Blizzard Survival: Your Ultimate Guide To Blizzards

survive blizzard

car accident in a blizzard

When winter comes around, hardly anyone ever asks questions related to how to survive a blizzard. That’s because most people don’t think they’d ever be stranded in a blizzard. That’s mostly true, also, because if you live a life using common senses as your guide, you shouldn’t ever be trapped in a blizzard. The news now runs around the clock coverage of major snowstorms which feature blizzard conditions so the information on when and where a blizzard will strike is difficult to miss. But, as preppers, we know for certain that unexpected things happen. You could be lost in the woods and have to survive a blizzard (less likely); you could end up trapped in your car during a blizzard (more likely). Odds are, you could end up stranded in a blizzard and need to channel your inner-prepper in order to survive. Like we always recommend, carry a survival bag full with bug out bag essentials in your car or on your body if you go for a long hike. Bug out bags can come in handy even when you aren’t bugging out, for example, in a winter storm survival scenario.

How To Survive A Blizzard When Stranded In Your Car

The most likely cause of being stranded in a blizzard will be from driving through bad road conditions during a winter storm. Conditions prior to a blizzard typically feature winter weather elements such as freezing rain, sleet, and snow; all of which can create poor road conditions. If your car slides off the road, or you run out of gas because gas stations have shut down, or your battery dies due to cold weather, you might end up stuck and facing an incoming blizzard. You should never attempt to drive or even walk, through a blizzard or any winter weather, if you don’t have to. But all too often, people miss the news, or don’t respect,  or even underestimate, the power of a blizzard and winter weather. Knowing how to survive a blizzard could save your life if you end up in a bad winter situation.

Keep A Blizzard Survival Bag In Your Car

There you are, broken down on the side of the road. Maybe you slide off the road and hit a tree (you might be injured). Maybe you’ve driven a long distance and you are thirsty. It’s blowing snow, the temperatures are dropping, and you aren’t getting cell service. So now what?

As mentioned earlier, carry a bug out bag in your car at all times. This will help provide you with crucial survival essentials for an extended range of time. Bug out bags, or survival bags, will have water, first aid (remember, you were potentially injured in the car accident and you can’t call 911), food, and potentially hand warmers (if you live in a winter area, you should make sure your bug out bag has some reliable hand warmers).

If you live in an area that experiences hard winters, or, you often drive through areas which experience extreme winter conditions, you need to create a blizzard survival bag. The original bug out bag I recommend will have a few items you need, as mentioned, but packing up a bag with winter survival items and keeping it in your car year-round is just wise prepping. Here are a few blizzard survival kit items you should have in your blizzard survival bag: gloves, flashlight, boots, sleeping bag, matches or firestarter, signal light, and any additional warm clothes you can fit in the bag.

Here’s the tip-list of how to survive a blizzard in your car.

  • Get out and make sure the exhaust pipe is not being covered by snow or any other obstacles. This can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning as you keep the car’s engine running.
  • Unless you see a feasible walking point (a building, a safe destination with heat), stay in the car. Other than clearing the exhaust pipe, you should remain in the car where you are insulated in warmth.
  • Do not run the engine the entire time, survival is a game of patience. You should turn the car on every now and again to provide heat, then shut it off. As long as the car’s windows and doors are shut, you shouldn’t have an issue keeping the car warm for extended periods of time. You should again, check the exhaust pipe for snow build up each time you start the car. Be careful that you don’t lock yourself out of the car.
  • Drink water. Your bug out bag or winter survival bag should have water in it; if however, this is not the case, you will need to use snow to provide water for yourself. You will need to melt the snow in order to drink it. While it may seem a bit counterintuitive, hydration will help the body stay warm.
  • If you have some road flares, use them to signal that you are stranded.

