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Guide to winter survival kits

The North Dakota Highway Patrol recommends each vehicle have a fully stocked winter survival kit.

A cellphone is a vital piece of gear for winter traveling, Sgt. Steven Fischer with the North Dakota Highway Patrol said.

It can be used to get help in case of an emergency or breakdown, he said, and it could be a lifesaver in the event of a blizzard that strands a vehicle along a rural road.

But just as important are the food, water, tools and extra clothing that every vehicle should have as part of a winter survival kit, he said.

"People rely more on the cell phone nowadays, and they think that's going to get them immediate help," he said. "That doesn't always happen."

Fischer said some areas simply don't have cellphone reception, which means the device will not be able to summon help in case of an emergency.

And even if there is reception, he said it might be several hours or longer until emergency responders or a tow truck will be able to make it to the vehicle in bad weather or poor traveling conditions.

"I think the majority of people forget to put a winter survival kit inside the vehicle," he said. "It is an absolute necessity because you might be in your vehicle for a while."

Survival gear

The Highway Patrol recommends each vehicle have a fully stocked winter survival kit. Here are some of the basic items that should be in the kit:

- Drinking water and high-calorie foods, such as candy bars, in case drivers are stuck for a while.

- Blankets, sleeping bags and extra clothing to keep warm.

- Matches and small candles, which can be used to melt snow for more water.

- A nylon cord or rope that can be used to get find the vehicle in a blizzard if the driver has to go outside. "It's so easy to get disoriented in that type of situation," Fischer said.

- A shovel, pocketknife, fire extinguisher, flashlight and spare batteries, booster cables and basic tools.

What to do

The Minnesota Safety Council said stranded drivers should remain calm and stay in the vehicle to decrease the risk of frostbite or hypothermia. Run the engine once an hour to preserve gas, or once every half hour in extreme cold, and tie a piece of bright cloth to the antenna to alert other drivers and rescuers.

Stranded motorists also need to make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow to prevent carbon monoxide from getting into the car.

But planning ahead and keeping up with vehicle maintenance can be just as important as in a winter emergency.

The Minnesota Safety Council recommends keeping the gas tank at least half full throughout the winter to avoid gas line freezes. Have tires that are suitable for winter driving, and check all lights, windshield wipers, the heater and defroster and the battery to ensure they are working properly.

Pay attention to road conditions and weather forecasts and avoid driving in severe weather, especially alone. Before traveling, plan a route and tell someone at the destination the expected arrival time.

Officials encourage motorists to adjust their speed according to road conditions and increase following distance in the winter.

The Red River Valley has, so far, avoided an early start to winter and the sometimes dangerous road conditions that come with the season.

But Fischer that all could change suddenly and it won't be long until area drivers will need to be prepared for difficult traveling conditions.

"It's that time of year," he said. "It's nice weather now, but hey, by tomorrow, we could get 10 inches of snow with high winds."

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to