Winter storms can surprise you with intensity. Don’t be caught off guard. Have your vehicle properly prepared. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons/Yellowstone NP

As winter begins to close it’s icy grip on us, it signals a time to make some preparations. Winter closing in reminds me to take a look at my pack and get rid of the warm weather things and add some cold weather items.

I check through my emergency rations and snacks. Time to throw out those melted candy bars, expired snack bars, and a few other items I am no longer able to identify. I once found a sandwich that had evolved into an intelligent life form. The “hybrid sandwich” was grazing on an outdated power bar. I threw the whole pack away on that one.

The seasonal change also dictates we should take a look at the family chariot and make sure it is ready for winter. Probably a good time to see what food the kids left in the back seat from those summer camping trips, lest you find a new life form.

Last year, a March winter storm, later morphed into a “bomb cyclone” tore into the State. A bomb cyclone happens when there is a rapid drop in barometric pressure, with a decrease of at least 24 millibars in a 24- hour period.

This storm brought winds gusting to 80mph and brought several feet of snow. At least 184,000 people were without power. In Texas, the storm actually caused the derailment of a train.

The part of this storm that stands out in my mind, had to be the stranded motorists. This storm hit with very little warning as to it’s growing ferocity, and it surprised many. At least 1100 motorist were left stranded.

Law enforcement officers had to abandon their own vehicles to seek shelter themselves instead of responding to the high volume of accidents. One accident, on I-25 near Wellington, involved over 100 vehicles.

In Weld County, North of Denver, a car struck State Patrol Corporal Daniel Groves. Corporal Groves was assisting a motorist whose vehicle had slid off Interstate 76. Corporal Groves later died from his injuries.

This storm was so intense, Gov. Polis declared an official emergency and deployed the National Guard for safety and rescue operations. More than 700 people spent the night in shelters in Douglas County. Many of them were rescued from stranded vehicles.

Never say never, because it can happen here. You may be driving somewhere in our fair State when a storm like this hits, and you would be smart to have your vehicle ready, just in case.

Start with the obvious things, like your car battery. I purchase new batteries for my truck every 2 years, regardless of the length of the warranty. My truck gets used year round, many times for rescue operations. Batteries never die in town or in your garage, rather they fail when you park your truck up in the mountains, a 120 miles northwest of nowhere. All that warranty is good for up there is kindling for your survival fire. Buy new and get good quality batteries with lots of cold cranking amps.

Condition, inflation and type of tires should be obvious. I remember my Grandfather always having to put on his snow tires in the fall. He was usually one snowstorm late. Highway tread or standard radials are fine for around town, but not when you head into the backcountry. Start out with good snow tread tires and be sure they are properly inflated.

A good set of chains is a must, especially if you get off the beaten paths. Make sure the chains fit your tires. I carried a set around for 2 years that were too small for my tires. I got a larger set of tires and never thought to check the chains. Be sure yours are in good condition, have tighteners and spare links, and are the right size for your car.

Be sure to keep up on the regular maintenance of your vehicle. We don’t do tune-ups with the frequency of cars from years gone by. This does not mean you should forget about checking plugs, fuel filters and wires.

Winter is a good time to put on some new wiper blades.

Driving on the top half of your fuel tank is something I learned during my hurricane evacuation days. The extra fuel can keep the car warm if you find yourself stranded in a blizzard. Cars don’t run out of fuel in the driveway of the gas station, they choose the end of the road, 17 miles from cell service to use the last of the fuel from the tank.

If you are an outdoor person, like me, you will travel the road less travelled by. If you become stranded on that road, help may be days away.

We talk and write about it every year, and still, some folks chose to ignore the dangers and head to the hills anyway and unprepared. We are called upon to rescue them several times each winter.

Carry some extra heavy clothing and footwear for everyone with you. I keep a couple of those military wool blankets in the truck. A vehicle is not insulated very well and the temperature will drop very quickly inside if you are stranded.

Do not to stray away from your car. Your chances of walking out in a blizzard, and living to tell about it are very slim. It is better to bundle up and stay put until help arrives.

If you choose to run the engine for warmth, try keeping it 5 to 10 minutes per hour. Be certain that the exhaust area is clear so the deadly fumes do not come into the car. This is the main reason for driving on the top half of your fuel tank.

Place a small survival kit in the vehicle; a large tote will do, loaded with some of these items:

*Small first aid kit and necessary prescription drugs.

*Flashlight with lots of extra batteries. Lithium batteries are best in cold weather.

*A couple of those 8-hour survival candles. These give off a fair amount of heat in a closed area.

*A bunch of non-perishable food and lots of drinking water. A full belly fights the cold better than an empty one, especially if you have kids who are always “starving” like mine.

*If you have pets, pack food, water and things for them too.

Bring your cell phone with you anytime you head out in the winter. An extra battery pack is a good idea, so the phone has a good charge when you need it. If you find yourself stranded, and without cell service, try texting. Call when you can and text when you can’t.

Last winter was a pretty rough one for the mountains, but not so much in Montrose. It only takes one storm, like the “bomb cyclone” to put us in the same predicament. Stay on top of your gear and readiness, and don’t let Mother Nature do you in. Summer is just 6 months away.

Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press and avid hunter who travels across North and South America in search of adventure and serves as a Director for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the Posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email

For outdoors or survival related questions or comments, feel free to contact him directly at his email

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