Cold Weather Survival, by S.F.

I was born and raised in Québec City, Canada. For those who don’t remember their geography class, Québec City is located about 160 miles northeast from Montréal. Considering the latitude and the very special climate (mainly caused by the sudden widening of the Saint-Lawrence River), one could call the city the northernmost “major” city in North America. Winters are comparable to those in Norway, yet we get more snow, on average. They get about 31 inches of snow in Oslo; we get 124 inches. I call that a difference. Just check Wikipedia to see if I’m right. Then, let’s take into account our summers. Taking the humidy index into account, our record high temperature is 120 degrees, while in Oslo’s high is 95 degrees. I’m not saying it’s always so, but we never see a summer without at least a week or two of temperatures over 107.

So, the subject of this article must seem obvious to you by now. I’ve read so much about your polar vortex that I almost broke a rib laughing at my cousin’s rant about Alabama’s schools being closed because of two inches of snow. Now, now, I know that snow is rather unusual down there, but let me explain.

All of you, fellow preppers, need to adapt your prepping to the extreme cold weather. It might sound rather weird to tell a Texan he needs to buy a snowsuit, and actually that isn’t the point of the article. You are the very best person to judge what you need or don’t need to do in order to adapt to extreme weather.

I’m not a meteorologist; I’m just a student in economics and sustainable development at the Université Laval. However, I was thinking about it earlier today when I saw a guy wearing only a t-shirt, “chilling” outside. It was -40 degrees! I told him, “Wait, I know it’s not my business, but you really need to put a coat on if you intend to stay outside!” Do you know what he said? “Oh, no problem, I was just feeling drowsy, so I came out to get some fresh air.”

A few things stunned me about this brief conversation. First, his answer seemed completely natural to me. I even said, “Ah, that makes sense!” Second, in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, this guy would probably end up dead, frozen in a ditch.

Now why did it seem so natural to me? It’s because we all do this, sometimes. Going outside wearing only underwear to pick up the mail while it’s -30 seems completely normal to us, Québécois. That’s an advantage of being used to cold weather. On the other hand, in a survival situation after a couple months of lack of food, insufficient heating, low-nutrient intake, and poor sanitation, doing this would most certainly kill some people.

So I started thinking (while completely ignoring my Financial Markets and Institutions professor) about writing something on day-to-day survival in extreme weather conditions and where to post it. The first part isn’t that easy, but the second part hit me like a train– JWR’s blog! That even gives me a chance of winning some stuff. So, why not?

Now enough anecdotes and back to the matter at hand– climate. There is very little chance that one day one of us is going to be exposed to a sudden, unexpected weather extreme. Oh, wait. That’s what I would have said before this winter’s polar vortex. I suppose climate changes DO happen. I know it’s not a very popular idea among most preppers who consider themselves to be “on the right,” but it’s just a fact. Now, whether or not that is caused or influenced in any way by mankind is subject to a completely different debate in which I want no part.

What do I mean by “climate change”? It’s not only about global warming. It’s also an increased occurrence of unusual extreme weather events. I’m not only talking about hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Calgary flood, or the polar vortex here. I’m talking about all those, plus several other events we might have no clue about yet. Why not 10 inches of snow overnight in Los Angeles? Well, chances are it won’t ever happen, but what’s prepping about if not preparing for the unsuspected?

Since I’m rather used to those weather extremes, my preps are adapted to those, and I might be the only prepping “frenchie” with at least a basic level in English, why not help you prepare better?

First, let’s talk about heating. For those of you who own a wood stove, it might not seem like a big issue. In most cases you’d be right, but do you have any idea of how many cords of wood one needs to heat an average house to keep it at 60 degrees all winter while it’s -30 outside? You can probably guess that it’s alot. Well, it is at least 15! For those of you (us) who do not own a wood stove, gas stove, or other non-electric heating contraption, heating may pose an even bigger problem. That might even just force you into bugging-out, which we all know is not always the best solution, especially if we’re talking about bugging-out of your BOL! That’d be crazy! So, if you don’t own a non-electric heating apparatus, either you get one or do without. It’s feasible.

Let’s say you need to bug out 100 miles because you can’t heat your home, or just that it’s pretty darn cold and snowy and that, for whatever reason, you have to leave without notice. Is your car equipped with snow tires? (I’m not talking about those 4-season cheap stuff that gets hard when it’s -10. I mean real snow tires, which can cost twice the price of a regular set.) You know what? Driving without them is illegal during the winter in the province of Québec. Yup. It’s THAT necessary. Even with snow tires, some cars (especially those using propulsion instead of traction), get very difficult to drive. Chrysler 300s, for example, need to be AWD when there’s good snow on the ground. I once made the mistake of jumping into a Chrysler 300 taxi that was rear-wheel drive during a storm, and it was the most terrifying experience of my life.

