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What to do if you're snowbound on the road

On the weekend of Jan 9-11, a blizzard in Fukui Prefecture saw some 1,500 vehicles stranded on the Hokuriku Expressway. It became obvious after the fact that the management was late in halting access to expressway. 
This was the second such incident in two months. In December, heavy snowfalls saw some 2,100 vehicles trapped on the Kanetsu Expressway, with some unable to move for as long as 52 hours. 
Meteorologist Asami Kuboi explains to Weekly Playboy (Feb 1), "These record-setting snowfalls were caused by three factors: One was a 'polar vortex,' that caused instability in the atmosphere. This allowed a strong cold front to reach Japan. 
"The second was the JPCZ (Japan Sea polar mass Convergence Zone), causing convective storms over the Sea of Japan, producing a chain of clouds. Because the water temperature on the surface of the Sea of Japan is relatively warm, snow clouds were produced. And thirdly, such phenomena as La Nina caused the currents in the upper atmosphere to remain static, which caused a halt in motion of the JPCZ." 
In normal years, the lowest temperatures are recorded from late January through early February, so the possibility of more blizzards over the next several weeks cannot be ruled out. 
The question then arises of what to do if you should find yourself in a heavy snowfall while driving. 
Aiki Hashimoto, a former truck driver, tells the magazine, "The fundamental thing to do if you're caught in a snowstorm is to cut the engine. The biggest concern of running the engine while stopped is inhalation of carbon monoxide. If the snow underneath the vehicle's chassis blocks exhaust from the muffler, it can cause the flow to be reversed, in worst cases resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning. 
"But if the engine is stopped, the interior of the vehicle will get cold," he continues. "So thermal or insulated items are needed to stay warm. The most effective is a blanket. Several should be kept on hand. They not only keep you warm, but for females can be used to preserve modesty when leaving the car.
"Also, you should make the tires rotate so they'll dig in, enabling you to get traction when you're able to drive away."
The next essential items, says Hashimoto, are a snow shovel and gloves to clear snow away from the vehicle's doors and muffler. 
"You should also keep a pair of thick vinyl gloves. If you only wear cotton work gloves your hands will feel cold when they get wet, so I advise wearing waterproof gloves on top of the cotton ones." 
Bringing along emergency food rations for at least two days is also a good idea. 
"While some truck drivers keep microwave ovens and electric hot pots on hand, that's not practical for regular vehicles," says Hashimoto. "It's best to keep canned items and bottled water." 
Another recommendation is not to regard oneself as isolated but to talk to other drivers stranded nearby. 
"If you engage with them, they might be able to help if you need assistance," Hashimoto advises. "Truck drivers in particular might be willing to share any extra food items, or supply boiling water to prepare cup noodles." 
In general, long-haul truck drivers know lots of tricks of the trade worthy of emulation. For instance, changing position and lying prone with one's feet elevated above one's heart is a good idea to avoid the so-called economy class syndrome. 
Other common-sense items Hashimoto advises to have on hand just in case should include any prescribed medications, a flashlight, portable toilet, one extra mobile phone battery, chemical hand warmers, snow boots and reading material.


© Japan Today
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