highlights weather-related traffic hazards such as ice alerts and warnings for other problematic driving conditions during the cold winter months, said Jared Kamrowski, who founded Minneapolis-based website Thrifty Traveler.
State transportation agency apps — such as Minnesota 511 — can also help with information on road conditions and closings.
What should winter drivers pack in the car? Jess Larsen, who grew up in Alberta and lives in Utah, still practices his winter-driving skills on the way to area ski resorts. Here’s what he carries:
• Extra shoes or boots to wear while pushing yourself or others out of a snowbank.
• A fold-up shovel so you can dig yourself out of the snow. Make sure it is metal in case you have to chip away ice under a tire.
• A small blanket, a water bottle and some snacks — extras if you have kids, who can get anxious when cold or hungry.
• Stow a box of cat litter in the car. It’s a cheap way to give your tires a little traction on snow or ice.
One final item winter drivers shouldn’t leave home without: a roadside-assistance program, such as AAA, with its telephone number programed into the phone.
Other tips: Practice your winter driving in an empty parking lot after a snowstorm, said Larsen. Slow down, said Kamrowski. But the best advice for driving in severe winter weather is this: Don’t. If you can avoid taking the car out while it’s snowing, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His usual Travel Troubleshooter column will return next week.