Brace yourself, winter is coming

Alex Ourth, Courier Staff

The beginning of the year brings with it many new and exciting classes and opportunities for returning Western Illinois students. However, the start of the spring semester also comes with one not so exciting aspect: the brutally cold Illinois winter.

Yes, with January comes the beginning of the coldest time of the year in west-central Illinois. With an average high of 35 degrees fahrenheit and an average low of 18 degrees, students can expect the need to bundle up as they travel from class to class. But what about the cases of extreme winter weather, such as heavy snowstorms or extremely cold temperatures (like the -30° F temperatures of the polar vortex of 2019)? During these instances, being prepared with the right gear and knowledge can be the difference between life and death, especially for students who have to commute long distances for classes. But just how does one go about preparing an emergency kit for the winter months and what types of things would be beneficial to have?

The United States Department of Homeland Security provides guidance on their website ( to address these many questions. Some of the key items suggested include water (gallon per day for three days), food (non-perishable), cellphone charger, battery-powered radio, flashlight, first aid kit, sleeping bag or warm blanket, extra clothes and sturdy shoes. Other suggested items are not as obvious, but could provide some benefits when used appropriately. These items include a whistle (to help people find you), duct tape, cat litter (to give your car traction if you are stuck) and a can opener (have to open your canned food somehow). For commuters, these supplies can all be stored in a duffel bag or plastic bin in the trunk of the car. For on-campus students, it would be wise to keep a smaller portion of these items in your backpack (e.g. snacks, water, cellphone charger, extra gloves and hats). You never know when you might need something!

Preparing an emergency kit is a great first step to preparing for extreme winter weather. A second important step is knowing what to do when caught in a winter storm. According to the National Weather Service, if you are ever caught in a winter storm you should stay inside your vehicle (unless there is safe, visible shelter nearby). Abandoning your vehicle puts you at risk for getting disoriented in the storm or hit by another driver. You should also only run the vehicle for around 10 minutes every hour in order to add heat to the vehicle. This will ensure you don’t run out of fuel before you are rescued. It is also important to periodically clear the exhaust pipe of any snow to ensure carbon monoxide is able to leave the car effectively.

Finally, look for ways to increase your visibility to other drivers and rescue personnel. This could include turning on the dome light when running the car at night or tying a bright cloth or tape to your antenna or door.

Although the onset of extreme winter weather can be a terrifying experience for those who have to travel in it, having the right supplies and a plan can help you overcome the emergency. Of course, if you can avoid going out in winter storms in the first place you should do so, even if it means missing a class (as long as you let the professor know).

So, as you get back into the swing of things this semester, make sure you take the time to prepare yourself to handle any extreme winter weather that may come our way because you never know when you’ll need it!