Warm thoughts of young romance — not the cold, harsh possibilities of a Midwestern road trip in winter — were on Dawn O’Hair’s mind as she left Chicago for Indianapolis to see her boyfriend.
Her weekend visit, back in the winter of 1997-98, did not go well. After a spat with her beau, O’Hair got back into her car very early on a Monday morning to return to Chicago and her job. She should have stayed put. The 23-year-old was driving up Interstate 65 straight into a blizzard. “I ended up in whiteout conditions. I had trouble maintaining control in my 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier,” she said. “The wind was crazy. The snow was blowing sideways. It was super hard to see. It was horrible.”
“I got nervous and decided to pull over [but] my car got stuck,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. I got out and tried to figure out a way to get traction, but without luck.” And there she was — in a real mess. She hadn’t checked the forecasts. She had nothing particularly warm to wear. No blankets. No winter kit. Just her Chevy and time to ponder how things went so wrong so fast.
O’Hair’s story is a far too common one — people caught off guard by a blizzard or some other unexpected onslaught of wintry weather. In early October, more than 80 ultramarathon runners had to be rescued in the mountains of Utah after they became engulfed in strong winds and more than a foot of snow. That’s more than two months before the official start of winter, and organizers were unaware of bad weather quickly developing at higher elevations along the course.
Unless you live in a year-round warm climate and plan to stay there, it’s important to know how winter storms behave, how to avoid and prepare for them, and heaven forbid, what to do in the worst-case scenario.