Surviving in Cold Weather

This year, 2019, has been marked by extreme low weather temperatures and frigid conditions.  Schools and public offices have been forced to close in multiple states due to impassable roads.  Even mail services in many local areas have been interrupted.  As our planet is being transformed, most people are unprepared to deal with these dangerously cold environments.  If you find yourself stranded in this winter weather, learning how to survive can save your life. 

Many have been stuck outside when winter weather engulfed them.  An impending sense of panic is common for any individual who finds themselves stranded with frigid weather on the horizon.  In many cases, what happens next is the crux moment wherein survival or full-blown disaster ensues.  Survival starts with the acronym, S.T.O.P.

Sit … Think …Observe … Plan …

Rather than giving in to an all-too-human panic response, you must act in a way that will likely save your life.  

Find Shelter and Stay Warm

In cold temperatures, exposure can kill leaving you with little chance of survival.  If you are outside in the wilderness, you must first get below the tree-line.  After that you need to find or create shelter, and finally (if possible) create warmth.

While it’s beyond the scope of this article to describe shelter making or fire building in detail (shelter can be found in tree wells, in snow caves, and in the hollows of river banks, under trees, rock overhangs) without either, your chance of survival diminishes.

Finding Your Way Out

There may be no way to find your way back to the original trail in an impending whiteout.  And it needs to be stressed; there is NO way you should try during heavy snowfall.  Your best bet is to try not to get lost in the snow.

Route finding depends on visibility; thus, traveling at night, in a white-out or in heavily wooded terrain increases your chances of becoming lost.  It’s extremely important in these conditions to think, observe and plan … and to acknowledge that it’s not always sensible to act.  It’s often better to stay put than it is to roam around in unfamiliar terrain risking further disorientation and injury.

Creating Visibility

If you are caught in heavy snowfall at night, you should remain in a makeshift shelter and walk out the following morning.  Next, you should create the conditions to be found.  Experts agree that the three following elements will increase the chances of a rescue party locating a lost person…

Visibility – created by smudge fires, markers, signals

Positioning – on ridgelines, open riverbanks, at the tree-line

Mobility – stationary targets are easier to find

If you realize you are lost, you should return to the ridgeline when conditions allow, create visibility (stamp a signal in the snow or build a smudge fire) and do not stray from this area.

You Must Stay Hydrated

The ice and snow you’re surrounded with are a viable source of hydration.  If not, there are other sources. Depending on how cold it is, flowing water is frequently available under the snow packs in the bottom of creeks and at river bends.   Animals and birds will keep patches of swamps and ponds ice-free.  Solar radiation can be powerful enough to create ice-melt against dark rock faces.

Finding Food

Nutrition can be more difficult in these conditions and should be a primary concern in your self-rescue plan.  Cold weather requires more calories from the body and, while it is possible to live weeks without food, hunger is debilitating and lowers the bodies resistance to cold and its ability to heal.

There is good reason why survival literature frequently describes frozen landscapes as arid … there’s not much living, and there’s not much to eat.  Therefore, getting out of these conditions as quickly as possible is a very good idea.  Once the situation has stabilized all efforts must turn towards positioning one’s self to being found or logically and methodically finding your way out.  You will die of starvation sooner in the winter than in the summer.

If you find yourself stuck outside in frigid conditions, it is important that you follow the steps that were presented.  Knowing what to do can be the difference between life and death in our changing reality.
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