By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
As Wyoming braces to plunge into a deep freeze just as holiday travel hits its peak, some outdoorsmen offer advice on how to avoid becoming a roadside popsicle if things go awry.
Outdoor safety expert Josh McNary has some blunt advice about the impending brutal cold.
“The key to weather like this is to just stay out of it,” McNary told Cowboy State Daily.
McNary is the staffing director of the wilderness medicine program for the Lander-based National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS).
However, for those who must venture out, it would be wise to pack a good sleeping bag, high-calorie snacks, warm drinks and perhaps a slice of butter, said McNary and Bill Renkert, a manager at Wind River Outdoor Co. in Lander.
Day’s Doomy Forecast
Meanwhile, meteorologist Don Day of Cheyenne paints a grim picture for the coming week.
“We’re going to have a pretty severe Arctic air outbreak,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “In my opinion, this is going to be a dangerous one.”
As an Arctic front moves across Wyoming on Wednesday and into Thursday, air temperatures could be 15 to 25 degrees below zero across much of the state, and all the way down to minus 35 in some areas, Day said. Wind chills could hit minus 20 to minus 50 degrees, or even colder.
There will be strong winds and snowfall in front of the cold air mass, as well as following it, Day said. It will probably hit the Northwest part of Wyoming first, during the day Wednesday, and then cover the rest of the state in a deep freeze early Thursday.
“By Thursday morning, I’m expecting the entire state to be below zero,” Day said. “The only area that might possibly spared is Evanston, but I’m thinking not even they will be spared.”
By Friday, things should be a little better, Day added.
“We will see temperatures start to moderate by Friday,” he said. “And I want to say ‘moderate,’ not really ‘warm up.’”
As the artic system continues to push east, the Midwest and Great Lakes regions are going to get hammered, Day said. That’s something Wyomingites thinking of spending Christmas with loved ones in those areas of the country need to be mindful of.
“There’s going to be a massive Midwest snowstorm,” he said. “If you’ve got a flight booked through Chicago on Saturday, you’re screwed.”
Be Prepared To Bag Out
Those traveling closer to home can’t take for granted that they won’t get stranded or stuck in icebox conditions, Renkert said.
“If you spin off the road and get stuck, and you’re out toward Sweetwater Station or Jeffery City, then you’re basically in Timbuktu,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
So, it’s best to have a “space blanket,” or better yet, a sleeping bag for every person in the vehicle, he said.
“In general, most outdoorsmen own a sleeping bag that’s rated to 15 or 20 degrees,” he said. “If you keep your winter jacket on and slide inside, you should be OK.”
If you want to go to Arctic-adventure rated sleeping bags, the North Face and Marmot make good bags that are rated to double-digits below zero, Renkert said.
He recommends goose down bags for their superior insulative qualities, and said high-end down bags can cost anywhere from about $300 to $600 or more.
A company called Wiggy’s sells military-grade bags, including some Arctic-grade editions, in the $300 range, McNary said.
And while down has its advantages, synthetic bags are less apt to fail if ripped, he said.
“If you crawl into a synthetic bag, and you have on, let’s say, your coveralls with lots of metal buttons and zippers, if one of those catches and rips the bag, it’s no harm, no foul,” he said. “If you rip a down-stuffed sleeping bag, it might explode all over the place.”
McNary and Renkert said people frequently forget that hydration is as important in freezing weather as it is during a heat wave.
Staying hydrated helps with blood circulation, which in turn will keep the body’s extremities warm.
And a thermos full of hot liquid can give stranded travelers something warm to wrap their hands round or stuff inside a sleeping bag or jacket for additional heat, McNary said.
Both outdoorsmen also recommended stocking vehicles with high-energy, high-calorie snacks.
In cold weather survival mode, fat can become your best friend, because it can kick the body’s warming mechanism into high gear, McNary said. So, high-fat foods such as peanut butter can come in handy.
And dairy butter can be even better.
“There’s an old Norwegian trick,” he said. “Drop a slice of butter into your thermos of hot chocolate for that boost in fat content.”