An important note, being trapped on an isolated road alone can be a dangerous business. As mentioned, I recommend always having a survival bag in your car, but you also might consider self-defense. Conceal carry handguns are the best way to defend yourself. A conceal carry handgun could be kept on your body, or in a glove compartment. If stranded, make sure you have quick access to the firearm. You may need to trust a stranger for help if you get desperate enough, but you should also be aware of the hazards that come along with dealing with strangers in isolated areas. Protect your well-being.

Also, you might consider keeping some form of a prepper food supply in your car.

If you’ve run out of gas during a blizzard, you may have to consider obtaining gas in other ways. Read my how to siphon gas from a car article. Here’s the thing, I do not encourage stealing gas, however, maybe you know the owner of the abandoned car. Maybe you just need to survive. Prepping is all about being educated in survival.

How To Survive A Blizzard On Foot

There you are, without the insulation of a vehicle, battling the elements of a blizzard while on foot. This is a rare situation as you should never be stranded on foot during a blizzard, at least not without a survival bag, extremely warm attire, and hydration/food. One case where this could happen is if you make the mistake of abandoning your broken down car to find help. This is not advised, but some people may grow impatient, or even begin to suffer from a mental fatigue from lack of proper food. Symptoms of hypothermia can also cause people to make rash, unsound decisions.

There are no two ways about it, if you are trapped in a blizzard and on foot, you’re in trouble. You most definitely need to consider a few things:

  • Warm clothes. Where any layers at your disposal. Wrap in blankets, grab any cloth from your car or an abandoned car. Do what you can to insulate your body. You should carry a blizzard survival blanket with you if you have one. (here’s one on Amazon that’s really good). Having a blizzard survival blanket inside your car year round is just good prepper strategy.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration will propel symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.

Is It Safe To Eat Snow?

Yes, it is typically safe, so long as that snow isn’t contaminated (odds are, it isn’t, but you know, things happen). We get the question, is it safe to eat snow, more so because people fear that putting cold snow inside of a body already at risk for hypothermia and frostbite would be dangerous. It is better to melt the snow prior if you can, but if you can’t, you are better off hydrated. If you have any type of container, put the snow inside the container and then insulate the container against your body. This will act to melt the snow into a water form.

Blizzard Watch

Often times, being trapped in a blizzard is due to a lack of respecting watches and warnings. If your area, or an area you may have to drive through, comes under a blizzard watch, proceed with caution. Just because it’s not a blizzard warning doesn’t mean you should take the conditions lightly. Additionally, conditions prior to a blizzard such as freezing rain, sleet, and snow will often set up your being stranded. Winter weather is notorious for standing motorists. With all the winter weather watches and warnings we are capable of receiving, there is no reason to be trapped in a blizzard.

Blizzard Conditions | What Is A Blizzard?

A blizzard is often a term that’s misused by people and often times, by the media. A blizzard isn’t necessarily a large, impactful snowstorm. Blizzard conditions need to meet specific criteria to achieve the label. In order to define a blizzard, we need blowing snow that’s a result of high winds. Snow needs to be on the ground, but it does not need to be falling from the sky at the time. Often, snow isn’t falling during blizzard conditions, hence, the confusion of what blizzards actually are.

Blizzard conditions are typical of the northwest side of a major winter storm system. Because blizzards are reliant on high winds, they are fueled by the contrast between the winter storm’s lower pressure and the exterior, typically westerly, higher pressure. This contrast creates high and dangerous wind conditions. The winds will typically pick up the snow, which is typically lighter and “dryer” under the higher pressure, colder conditions, and blows it about. The blowing snow reduces visibility which is one of the major dangers present in blizzards. Often, cars driving on roads encounter blizzard conditions and wreck because they were unable to see another car, or an obstacle, or even a larger animal like a deer, elk or cow. The term used to describe a blizzard’s low visibility is often referred to as “white out.” Whiteout conditions can make it difficult to see for distance, but also, the extreme white can make it difficult to detect distances of objects. The wind chill of blizzards is typically sub-artic and can create conditions ripe for frostbite and hypothermia.

