MARQUETTE - There's an old saying used in many regions across the country that particularly rings true for the Upper Peninsula, and that is: If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.
The U.P.'s often rapidly-changing and unpredictable weather can be particularly dangerous to winter drivers, especially on isolated roads far from populated areas. So it's important to be prepared for a worst-case-scenario, such as a car in the ditch, cut off until an emergency rescue service can arrive.
A winter driving safety kit, which can be stored in the trunk, is one way to prepare for the worst.
Winter driving kits in a vehicle can mean the difference between life and death, depending on circumstances, experts say. The kits can include everything from blankets to shovels to jumper cables and first aid kits, as shown above. (Journal photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)
David Lemire, road patrol captain for the Marquette County Sheriff's Office, said the kit should contain jumper cables, cat litter or sand to help with traction on snow or ice, a shovel, blankets, first aid kit, flashlights, a bottle of water and energy bars or another type of non-perishable food.
The most important thing to have, however, is a fully charged cell phone so people can call authorities and let them know the situation. Even if they don't know their exact location, their cell phone itself will help in the search.
"I can't stress enough the importance of cell phones. With the technology now if they call 911 central dispatch can get GPS coordinates and that can give an officer an exact location," he said. "Stay in the vehicle, don't attempt to go out and walk in the middle of a snowstorm trying to get somewhere."
Lemire said different phone carriers can provide different services for tracking down a cell phone's location.
"Verizon will give central dispatch an exact location. AT&T, they have a system where central dispatch can triangulate off a tower and we can have a general location," he said.
Many newer cars also have communications services like OnStar, which can help to alert authorities in a search and rescue.
Lemire said U.P. roads are plowed well and regularly so the likelihood of getting stranded for more than an hour is rare, however not unprecedented.
"A few years ago, on M-28, we had a few people that were stranded that we couldn't get to right away during a snowstorm. It was only an hour or two hours," he said. "If there are whiteout conditions and you go off the road it could be a while before law enforcement can get there, especially if its a major snow event."
If stranded on the side of the road in a snowstorm, it's important to make sure the tail pipe is free of snow. Snow can plug the vehicle's exhaust system causing potentially deadly carbon monoxide gas to enter the vehicle. Crack a window to keep fresh air coming into the vehicle. It's advised to only run the engine for 10 minute intervals for heat.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.