BUFFALO - It’s not quite winter yet, yet three times this season, long lines of motorists have found themselves stranded on highways for uncomfortable, unnerving hours, wondering what to do next.
Though it sounds like a nightmare, experts say they did the right thing by staying put.
Colin Steward spent 25 hours stuck in his car, napping, phoning relatives and updating Facebook from his BlackBerry, the 50-year-old said Tuesday in a phone interview from his car.
He was among some 300 people who spent a frigid night on Highway 402 near Sarnia, Ontario, after drifting snow and blinding whiteouts made a mess of things Monday. Buses and military helicopters freed everyone by Tuesday afternoon.
“What can I do?,” Steward said. “I’m not impressed — it’s Canada.” Experts say the advice to stay in your car if stranded is especially true if there’s no other shelter in sight and there’s still gas in the engine to power the heat.
“There’s nothing you can do out in the middle of nowhere,” said Ben Jones, a state trooper in Indiana, where more than 100 motorists were trapped in their cars during heavy lake-effect snow near Valparaiso on Monday.
“It’s best to just use your cell phone and stay in your vehicle until we can get out there and get somebody to get you out of there,” Jones said.
The Department of Homeland Security urges travelers to know what they’re headed into when they get on the road, and to be prepared with a disaster kit that includes blankets and a shovel.
“It’s all about safety,” agreed AAA spokesman Shaun Seufert in Buffalo, where hundreds of cars and trucks were stopped for nearly 24 hours on Interstate 90 on Dec. 1 and 2.
He listed the must-haves for winter driving: fully charged cell phone, small shovel, food and water, heavy gloves, scarf and hat, and a warning device to signal other drivers, like flares or reflective triangles.
Experts say stranded drivers should run the engine about 10 minutes every hour to warm up and to crack the window and keep the tailpipe clear of snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
The reminders came as snow and bitter cold that plagued the Midwest for days landed on parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The frigid air stretched into the deep South, where hard freeze warnings worried Florida vegetable farmers. Hundreds of schools were closed or opening late.