A blizzard needs to have either snow or, blowing snow. The wind conditions should be at least 35 MPH. Visibility should be reduced to less than a quarter of a mile for around 3 hours. A winter storm or heavy snow storm is often confused with a blizzard. The term “blizzard” used to be used to describe fire from a musket.

Blizzards are most typical in the great plains of the United States, with particular emphasis on the upper plains regions such as North Dakota, Minnesota, and upwards into Canada.

Famous Blizzards In History

Mainstream media tends to overuse the term, “blizzard,” which leads many people to relate blizzards to impactful snowfall totals. They aren’t the same. Many of the United State’s most famous blizzards weren’t blizzards at all, or barely blizzards.

Blizzard of 1996

This “blizzard” hit the northeast and was a result of the infamous nor’easter conditions that often plague this region of the United States during winter. Nor’easters are known to drop heavy amounts of snow. In early January of 1996 (6-9), upwards of several feet of snow, even four feet in some regions, fell to the ground. A high-pressure system located north of New York made conditions ripe for blizzards. Remember, the blizzard typically needs that westerly high-pressure system as a flagship marker in creating the conditions.

Virginia, D.C. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City were highly affected by this massive winter storm. But most weren’t truly ever experiencing blizzard conditions, per se.

Here’s the thing, very few blizzard conditions were truly reported. The New Jersey airport reported 3 hours of blizzard conditions which met the criteria, but most other areas were subject to large snowfall amounts. Again, this is how blizzards get confused by the general public. All states outside of New Jersey never reported authentic blizzard conditions.

1993 blizzard
1993 storm of the century, was an enormous storm that some still call the blizzard of 1993.

Blizzard of 1993

Often called “The storm of the century,” this massive winter storm formed by way of the moist Gulf of Mexico conditions. The storm was enormous, its tale slung down into the Caribbean while it’s massive head was breaching into Canada.

Alabama and Georgia were initially subjected to heavy snowfall amounts around March 12th, 1993. Parts of Georgia reported close to 3 feet of snow. Even the Florida Panhandle got 4 inches of snow. The storm offered up powerful, hurricane force winds in Louisiana.

The storm is noted as having record low barometric pressure. Lower pressure often indicates a storm’s propensity for intense conditions. The lower the pressure, the more powerful and organized the storm often is.

Overall, 26 states and Canada were detrimentally affected by the storm’s insane snowfall amounts. Pennsylvania was dramatically hit by whiteout conditions and thundersnow. Roofs on homes and business crashed down due to the weight of the snow. Pennsylvania and parts of Georgia were subjected to official blizzard conditions due to the powerful hurricane force winds that rotated off the storm’s intense low-pressure center.

The 1993 blizzard is most notable for being the first time meteorologists were truly able to predict a storm 5 days in advance. Blizzard warnings were disseminated to the northeast at least two days prior to having experienced blizzard conditions. The storm marked a dramatic change in the way American’s experience weather forecasting. Five days is now the standard of accuracy.

blizzard 1888
45th Street and Grand Central Depot, Manhattan, March 12 Public Domain,

Blizzard of 1888

Some have called the blizzard of 1888 the “great white hurricane.” After dumping two to six feet of snow on the east coast, 45 MPH winds blew snow throughout the region, creating blizzard conditions, whiteouts, and huge snow drifts. Some snow drifts were reportedly 50 feet high. The blizzard and winter storm shut down New York City’s transit for several days.


Blizzards are mostly a confused term that is overapplied to winter weather events which feature large snowfall totals. However, blizzards require only snow falling, or snow on the ground, combined with winds of 35 MPH for more than 3 consecutive hours. Blizzards can lead to injury and even death if a person is exposed to their winds and cold air for even short periods of time. A Blizzard survival bag kept in your car can help protect you in the event you end up trapped in a blizzard. A blizzard survival blanket can be kept in your car year round. Please check my article on bug out bag essentials for general prepper supplies.

Author: Jim Satney

PrepForThat’s Editor and lead writer for political, survival, and weather categories.

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