I check in on what's happening with Annette, over at the Ward House quite often. She wrote about being unexpectedly stranded by the weather recently, and about how unprepared they were. Luckily, friends lived nearby, but she asked about what she should have had in the car to be more prepared for a winter emergency. I've had a lot of experience driving alone over snowy mountain passes, so I responded with what is currently in my car. I thought maybe others could benefit from hearing what I keep in my car for winter driving emergencies, so I'm expanding my comment into this post. Maybe this will spark some ideas of what to stash in your own winter vehicle.
Behind my driver's seat I keep a rolled-up fleece blanket, a roll of paper towels (to clean off spattered headlights and windows), a big bottle of water (mainly for cleaning spatters too, but drinkable in an emergency), an ice scraper and a snow brush. Underneath the seat are an umbrella, a billed hat, and old but still usable wiper blades. In the glove box I keep a flashlight and extra batteries, spare glasses, and sunglasses. I always have my purse, with sunscreen and chapstick.
In the trunk is a box holding an old pair of felt-pack boots (the rubber uppers are held together with duct tape, but they'll work in an emergency) stuffed with a billed cap, knit hat, gloves, knee-high wool socks and a couple of kerchiefs, plus an old down army-surplus mummy sleeping bag liner and some candles and matches in a tin can. There's also a small folding military-type shovel. I can get to these items from inside the car by folding down the back seat if necessary. To keep the box (and other stuff) from sliding back and forth in my trunk, I put down a couple strips of no-slide drawer liners. The rest of the trunk is empty most of the time, eliminating excess weight to increase fuel efficiency.
The bottom of my trunk lifts up, allowing access to a small compartment that holds the spare tire (it's one of those weeny wheels, not a full-size spare). I've managed to fit quite a bit of emergency supplies into that compartment. Wrapped around the tire are a tow rope, a set of jumper cables, and tire cables (there isn't enough clearance in my wheel wells for chains). Tucked in alongside and over the top are half a bag of kitty litter, a mechanic's jumpsuit, a small towel, an old jean jacket, and a big plastic hooded poncho to either wear or put down on the ground while putting the cables on. Over where the jack is stored is enough room for a survival knife. Things I really should have, but don’t, are a cell phone and those reflective stand-up triangles (or flares, but I prefer re-usable items).
A few more words about using tire chains (or cables): when you have to put them on, it's guaranteed to be sloppy, cold, and wet out. If you know ahead of time that you'll have to be putting chains on up ahead, it's better to put them on while you're still in the parking garage. If that's not possible, get as far off the travel lane someplace you're still able to get back on the road. Having some kind of plastic to kneel on can help keep you from getting soaked. Here in the Sierras, there are often guys that can get your chains on and off for you - but they only take cash, so carry a couple of tens or twenties. Chains need to be tightened with a rubber ring with hooks on it. That rubber can degrade and crack apart over time, so check each winter to see if you need to replace those.
Try to drive on the "top half" of your tank. Cold weather can increase condensation inside a near-empty gas tank, causing problems, and you don't want to be worrying about running out of gas while you wait for an accident up ahead to be cleared. If you do end up stranded out on the open road, it's better to stay in your car - tie a kerchief to the antenna to signal that there's someone inside. Try to stay as dry as possible. If you're running the engine (preferably only periodically) to stay warm, make sure the tailpipe isn't blocked with snow. Tragically, three young Squaw Valley employees died near here a couple of days ago, in their snowed-in car, from carbon monoxide poisoning. Check the road and weather conditions before you leave, let someone know where you're going, and again when you arrive. Being prepared may help prevent a tragedy.