What if there’s so much snow you can’t even use your car? Back in the winter of 2008-2009, there was such a horrible storm that public transit (including buses and taxis) was shut down; the cars stalled in freeway exists were completely covered with snow. People had to drive in convoy behind a snow plow to circulate. A normal drive that would have taken about seven minutes took over an hour. We were about 20 feet behind another vehicle, yet we could barely see its tail lights. Yes, it can be that bad. Cleaning all that mess took a couple of days, even for us (who are prepared with equipment). In Washington, for example, it could take weeks. So, you might need to plan a back-up winter transit system. I suggest skis or, maybe, snowshoes. Both have obvious advantages and disadvantages over the other; price is one of them. Don’t forget to take the weight of your BOB into account when buying them. They all come with a weight limit. Oh, and buy a sleigh to carry children and heavy stuff. Our ancestors could walk 500 miles every winter, bringing back furs to Québec City, only using snowshoes and a toboggan.

Now don’t get me started on snowmobiles. Unless you live in the far northern parts of the USA, chances are there aren’t any snowmobile tracks around, so it might be hard to use one except in case of emergencies. Of course, that’s a great winter BOV, providing you can afford it, keep its tank full, and learn how to use it. Instead of going two miles per hour by foot, why not go 50 miles per hour?

Don’t even consider walking long distances in deep snow. Your feet will get wet, so you’ll get sick and might even lose a couple toes. Your pants will be damp too, so you’ll lose a lot of heat. You’ll burn so many calories trying to cross a snowfield that you could very well not make it, especially if you have a bad heart. I haven’t yet mentioned snow blindness (yes, it does exist!), frozen body parts (at -40, frostbite happens in less than 15 minutes!), dehydration (you don’t feel it, yet you’re sweating your life away while making your coat all wet!), and other little hints you can never guess by yourself. Here are a couple of them:

  1. When it’s sunny, it’s cold, and when it’s cloudy, it’s cool.
  2. Do NOT wear your scarf right over your mouth. Condensation of water in your breath will make it all wet in a matter of minutes.
  3. When the snow makes a crispy sound when you walk, it means it’s really cold.
  4. Black ice is invisible. When a street looks “dark” even when there’s supposed to be some salt sprayed around, it’s black ice, which is very slippery.
  5. Thermal underwear look ridiculous, so there might be a reason why people still keep buying them.
  6. When the thermometer says -5, take the wind in account. The temperature may feel considerably lower as the wind reaches higher speed.
  7. Blizzards do not only happen when it’s snowing; powdered snow on the ground can turn into a blizzard.
  8. There are some kinds of crampons for everyday walking on ice. They work, but the heavier you are, the more often you need to replace them.
  9. Buy winter mittens instead of gloves; mittens are warmer.
  10. Hand warmers are great, but not only in your mittens; put them in your boots, pockets, scarf, cap, and everywhere you feel cold. Also, you can apply them directly on the skin of your hands, but nowhere else.
  11. The first body parts to protect from frostbite are the ears, nose, cheeks, fingers, toes, forehead, and thighs (if your clothes are tight).
  12. If you have a beard, it’s going to get covered with ice as you breathe. It’s okay; don’t worry, but that means it’s about -20.
  13. When possible, wear onion skin layers. On your legs, have underwear, thermal underwear, pants, and snow pants. On your body, wear a shirt, one or two cotton/wool sweaters and a winter coat with a waist strap so you can “close” it. Wear two pair of socks– one cotton under one wool. If you feel hot, you can take one layer off.
  14. Carry sunglasses if it’s sunny. Snow blindness happens in a matter of minutes, sometimes. You can also wear a baseball cap under your tuque (a knit stocking cap commonly worn in Canada), I’ve found it’s a great way to protect from direct sunrays while adding an additional layer of clothing.
  15. Do not ever manipulate metal with bare, wet hands…ever! Also, if you ever try LICKING some metal, you’re in for a Darwin award, pal!
  16. Do NOT eat snow, even if dehydrated; it’s going to cause hypothermia. Fill a quart bottle with snow and let it thaw inside your coat instead.
  17. Woodland/desert camo is no good in winter. Urban camo works better, but a plain white poncho/trash bag would be best AND offer some protection against thawing snow.

Well that’s all I can think about right now. I’m sorry I can’t write about surviving extremely hot weather. Well, I could write about it, but I’d have nothing more to say than what common sense tells anyone. I hope you liked it.